Wallace: “Broadbent has chosen to blame the messenger”

In July, Michael Broadbent brought legal action against Random House, the publisher of The Billionaire’s Vinegar: The Mystery Of The World’s Most Expensive Bottle Of Wine. News of the settlement broke on Decanter.com, which called it a “victory” for Broadbent.

Author Benjamin Wallace has just sent this public statement to DrVino.com:

This statement is authorized for publication in the U.S. only: It is unfortunate that Michael Broadbent has chosen to blame the messenger, and doubly so that he is blaming the messenger for something the messenger is not actually saying. I have never felt that Mr. Broadbent acted in bad faith, and contrary to his claims, I maintain that The Billionaire’s Vinegar does not suggest that he did. In any case, while I believe that my book speaks for itself, I do want to point out a few things: I was never personally sued by Mr. Broadbent, and I am not a party to the settlement or apology negotiated by him with Random House. Because of the U.K.’s notoriously plaintiff-friendly libel laws and conditional fee system, the company made a business decision to settle with Mr. Broadbent in order to contain its legal costs and exposure in the U.K. Since the claim was always confined to the book’s availability in the U.K., the settlement does not prevent the book from being published anywhere else or require that a single word be changed. So, while Random House has agreed not to distribute the book in the U.K., the book remains available in the United States, where the libel laws provide greater protection for freedom of speech and where British libel judgments are almost never enforceable, thanks to the First Amendment.

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26 Responses to “Wallace: “Broadbent has chosen to blame the messenger””

  1. Call it a “victory” if you want, but what this whole ordeal did more than anything else was to assign unfortunate connotations to Broadbent’s name. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that most members of the younger generation of wine drinkers had never heard of him… and now, the only conception we have of this former lion of the wine world is that he’s a petulent dinosaur who cried “foul” when he was embarrassed in public.

  2. Go over to Jamie Goode’s blog and watch Bartholomew Broadbent bully everyone into silence. The sequence speaks for itself.

  3. Bravo Benjamin. Don’t be intimidated.

  4. I am saddened by the attitudes amongst a number of wine forumites in this matter. Even RMP has offered congratulations to Broadbent.

    Indeed he also suggested that “this is the problem with endless rumor-mongering and speculation…” “…issues none of us are qualified to comment on”. (in relation to internet comments by the online wine community)

    As a community (internet wine enthusiasts), I don’t think we’ve covered ourselves in glory over this issue. Hopefully we can lift our own game and give better thought to what we say. Some of the exchanges have been quite abusive (on both sides of the argument). The right to free speech would be honoured by considered thought?

    However I firmly believe the critics we follow should not be beyond criticism themselves, but only in the same balanced, objective and informed manner in which we expect them to critique wine.



  5. This is kind of pathetic.

  6. When it is all said and done, Broadbent has fallen from grace. Whether he did anything deliberately or not is somewhat of a moot point, he negligently facilitated the movement of numerous lots of potentially counterfeit wine. I would have to put him in the same boat as the folks at Acker Merrall & Condit (in the Koch vs. Kurianwan suit).

    Just seems like the Broadbent is trying to restore/save some of his legacy. Good luck with that!

  7. “The truest characters of ignorance are vanity, and pride and arrogance.”

  8. Erol: Don’t put that post on a U.K.-based site!

  9. Wine Mule: I wouldn’t dream of it. I read your post about your comment being taken down off Goode’s site. It’s a shame what someone’s fear of being labeled incompetent will drive them to do. Too late in my opinion!

  10. Very ungracious response from Mr Wallace. But then thats what we can expect from someone who wrote a book about wine because he thought it would sell well.

    He has admitted knowing little or nothing about the subject prior to this.

  11. Benjamin’s statement just makes you appreciate the freedoms we tend to take for granted here.

  12. Mr Wallace’s book is brilliant. It is a great historical read. I loved it and could not wait to get back to it every night after work.
    Never once did I think Michael Broadbent acted in bad faith. I always think there are two sides to such controversies.
    It seems like a well-written, well-researched project and I recommend it to everyone I can.
    ps – I am a Broadbent fan as well. Love his Decanter column

  13. Amen, Dylan!

  14. […] the rest of the statement here. This entry was posted on Thursday, October 15th, 2009 at 4:13 pm and is filed under Feuds. You […]

  15. […] su parte, Benjamis Wallace, autor del libro, publicó en exclusiva en Dr. Vino una carta explicando su posición sobre el caso. “Nunca fuí demandado personalmente por el Sr. Broadbent y no tomé parte del […]

  16. For someone like me, living in China, this case is interesting because of how much money people here are spending on the finest of fine wines – through private sales or auctions in Hong Kong. The more coverage of possible counterfeit wines, the better. I’m sure the father of one of my friends would agree: he has four of the Thomas Jefferson bottles.

    Cheers, J. Boyce

  17. I feel I have gotten under his skin although I was trying to shed light on a different angle.


    I think I am correct in this matter.

  18. Erol: From your commentary–
    “Why he doesn’t simply admit that he got caught up in the excitement and it may have skewed his judgment is beyond me.”

    At first, I felt the same way as you. Why doesn’t he just shrug it off? He got caught up in events, it could happen to anybody.

    Then I remembered an article called “The Jefferson Bottles” that appeared in The New Yorker in 2007. Written by Patrick Keefe, it includes this fascinating passage:

    “In his book ‘Vintage Wine: Fifty Years of Tasting Three Centuries of Wines,’ Broadbent acknowledges that it was through Rodenstock’s ‘immense generosity’ that he was able to taste many of the rarest entries. Much of his section on eighteenth-century wines consists of notes from Rodenstock tastings.”

    If it were ever demonstrated in a court of law (and for the record, it has not) that Rodenstock was a purveyor of counterfeit wines, then where would that leave Broadbent, as a receipient of Rodenstock’s “immense generosity”?

    Keefe’s article is still on line. You can read it here:


  19. “A German collector, Hans-Peter Frericks, accused Mr. Rodenstock in a Munich state court, which found in favor of Mr. Frericks on Dec. 14, 1992, saying ‘the defendant adulterated the wine or knowingly offered adulterated wine.'” –The Wall Street Journal, September 1, 2006

  20. Hah! Thanks, Ted! (I was thinking of Rodenstock being proved a fraud in the US, but this will do, yes, indeed.)

  21. Ted and Mule,

    I read about the German case and the excerpts you quoted. It’s funny how there is so much out there to support the claims that they so vehemently deny.

    The truth is that there was a certain level of professional negligence that transpired and that is all I would like them to admit to. This is also what I feel that Benjamin Wallace was attempting to convey. They won’t however, because that would lead to an avalanche of issues that they would have to address.

    When it is all said and done, I feel that most opinions are based on a little more than just one book at this point (regardless of what they wish to believe).

    And he is not the only one to blame, but the only ones choosing this recourse to defend himself.

    No matter what this is amazingly interesting fodder.

    (Ted, thanks for the support on my post).

  22. I’ll “bluster” here (to quote N. Groundwater) and say that the way this has panned out on the Broadbent end, regardless of the justice or injustice of the judgement, has been absolutely disgraceful. The real blow to Broadbent’s reputation has been the pursuit of this case, and the later pursuit of Internet forumites and the like. Cowardly and dishonourable. Also calling it a victory is to live somewhere near reality but a little out of town.

  23. This has been a really sad chapter, when Michael Broadbent, one of the great establishment figures, was so taken in by a plausible rogue.

    I think it is obvious that he was never accused of bad faith, just bad judgement. I read the book, and it never accused Broadbent of any wrongdoing, but he did appear credulous and wanting very badly to believe. No doubt this affected his judgement. All in all, a very sad chapter for someone whose work and palate I have long admired.

  24. I’m reading the book (not finished yet) and am amazed of the reaction of Broadbent as until now I did not find anything bad faith regarding him in the book.

  25. […] text following is accredited to the popular wine blog DrVino (aka Tyler […]

  26. It is the USA that has a “notoriously plaintiff-friendly” legal system.
    If you have any friends who are doctors, just ask them about the problems this gives them in the practice of medicine.


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