Billionaire's Vinegar Lawsuit Ends

Random House Settles out of court with Michael Broadbent, who claimed book defamed his character
Oct 16, 2009

British wine authority Michael Broadbent will not have his day in court, but he feels elated nonetheless. Random House has agreed to settle Broadbent's defamation suit over The Billionaire's Vinegar, Benjamin Wallace's look at the famed Thomas Jefferson Bordeaux wines. In the settlement, Random House apologized for several passages in the book regarding Broadbent and issued a statement in court accepting that they were not true. Random House also paid an undisclosed amount of damages to Broadbent and agreed not to distribute the book in the United Kingdom.

Broadbent's suit was the latest chapter in the Jefferson bottle saga. Wallace's book, published last year, investigated the Jefferson bottles (the first of which went on the auction block in December 1985 and sold for a record $156,000) and German wine broker Hardy Rodenstock's career uncovering rare old wines. As former wine director at Christie's auction house, Broadbent auctioned the first Jefferson wine sold and tasted several of them, and is a major figure in the book.

According to the lawsuit, filed with the High Court of Justice, Queen's Bench Division, and obtained by Wine Spectator, Broadbent objected to the way he is portrayed in several passages. The suit alleged these sections imply that Broadbent auctioned wine he knew was fake and had questionable ties to Rodenstock. Broadbent maintains to this day that the Jefferson bottles he examined were authentic, and both he and his son, importer Bartholomew Broadbent, made it clear they were angry because they felt the book smeared his reputation.

Broadbent's lawyer, Sarah Webb, head of Russell Jones & Walker's Defamation department, stated to the press, "The Billionaire's Vinegar made highly damaging claims about my client that seriously compromised both his professional and personal reputation. My client is relieved that the good name he has built up over many years as one of the country's leading wine experts has been fully restored." According to British media reports, Broadbent celebrated with his legal team and a bottle of 1990 Mouton-Rothschild.

Random House and its imprint Crown said in a statement, "Random House, Inc. is pleased to confirm that the lawsuit brought in the United Kingdom regarding its book, The Billionaire’s Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace, has settled. Crown regards Ben Wallace as a writer of the highest integrity and professionalism and looks forward to publishing many more books with him." The Billionaire's Vinegar was published by Random House in the United States, but a few thousand copies were available in Great Britain. The settlement does not affect U.S. sales of the book.

Despite this settlement, the legal wrangling over the Jefferson Bordeauxs is far from done. Collector William Koch is currently suing Rodenstock in a federal court in New York for fraud. Koch bought four of the Jefferson bottles. Rodenstock has refused to take part in the case, now in its fourth year.

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