Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Guy Noir, Wine Detective

Searching for a new career? How about wine detective.

wine-detectiveThis is a job with lots of collateral benefits – travel, wine tasting and uncovering frauds. If your last name is Noir, you don’t have to waste a lot of time dreaming up the name of your detective agency.

Thanks to technology, today’s wine detective has some impressive tools to unmask counterfeit wine, including a physicist working under the Alps to measure the gamma rays emitted wine bottles to see if they were pre or post the atomic age.

Fake wine is becoming a bigger problem than most people think. In fact, most people who think about wine mostly think how to remove the cork or unscrew the cap, not detect whether it is phony. One wine detective has become an expert in spotting corks that have been cleverly distressed to look old.

Wine detection got a big boost, wouldn’t you know it, from one of the Koch brothers. Not the two who spend a fortune on right-wing politicians. The one that spent a pretty penny for a bottle of wine he believed was in the cellar of none other than Thomas Jefferson. Yes, that Thomas Jefferson.

Bill Koch evidently was plenty proud of his 1787 Lafite with the letters Th.J” on the label. He showed to all his guests. In 2005, he loaned it to the Museum of Fine Arts of Boston. Museum officials checked with the Thomas Jefferson Foundation to verify the wine. Thumbing through Jefferson’s meticulous records revealed he never bought any wine from the 1787 vintage.

Bill Koch, to say the least, was not a happy camper. One thing Americans have learned, especially GOP moderates, is that when the Koch brothers are unhappy campers, you can expect the big rifles come out.

Koch hired a former FBI agent, described by friends as genial bloodhound. He organized a team of expert sleuths from Scotland Yard and Germany’s M15 agents to conduct an international wine detective operation. Koch wasn’t red-penciling their expense report.

The wine detective combine found their man, a guy named Hardy Rodenstock who lived large in the European wine scene. Most people didn’t realize how large.

During the hunt for Rodenstock, the former FBI agent discovered Philippe Hubert, the underground French physicist using gamma rays to detect cesium 137, a substance that didn’t exist on earth until we exploded an atom bomb. If wine showed traces of cesium 137, it was pretty likely the wine was pressed a couple of centuries after Jefferson tended his gardens in Monticello. As it turned out, Koch’s fake bottle of Jefferson-owned wine didn’t contain any cesium 137.

Rodenstock was brought down by a far more pedestrian detective technique – they found the Germans who engraved the Th.J on the bottle.

Which just proves you don’t need to be a French physicist with a gamma ray gun to track down wine fraudsters. All you really need is someone who is rich, spent a bundle on a counterfeit bottle of wine and wants revenge. You can make a tidy career out of an opportunity like that.


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