Yesterday Zachy’s Wine Auctions released the catalog for its November 17-18 wine auction to be held in Hong Kong. http://auction.zachys.com/auctions/Default.aspx?AuctionId=273 This wine auction, titled as “Golden Gate Collection” is a two-day single cellar sale consisting of 7,263 bottles (in 1,115 lots) owned by Eric Greenberg, who resides in Marin County California, just north of San Francisco. The catalog estimates for this sale range from $6 million to $9 million (US), or $47 million to $70 million in Hong Kong dollars.

But what is buried in the fine print in the introduction to the catalog and in the conditions of sale is the information that the seller, Eric Greenberg, is a known fraudster and a known intentional seller of counterfeit wines. In the penultimate paragraph of the Introduction to the November 17-18 sale catalog Zachy’s makes the following disclosure:

  • A note on Eric Greenberg, the consignor of this collection: Eric Greenberg’s collection at one point numbered over 60,000 bottles, and he has bought wines of questionable authenticity over the years. After an auction of approximately 17,000 bottles from his cellar in 2005, Eric was found civilly liable for fraud when 24 of the bottles were determined to be inauthentic. Zachys has inspected the Greenberg collection and selected the bottles for this auction, and Michael Egan, an independent expert, has also inspected and approved every bottle in this auction. Additional important information regarding this matter can be found in the Conditions of Sale. (Emphasis added).

On page 178 of the catalog, in the Conditions of Sale, is the following language in fine print:

  • IMPORTANT DISCLOSURE: Zachys and Consignor hereby disclose, and Buyer acknowledges and understands, that: the Consignor is Eric Greenberg, who has previously auctioned wine in Hong Kong and New York since about 2001; the Consignor has previously purchased bottles of wine that were subsequently found to be inauthentic or unmerchantable; the Consignor was held liable (including for fraud) for selling at a 2005 auction certain bottles of wine determined to be inauthentic or unmerchantable; and Zachys has inspected the Consignor’s collection and selected the bottles for this auction, and Michael Egan, an independent expert, has also inspected and approved every bottle in this auction. (Emphasis added)

Except for the statement that Mr. Greenberg was found civilly liable for fraud, the rest of the “disclosure” by Zachy’s is materially inaccurate and it falsely attempts to minimize the significance of Greenberg’s intentionally fraudulent conduct. Eric Greenberg was not found liable for fraud because “24 of the [17,000] bottles” were “subsequently found to be inauthentic or unmerchantable.” Indeed, the words “inauthentic” and “unmerchantable” don’t appear anywhere in the jury’s written findings.

On April 11, 2013, an 8 member Federal jury in the case of William Koch v. Eric Greenberg in the Southern District of New York unanimously found that Eric Greenberg committed willful and intentional fraud by knowingly selling 24 bottles (21 magnums and 3 750 ml bottles) of counterfeit old and rare wines to Florida billionaire Bill Koch through a wine auction held at Zachy’s in New York in October of 2005. The counterfeit wines sold to Koch included 1864 Château Latour, magnums of 1921, 1928 and 1950 Chateau Petrus and magnums of 1921, 1945, 1949 and 1950 Chateau Lafleur. The jury unanimously found fraud by intentional misrepresentation by Eric Greenberg, “by clear and convincing evidence.” Specifically, the jury found in writing “(l) that Mr. Greenberg made a representation of fact; (2) that the representation was false and material; (3) that Mr. Greenberg knew the representation was false or made it with reckless disregard for its truth or falsity; (4) that Mr. Greenberg made the representation to induce Mr. Koch to rely upon it; and (5) that Mr. Koch did justifiably rely upon it, and sustained damages.” The jury made such findings with respect to each of the 24 counterfeit bottles in question.

The jury also unanimously found, again by clear and convincing evidence, that Mr. Greenberg had fraudulently concealed evidence known to him that the 24 bottles in question were counterfeit when Greenberg sold the wines through Zachy’s in 2005. While only 24 bottles of wine were presented to the jury in connection with the trial, this was due to the fact that the judge limited the time available to the parties for trial. Thus, shortly before trial Mr. Koch’s counsel reduced the number of counterfeit bottles to be presented to the jury from the 36 bottles listed in Koch’s Amended Complaint, consisting of 31 bottles of counterfeit wines in the Zachy’s October 2005 auction and 5 five magnums of counterfeit wines from the December 2004 Zachy’s auction, to 24 bottles. Mr. Greenberg’s expert in the Koch v. Greenberg action, Gil Lempert-Schwarz, conceded that none of the 36 bottles at issue in the litigation were authentic. [Lempert-Schwarz Deposition at page 213, lines 11-13].

The jury in Koch v. Greenberg awarded Koch $355,811 (the purchase price for the 24 bottles in 2005) plus $24,000 in statutory damages on one of Mr. Koch’s claims under the New York General Business Law (at the statutory maximum of $1000 per bottle). Based upon Greenberg’s intentional fraud and knowing sale of counterfeit wines, the jury also awarded $12 million in punitive damages against Greenberg. The punitive damages were later reduced by the trial judge to $711,000, bringing Koch’s net damages down to $1.15 million. Eric Greenberg appealed the judgment of fraud and fraudulent concealment, but the jury’s findings were unanimously affirmed by Federal Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in September of 2015. Zachy’s, which was also named as a defendant in the same Koch v. Greenberg lawsuit, had settled with Koch before the trial for an undisclosed amount and written promise to eliminate the “as is” language from their Conditions of Sale.

While Zachy’s claims that Michael Egan, who was Bill Koch’s expert in the Koch v. Greenberg trial and who testified that all 24 of the bottles in question were counterfeit, “inspected and approved every bottle in this auction” that claim appears to be either greatly embellished, or an outright misstatement.

According to my colleague Maureen Downey, for an expert to properly inspect and authenticate wines, including assessment of the labels (including paper, ink and printing), capsules, cork and glass requires approximately 30 minutes per bottle. There are a total 7,263 bottles in this auction. If Mr. Egan truly inspected and authenticated each and every bottle in this auction, as claimed, that would require 3,631 hours of time – or 363 days working 10 hours a day, seven days a week. That absolutely did not happen here. Even if Mr. Egan could somehow properly authenticate each bottle in half the time Maureen says is required, i.e. with only 15 minutes of time devoted per bottle, that still would have required 1816 hours of time, or 182 days of work at 10 hours per day. That didn’t happen either.

To reduce it to the absurd, suppose Mr. Egan was the equivalent of superman and he could authenticate one bottle every minute, or 60 bottles an hour. The task would still have taken him 121.6 hours, or 12 consecutive days of reviewing the wines for 10 hours a day. Again, I don’t believe that happened.

The latest consignment of wines by Eric Greenberg, who is being forced to liquidate his property in connection with a divorce, was previously offered to and rejected by Christie’s and, it is believed, another well-known auction house. The most mystifying questions at this point are:

  • (1) Why is Zachy’s doing business with a man that intentionally defrauded Zachy’s and the public by offering to and through Zachy’s wines that Greenberg knew or believed to be counterfeit?

(2) Why is Michael Egan, who previously testified against Eric Greenberg and stated that each of the wines in question were counterfeit, now working on Greenberg’s behalf and purporting to vouch for the authenticity of Greenberg’s wines? This follows consulting work for accused seller of counterfeit wines Antique Wine Company (now out of business) and work for the accused sellers of counterfeit wines in the pending Soutirage litigation.

Zachy’s, whose reputation as an auction seller was adversely affected by being sued by Bill Koch for having sold the counterfeit wines on behalf of Eric Greenberg, and also by Zachy’s sale of millions of dollars’ worth of wines originating from Rudy Kurniawan (via Kurniawan’s distributor Antonio Castanos) in Zachy’s auctions held in New York, Las Vegas and Hong Kong from 2008 through 2010, appeared to have made significant progress in recent years in repairing its reputation and restoring the faith of wine collectors. That makes the current offer of wines for Eric Greenberg totally inexplicable – aside from naked greed. To me, Zachy’s deliberate choice to offer the wines of a man who intentionally defrauded Zachy’s, Bill Koch and the wine-buying public by knowingly offering and selling counterfeit wines through Zachy’s crosses moral and ethical boundaries that should never be crossed by people in the wine auction industry. Potential buyers would be well-advised to steer clear of this auction and, from my vantage point, to steer clear of Zachy’s altogether, which is consciously choosing to do business with the fraudsters and sellers of counterfeits and appears to have joined the “the dark side.”

What’s next from Zachy’s – maybe “THE Cellar III”? Or how about the “John Adams bottles” from Hardy Rodenstock and Royal Wine Merchants?

Thanks, Don. Nice work. You mention in your second question that Michael Egan is working “on Greenberg’s behalf,” but it’s not clear in the Zachy’s disclosures who retained him. Zachy’s claims he’s an “independent expert,” which is absolutely meaningless. Someone hired him, at which point he’s not independent.

I’m a bit puzzled by the disclosure that Egan “inspected and approved” each bottle. What does that mean? Shouldn’t it state that he inspected and approved each bottle and concluded they were authentic? Maybe “approved” in this context is a term of art understood to mean that the bottles are authentic.

The question is, what is Egan’s liability in this ? If there is blowback from someone who bought some fake bottles from this auction, Egan can easily claim that he was not engaged to inspect every bottle, as it was claimed by Zachys, but probably only a “general inspection” of some sort. As Don said, it would be impossible to go through so many bottles with the limited time available. Or perhaps, he just looked through the list and only inspected the bottles that he deemed high risk. How many bottles did he reject, I wonder ? Nowhere in the catalogue is a guarantee of authenticity mentioned.
They figured Hong Kong is the least sophisticated of all the major wine auction markets, and many buyers from Mainland China do not have easy access to information about counterfeit wines. I for one will not touch this with a barge pole, and will from this point on put Zachys onto my “to avoid” list together with Acker.


That’s a good question. All I can tell you is what it doesn’t mean, which is that Michael Egan performed a real “authentication” of all 7,263 bottles.

So of the 17,000 bottles sold in 2005 and then Koch’s lawsuit, how many others in this auction may have been questionable, where the buyers are not that well informed.

What is a “FRAUSTER” anyway? Somebody who imitates fraulines? “Get your genuine fake German wife here!”

Don–Have either you or Maureen reached out to Egan to find out exactly what he did (or didn’t do) in connection with vetting these bottles?



Unfortunately, I never had access to the photos from that auction at the time, but I can tell you from the lot descriptions and what we know today, I would bet everything I own that that were a lot more than 31 problematic bottles.

Among the 17,000+ bottles sold by Greenberg over the two days in the Zachy’s October 2005 auction were a wealth of pre-1945 bordeaux and burgundy (some in magnums) including the following

1805, 1811, 1832, 1864, 1865, 1870, 1874 and 1875 Lafite
1864, 1865, 1870, 1875, 1899, 1900, 1928 and 1929. Latour
1811, 1862, 1865, 1870, 1871, 1893, 1900, 1921, 1928, 1929, 1939 and 1943 Y’quem
1896, 1921 and 1928 Mouton
1893 Margaux
1921, 1928 and 1929 Petrus (all in magnums)
1921 and 1928 Cheval Blanc
1921 Lafleur (all in magnums)
1929 DRC Romanee Conti
1929 DRC Les Gaudichots
1938, 1942 and 1943 DRC La Tache
1929 and 1943 DRC Richebourg
1923, 1929 and 1934 Rousseau Chambertin

Also included were 35 different lots of bordeaux, burgundy and Italian wines from the 1945 vintage and 62 different lots of bordeaux, burgundy, rhones and Italian wines from the 1961 vintage. What the catalog didn’t state was that essentially all of the old and rare wine had been acquired by Greenberg after 1998 through retail channels and that most of it was acquired in a four and a half year period between 1998 and March of 2002 with the prior provenance unknown.

As many of you who followed the Greenberg case may recall, Mr. Greenberg bought a huge amount of counterfeit wine from Royal Wine Merchants, apparently more Hardy Rodenstock wines from Wine Library, and a lot of wines from Bordeaux Wine Locators, several of which were found to be counterfeit in the Koch v. Greenberg trial. He also purchased wines from Rudy Kurniawan and resold them. Mr. Greenberg also openly bragged in 2005 about his “partnership” with Rudy Kurniawan to sell the Nicolas bottles he bought from Rudy.

For those of you who need a refresher on how bad the facts were as to Mr. Greenberg, here are the links to the six-part “Eric Greenberg story” that I wrote back in 2012. What is remarkable is that this all came directly out of the discovery and evidence that was available before the trial:

I litigate fraud cases for a living and the evidence presented in Koch v. Greenberg trial was some of the most compelling evidence of knowing and willful fraud you could ever hope to find.

Thanks Ralph. My typing skills seem to be deteriorating with time.

I was asked by Zachy’s to vet these wines. I turned down the job. Then they hired Egan (I was also asked by a member of the Christie’s London team back in April if I would authenticate the collection.) It was an easy and quick decision for me. I am not simply a mercenary for hire. I actually care about the industry.

No amount of money is worth assisting Eric Greenberg make one penny off his wine collection. He is a proven fraudster, and an evil bully. He tried* to sue me into silence in 2012, as I was vocal about his knowingly selling counterfeits in 2003. He then tried to enter testimony from a serial liar in the Koch v Greenberg trial that I am an alcoholic and a drug addict in an effort to silence me once more. He has defrauded the markets, and many wine consumers - knowingly. He even lied to Zachy’s. According to what I was told, he told Zachy’s that he was “getting out of wine because it no longer interested him” when in fact he was being forced to liquidate in what I understand are pretty nasty divorce proceedings. It is unconscionable that anyone reputable would sell his wine.

As I wrote to Jeff Zacharia - no amount of money ZWA may make off this sale can repay the damage this sale is doing to the hard earned respectable reputation of Zachy’s Auctions. I was the first employee of ZWA. This sale breaks my heart.

The fact that Michael Egan will take any job that pays him also saddens me. We had had a gentleman’s agreement not to oppose each other in litigation. Then he went to work for sellers of counterfeits Antique Wine Co, and then the next… I guess we know who’s on the side of the consumer, and who is on the side of those that would sell counterfeits.

*EDIT: Greenberg didn’t “try” to sue me. His attorney threatened a lawsuit unless I retracted my post about his selling counterfeits. I was telling the truth. I decided to stand up for myself. In preparation, I liquidated all my available financial resources ready to hand them to an attny to fight the lawsuit & told his attny to pound sand. Then Bill Koch indemnified me. (Not that Greenberg knew that.) EG never filed against me. Testifying on behalf of Bill against Greenberg was a very satisfying experience. Greenberg was such an ass in that court. It was laughable. I’m still in touch with one of the jourors. They found him as repugnant as I do!

Egan spent a few days onsite, then a few more in the warehouse in NYC. It is my understanding he will spend a few more onsite in HK.

To inspect this many bottles, I would have had at least 2 teams of 3-4 people each for more than a month, and they would be very long days.

There is no way “every bottle” in this sale was adequately inspected for authenticity. And the seller is proven to knowingly sell fakes. So for him - even if he knows the wines are fake - if Egan doesn’t catch it - he’s “Golden.”

Wow! Wow! Wow!

I’ve got to imagine that the only reason New York companies like Zachy’s and AMC do these auctions in Hong Kong is because of the large amount of uninformed buyers and the difficulty in pursuing fraud claims after discovering the wine is fake.

I would be curious to know how many bottles Egan rejected if any at all.

Wow what a shit show. Given the size of the collection, the significant history of purchase from the worst sources and the history of the owner in showing zero sense of morality or decency in his attempts to sell fake bottles- I think this is a rare case where no one with any integrity would come within 100 miles of the sale.

How can one be sure of anything in such a collection?

I was upset enough to read this that I called Zachy’s just now and after a long wait on hold asked them very politely to please remove me from their mailing and email lists and never contact me again. I was really and truly painfully polite, but the person I spoke with (no idea who it was other than it was a female voice in the auction department) got nasty and defensive very quickly once I explained why. I was on hold for a good 10 minutes before getting through, which is unusual. Maybe I wasn’t the only person calling in to voice my displeasure.

It takes a LOT for me to permanently sever ties with anyone- that is a huge step. But I did it today and good riddance to them.

It was bad enough when I and others were suddenly not getting OWCs with our auction shipments (claimed they were thrown out even though listed as part of the lots), but if collections like this are getting offered- I have no reason to deal with them ever again (nor keep them on my list of recommended auction resources for clients.)

Cue another C&D demand from another business…

I’m getting really good at receiving these things.

I don’t play in this league, but thanks for putting up with that Todd. Important for the integrity of WB, and the wine business in general.

Thanks to some wise legal minds in this community (and friends of those legal minds), I am confidently informed of my answer when they come a’knockin’

Wow- greatly appreciate being kept informed.
Thank you.

This is probably not new to most of you, but I found this excerpt from Don’s earlier linked-to post regarding Greenberg’s statements hilarious:

“He said if he had counterfeit wine, he could always sell it through Acker Merrall because John Kapon would take anything.”
[Jamie Ritchie Depo, p. 236, lines 7-22]