By Bob Gelms
The Billionaire’s Vinegar
How many out there like to drink wine? I thought so, me too. Well this book is an entertaining tome about mega rich people behaving over the top about super rare wines that, in the grand scheme of things, shouldn’t really be all that important. It’s also about super rich people getting ripped off for a mega amount of money and that’s always very entertaining.
The story in The Billionaire’s Vinegar dizzyingly revolves around a cache of Bordeaux wine from a superb Chateau circa 1788. That in itself would make this story drink splendidly. The real kicker in all this, and the aspect that had everyone connected to it panting like a thirsty man just in from the desert willing to drink just about anything, is that these bottles were owned by Thomas Jefferson. Wait for it—he also initialed all the bottles.
The man who found the Jefferson bottles, Hardy Rodenstock, is a rather mysterious German wine dealer with a suspicious past and a knack for discovering tremendously rare bottles of some of the world’s best wines. At the time of the Jefferson discovery, an American family with a love for all things Jefferson was supporting an exhibit of Jefferson memorabilia from their vast collection of Jefferson items. The family scion was sent to purchase the bottle at auction. He did and spent $165,000 for the one bottle of wine. I need to mention right here that we are talking about the Forbes family as in Malcolm Forbes and his son Christopher. They were hoodwinked.
There was suspicion from the beginning that Hardy Rodenstock had counterfeited the Jefferson bottles. There wasn’t any proof but there was plenty of suspicion. If you have the desire to counterfeit a bottle of wine The Billionaire’s Vinegar has a chapter or two on how you can do it and probably get away with it.
This is an intriguing peek into the highbrow world of rare wines and the super rich and what they like to do in their spare time. I was amazed at how cavalier the bottles were treated by the people who bought them. It was as if paying $100,000 for a bottle of wine was an everyday thing and once they had it, it wasn’t interesting any more. I don’t get it but I sure as hell would drink a glass if it was offered to me.
Shadows In The Vineyard
Maximilian Potter has written a riveting tale about a true-life criminal escapade perpetrated on one of the world’s great wineries, Shadows in the Vineyard: The True Story of the Plot to Poison the World’s Greatest Wine.
Oenophiles have, more or less, treated the wine region of Burgundy as the bastard stepchild of its more famous sister over in Bordeaux. Those in the know, however, say that wines from Burgundy regularly outperform wines from any other region in France.
There is one Chateau that sits at the top of the pyramid. It is the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, simplified to DRC. Wine experts consider wines from this Chateau to be the finest in the world and the most expensive wines from the Burgundy region. The terrior of DRC sits on the best wine growing dirt on planet Earth. It’s hard to deny this when you taste their wine.
The crime was a simple one. Blackmail. A mysterious villain, Jacques Soltys, living the life of a hermit in the woods, decides to cash in for the big score. He seems, to me, to be part chemist, botanist and vintner. He is a failure at almost everything he has tried including bank robbing, kidnapping and other illegal schemes.
Now comes Aubert de Villaine, the aristocratic headman and owner of DRC. He receives a puzzling letter that, at first, he disregards. It is, of course, a ransom note. De Villaine will pay the criminal €1 million. If not, the vines themselves will be poisoned. This scheme attacks the basic values and principles of what it means to be French. It is a crime so preposterous as to be almost unthinkable. It can be likened to blowing up the Jefferson Memorial unless you were paid $3 million.
This is a real crime that occurred in 2010 and, sad to say, it partially succeeded. There is a confluence of brilliant detectives, chemists and botanists who try to defeat Soltys. The good guys set up a very clever sting operation to catch Mr. Soltys. A lot happens; a lot.
In the annuls of true crime books this is right up there. It has a literary quality that is matched with Mr. Potter’s exceedingly dramatic pacing that creates tension you can swat at with a grape vine. This is for both lovers of wine and the folks who like true crime. This crime is dastardly and its solving is both clever and timely. I sure enjoyed Shadows in the Vineyard and I’m thinking you will as well. n