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Napa Wine Merchant Accused of Fraud in Client's Lawsuit

Bond investor Jeffrey Gundlach has filed suit against Soutirage for $1 million, accusing the retailer of knowingly selling fake wines
Jeffrey Gundlach claims a magnum of Pétrus he bought is a fake, like these bottles confiscated by law enforcement in an unrelated case.

Samantha Falewée
Posted: August 22, 2017

DoubleLine Capital founder Jeffrey Gundlach is suing a Napa Valley wine retailer for more than $1 million, accusing the company of selling him 67 bottles of trophy wines that an expert labeled fakes.

In a lawsuit filed July 28 with the Los Angeles Superior Court, Gundlach accused Soutirage of false advertising, breach of contract and breach of warranty. “Disguising itself as a legitimate Napa Valley wine retailer, Soutirage has been operating a criminal enterprise for over a decade,” states the complaint.

Gundlach's lawyers filed a second suit the same day, accusing the company’s founders, Aimee and Chadwick Meyer and Matthew and Ashley Wilson, of fraud and negligent misrepresentation.

Soutirage, based in Yountville, Calif., has offered wine retail and sommelier concierge services since 2007, providing wines for collectors as well as for high-flying parties at events like the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and a private reception at Paris' Louvre museum. Current CEO and COO Chad and Aimee Meyer, respectively, both grew up in California wine country. Chad’s family owns Meyer Family Cellars in Anderson Valley and his late father cofounded Silver Oak Cellars in Napa. (Chad is not involved in either winery.) Matthew Wilson, one of Soutirage's cofounders, left the company in December 2015 to start a similar retail venture, Company Fine Wine.

Gundlach, 57, is the founder of investment firm DoubleLine Capital, which specializes in bond trading. Known for his outspoken manner, Gundlach is worth an estimated $1.6 billion. He claims that he learned the wines were fakes in August 2015 when he arranged to have bottles inspected by a “world-renowned expert in wine sourcing and provenance.” When the inspection was complete, he says that more than 60 bottles of prized rarities—including Latour 1928, Haut-Brion 1945, Cheval-Blanc 1947, Lafleur 1947, Lafite Rothschild 1953, Mouton-Rothschild 1959, Pétrus 1961, and others—were deemed fake by the unidentified expert, coming to an estimated loss of more than $1 million.

Gundlach had been a client of Soutirage since at least 2012, according to the complaint. His suit does not specify if he has bought other wines from the company that were judged authentic.

Both parties are reluctant to go into details, as the case is in preliminary stages. Aimee Meyer gave the following statement to Wine Spectator: “We stand by our products and services at all times, and know how important it is to maintain our clients’ trust. Though pending litigation limits what we can say, I can tell you we are working hard both to understand and satisfy our client.”

Longtime Gundlach lawyer Andrew White stated, “Our client [and we] have no comment regarding the Soutirage litigation.”

Gundlach’s filed complaints, however, speak loudly on their own. One accuses the four cofounders of being complicit in the sale of fraudulent wines, stating that the defendants “made and conspired to make numerous misrepresentations of material facts … namely, their representations and guarantees regarding the provenance of the fake bottles.”

The lawsuit draws added attention to counterfeit collectible wines as consumers grow increasingly willing to go public over wines of questionable or refuted authenticity. In the past, clients and merchants often settled these issues quietly. But when Florida billionaire and wine collector Bill Koch began filing multiple suits over counterfeit wine sales, including a notable case against dotcom billionaire Eric Greenberg in 2013, it cast a spotlight on the problem.

A hearing on the Soutirage suit is scheduled for Nov. 27.

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