Most of us can consider ourselves lucky if we’re given one funny name to be remembered by. Then there are some who have the obscene fortune of two funny names, starting with a corker and then changing it for one reason or another to an even funnier alternative. There are also guys like my colleague Dave, whose name is Dave and who therefore has little chance of being written about on this blog unless he is writing about himself.
Today’s subject is indeed not Dave, but a gentleman named Hardy Rodenstock. Hardy was actually born with the gloriously smooth name of Meinhard Görke, but decided he wanted something…hardier. Mr. Rodenstock originally shot to some fame and riches as a publisher and music manager in Germany. Later in his life though, he became better known as a highly prominent collector of fancy and rare wines.
He became very famous in the wine world as a guy who could track down extremely old and rare varieties of wine, and was celebrated in dozens of magazine articles for his elaborate, week-long wine tasting sessions with the world’s biggest wine snobs. Those don’t exactly sound like my kind of parties, but hey, maybe us funny name snobs aren’t much more fun to be around ourselves.
In 1985, The Great Hardy sold several bottles of wine with the engraving “Th. J” on them, thought to have belonged to one Thomas Jefferson, a known wine fanatic himself. Naturally (or perhaps bizarrely if you think about it), these wines sent winophiliacs into a frenzy and one of them fetched an enormous record price of more than £100,000 at an auction. To me this sounds kind of like the episode of Seinfeld where George, looking for a used car, ditched his plans for what he really wanted in an automobile and bought a complete lemon because he heard it used to belong to actor Jon Voight. But maybe I’m off track and priceless old wines that Thomas Jefferson may have held in his private collection are a bit more valuable than a beat up old LeBaron.
The only problem was that it seems very much like Mr. Görke aka Rodenstock may have been a bit of a fraud and those bottles never belonged to Jefferson in the first place. A wine collector named Bill Koch bought some bottles for about half a million dollars in 2005 but soon became suspicious about their origin. He hired a crack team of investigators, including a retired FBI agent and various forensic experts to figure out whether the bottles were authentic. They found out the engraving, supposedly by Thomas Jefferson, were actually made with an electric power tool, probably in the 1960s. I’m not great at history, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t have Black & Decker back in Jefferson’s day.
In spite of repeated questioning, Rodenstock has never come out and said where he got the bottles, probably because, as it is alleged, he made the whole thing up and they may just as well be some cranberry juice he inherited from his grandmother and slapped a new label on for looks. The amazing thing is that it worked, no one can conclusively show he lied, and he remains a free man.
Koch did file a civil suit against Rodenstock/Görke after his discoveries, but was unable to get a decision against him as Hardy/Meinhard is a German citizen and perhaps understandably refused to participate in the suit against him, leaving Koch and the courts powerless to do anything. On the downside, his reputation suffered a huge hit and it’s unlikely a collector anywhere will now trust Mr. Görke when he tries to peddle his “extra special hard apple cider from Bushrod Washington‘s private reserve”.
His reputation may be in tatters, but at least he still has his good name. Or two.