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In the High Court of Justice
Chancery Division
Companies Court
No. 1873 of 2010

Wine Traders International Limited (in liquidation)

Take notice that, following a winding up order made on 5 May 2010, Trevor John Binyon and Stephen John Parker of Sherlock House, 73 Baker Street, London W1U 6RD were appointed Joint Liquidators of the said Company at a meeting of creditors held on 28 July 2010. Creditors of the above-named Company are requested, as soon as possible and preferably within fourteen days, to send in to the Joint Liquidators of the said Company their full names, their addresses and descriptions, the name and address of their Solicitors (if any), and full particulars of their debts or claims, including: purchase invoices, evidence of payment to Wine Traders International Limited (or if paid to another entity, its identity), certificates of allocation or ownership, portfolio evaluations and copies of all correspondence with the Company.

***

2nd November 2010
Please note that this is a statutory legal advertisement that I have happily agreed to post. I urge all creditors to contact the appointed liquidators.

Calling Creditors of Soorat Singh
(Posted 26th October 2009)

Anyone owed wine or money by Soorat Singh, who ran Dunbar Fine Wine, should make a claim as soon as possible. Singh was sequestrated on 29th June 2009 and Gillian Thompson of KPMG was appointed to act as trustee. Details of where to make the claim are in the official notice below:

SOORAT SINGH

(Accountant in Bankruptcy Reference 2009/6674)

The estate of Soorat Singh, 29 John Muir Crescent, Dunbar EH42 1GE was sequestrated by the sheriff at Haddington Sheriff Court on 22 June 2009 and Gillian Thompson, Accountant in Bankruptcy, hasbeen appointed to act as trustee on the sequestrated estate. Any creditor of the debtor named above is invited to submit his statement of claim in the prescribed form, with any supporting accounts or vouchers, to KPMG, Department 811, PO Box 26967, 191 West George Street, Glasgow G2 9DX acting on behalf of the Accountant in Bankruptcy in this sequestration. For the purpose of formulating claims, creditors should note that the date of sequestration is 30 March 2009.

Gillian Thompson, Accountant in Bankruptcy, Trustee Accountant in Bankruptcy, 1 Pennyburn Road, Kilwinning KA13 6SA

Wine Growth Fund suspends redemptions
(Posted 10th March 2009)

Singapore based wine investment fund, World Growth Fund, suspended redemptions in January and say they expect start to allow redemptions again at the beginning of April. WGF, which is valued at €87 million, is currently the largest wine investment fund according to figures given in Liv-ex’s February 2009 report. WGF posted an 17.68% increase during the 2008 - a remarkable performance in a year when prices of some fine wines, particular top Bordeaux 2005s dropped by 30%-40% in the second half of the year. Investors in the fund pay a 20% performance fee.  WGF aims to achieve ‘high capital growth by buying and selling Investment Grade Bordeaux Wines’ (WGF site). Performance in 2009, however, has been less sparkling. The fund was down by 9.69% in January. It will be interesting to see what the value of the fund is when redemptions start again in April.

The section in Liv-ex’s 2009 February report that looks at wine investment funds raises the question of how these funds are valued and calls for transparency. ‘With investors in general asking for ever-greater standards of transparency and accountability - understandably, given recent events in the financial world - it is important, even crucial, that the wine fund sector meets these standards. The adoption of a common and transparent valuation methodology would be one positive move - enabling investors to better choose between the different options available and to accurately compare their performance.

It is clear from Liv-ex’s survey that there is far from a common method used to value these funds. Of the eight funds covered four (Curzon, FWF, FWIF, VWF) are valued by Liv-ex using their Mid-Price - ‘the mid point between the current highest bid price and lowest offer price on the Liv-ex trading platform’. Nobles Crus use ‘merchants and auction prices’, TWIF use ‘merchant list prices’, Vinum use leading Bordeaux négociant CVBG, while WGF use three unnamed Bordeaux négociants.

Given that the combined value of seven of the funds is €211.65 - value of the eighth (Vinum) is not disclosed in the figures quoted by Liv-ex - there ought to be a common method of valuing these funds.

Curzon: Curzon Capital Wine Geared Growth (curzoncapital.com) / FWF: Fine Wine Fund (wamllp.com) / FWIF: Fine Wine Investment Fund (wamllp.com) / Nobles Crus: (eliteadvisers.com) TWIF: The Wine Investment Fund (wineinvestmentfund.com)/ Vinum: Vinum Fine Wine Fund  (vinumwinefund.com) / VWF: Vintage Wine Fund (vintagewinefund.com) WGF: Wine Growth Fund (winegrowthfund.com) Liv-ex: liv-ex.com

Paul Havers and The Wine Barrel: don’t buy from them
(Posted 21st November 2008)

The wallet-thinning activities of Paul Havers and his company - PMH Wines Ltd have already been covered on investdrinks. See A phoenix rises in Godalming - The curious tale of PMH Wines Ltd and The Wine Barrel (Posted 28th September 2007)

Unfortunately further instances of Paul Havers’ wallet-thinning activities and his hazy grasp of the principles of legitimate commerce - that on receiving payment you supply the goods - have recently come to light.

RT on 3rd October 2008 paid £140.13 by credit card for some Zuccardi Zeta 2003, Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz 2005 and Cru d'Arche Pugneau 1998 Sauternes. The payment was processed in the name of The Wine Barrel. To date RT has not received his wines and has recently found it impossible to contact Paul Havers/The Wine Barrel by phone or by email. On 19th November RT’s credit card company refunded the money - they presumably concluded that Paul Havers/The Wine Barrel were not going to supply the wines ordered. My guess is that regretfully the bank will not pursue Paul Havers because the sum is small.

On 19th November I was contacted by AB who paid nearly £200 for two bottles of Dom Pérignon in June 2008 but, who has received nothing in return. Like RT, the payment was processed by The Wine Barrel. Similarly AB has had problems contacting Paul Havers and, when he does get hold of this wallet-thinning gentleman, only gets excuses. AB is now applying to Northampton County Court in a bid to recover his money.

Both of these are for relatively petty sums but I fear there may well be other examples.

I have emailed Paul Havers several times with a number of questions asking when his customers can expect to get their wine. Unfortunately I haven’t received any substantive replies. It would appear that Paul Havers is now a sole trader using the name The Wine Barrel. Both of the transactions above were in the name of The Wine Barrel, with no mention of Ltd.

The Wine Barrel Ltd was formed on 25th May 2006. Paul Havers resigned as a director of The Wine Barrel in January 2008 and as company secretary in March. The last accounts filed with Companies House cover the period to 1st September 2008 and are for a dormant company. The annual return has been overdue since 22nd June 2008. The sole director is 75-year-old Weronika Jastrzebski. Unless an annual return is filed it is likely that The Wine Barrel Ltd will in time be struck off for non-compliance.

Don’t buy 2008 Bordeaux en primeur
(Posted 6th November 2008)

Given the current financial crisis and sharp economic downturn investdrinks’ view is that it is currently too risky to buy en primeur. Furthermore, although fine weather in September and October averted a catastrophe in Bordeaux, 2008 will not be a ‘must have’ vintage. Nor, unless the recession is shallower than is currently anticipated, is the price of 2008 likely to rise between being offered en primeur and when the finished wine is released.

Buying en primeur is always risky. There have been too many instances of UK merchants failing to pass on money, paid to them by their customers, to the Bordeaux négociants. Hertfordshire Police’s investigation of the Bordeaux Wine Trading Company Ltd and International Wine Commodities is only the latest incidence and a rare example of the Police becoming involved. There are also instances of the Bordeaux négociants going bust or not having enough wine to cover orders accepted.

Should your merchant go bust before you take delivery of your wine, you may well be classed as an unsecured creditor as the receiver can’t isolate and identify the wine you ordered because it is still in barrel.

When clearing up the Mayfair Cellars mess, accountants Grant Thornton were horrified and aghast by the way the en primeur system operated and by the inherent risks.

In the current climate why give a merchant a two year interest free loan for wine that you are likely to able for the same price, or possibly lower, in two years time? Doesn’t make sense!

The 2008 vintage in Bordeaux is barely over before the annual dance of Bordeaux en primeur has started. In time-honoured fashion UK fine wine merchants have warned the Bordeaux chateaux that unless they slash their prices they won’t be able to sell their wine and the 2008 en primeur campaign will be a washout. Soon the Bordelais will reply that the vintage was extremely difficult, costly and that they have made such a severe selection that prices can fall but, instead, are likely to rise.  This merry dance (or courtship ritual) will probably continue until June/July 2009. Best to sit this dance out, watch from the sidelines and enjoy the bizarre spectacle.

If despite everything you do decide to buy en primeur make sure that you deal with a well-established and reputable merchant - do check them out properly before you place your order.

Don’t invest in wine now
(Posted 30th October 2008)

Prices of fine wine is falling - in June the cheapest price on wine-searcher of a case of 2005 Lafite was £8950 now it has dropped to £6900 - a fall of nearly 30%. I expect it to fall further. Not all fine wine is falling at the same rate but the general move is downwards and investdrinks expects this trend to accelerate over the next few months as the world economic crisis worsens and gathers pace.

Wine is not as volatile as shares and is slower to react to changing economic conditions than the stock market but react it will. Anyone who tells you that wine is not affected by economic conditions is talking nonsense. If you are a high-flying banker with large financial commitments, who has just been made redundant, you won’t be rushing out to buy top Bordeaux. More likely you will be wanting to sell any wine investments you have and that could well be a problem. As long as a share is still trading you can always sell it even if you make a huge loss not so with wine - you have to find a buyer, which may well not to easy if the market becomes saturated with wine that people need to sell and, with the price falling, there is no incentive to buy.

If you bought your wine through one of the dubious wine investment companies, who charged too much for the wines they sell and who levy an upfront commission, this may well be a particular problem as they may well not have the contacts that helps them to sell wines in difficult times. Finding a company that can sell your wine is at least as important as finding a reputable company to buy from.

Charging a commission for buying wine rather than the more normal practice of a commission for selling rather suggests that the company is not confident of being able to sell your wine should you want to sell.

Don’t listen to the siren voices that claim that there is so much new wealth in places like China and Russia that demand for fine wine will continue unabated. I think this is highly unlikely as both the Chinese and Russian stock markets have taken a pasting. The wealthy in these countries will be feeling poorer. We are told that the Chinese adore Lafite. Why, then, is Lafite 2005 one of the biggest fallers?

If you do want to invest in wine, wait until you judge that the market has bottomed out then buy. The old adage still applies - buy at the right time, at the right price, with the right provenance, from a reputable company and store the wine in your own name.

Vintage Wines of St Albans: four imprisoned for wine investment fraud
(Posted 2nd October 2008)

Following a trial of more than three months three people have been found guilty of operating a fraudulent wine investment business that mainly targeted the American medical community. A fourth defendant, Stephanie Callebout, pleaded guilty just as the trial got underway.

Yesterday at Southwark Crown Court Shameen Suleman, a director of Vintage Wines of St Albans (VWSA), was imprisoned for 3½ years and banned from being a company director for 10 years. Fellow director, Callebout was given a 12-month sentence suspended for 18 months and barred from being a director for three years. The other two fraudsters cannot be named for legal reasons. One was imprisoned for 4½ years and barred from being a director for 15 years and the other was given a 2½ year prison sentence. A fifth defendant, Donald Thomas, was found not guilty. The case was brought by the Serious Fraud Office.

Using high-pressure sales techniques VWSA offered wines that had no investment potential while promising big profits quickly. Among the wines offered were Château Gamage Bordeaux Supéreur and a number of Italian wines, some from Tuscany. Howver, VWSA only bought a small proportion of the wines they sold. None of the wine suppliers had any involvement in the fraud, which brought in more than £1 million with one American doctor investing around $500,000 (£277,336). He was told that he had invested in Italian wines - none were bought. There were about 50 victims of the fraud.

On passing sentences Judge Stone QC commended the work of the SFO during the investigation and its presentation of a complex case. Vintage Wines of St Albans was a subsidiary of Vintage Hallmark plc, which the SFO is continuing to investigate. Vintage Wines of St Albans was a subsidiary of Vintage Hallmark plc, which the SFO is continuing to investigate.

Think hard before you invest in wine now
(Posted 2nd October 2008)

With all the current turmoil on the world’s stock markets and many banks in serious trouble and having to be bailed out, wine is being presented as an attractive alternative investment. Not affected by economic downturns is the claim. Historically this is just not true and I see no reason why if there is a full-blown recession that it won’t be the same this time. Indeed there are signs that the price of top Bordeaux is beginning to slide.

Wine is certainly less volatile than stocks and shares and generally isn’t prone to the ‘big dipper’ movements that we have seen over the past couple of weeks. However, it is naïve to think that wine prices, especially at the very top end, are immune to economic pressures. Wine prices at the top end tend to rise in boom times and fall when there is a bust. How many bankers made redundant by Lehmann Brothers crash or out of a job because of the rationalisation that has followed the bailout of HBOS by Lloyds TSB are now rushing out to buy First Growth Bordeaux?

A comparison between the cheapest price of cases of First Growth Bordeaux and their equivalent (eight châteaux: the five First Growths plus Ausone, Cheval Blanc and Pétrus) as shown on wine-searcher from mid-June 2008 and today (end of September) shows an overall fall of 3.8%. The most notable fall is for Lafite down by 19%, although this is rather skewed by a merchant’s exceptionally low price. However, comparing the prices over this period from Bordeaux Connoisseurs, Ditton Wine Traders, Farr Vintners, Magnum Fine Wines and Morgan Classic Wines shows a drop of 6.25%. Cheval Blanc is the other most notable faller down by 8.70% on the cheapest price since mid-June. Only Pétrus is showing a slight increase on the cheapest price - now at £32500 compared to £32,000 in June.

These price falls are not yet dramatic but they are enough to suggest that the boom in the price of the top wines since mid-2006 may well be over. The most likely tendency over the next few months is for prices to fall. In contrast to shares there is the on-going cost of storage and insurance in a bonded warehouse, which in the two leading bonded warehouses in the UK - Octavaian and London City Bond’s Vinotheque - will be between £14-£15 per case a year, though less for a large number of cases.

It is certainly not a time to be investing in Australian wine. Even at the best of times no one should invest in Australian wine unless they are an experienced wine investor. Australian wine should only ever represent a very small proportion of a balanced wine investment portfolio. Very few Oz wines, apart from Penfolds Grange and Henscke’s Hill of Grace have a sufficient price track record. investdrinks’ advice is to steer well clear of small, cult boutique wines, however high the Robert Parker scores may be until they have established a track record.  Investors with Wine Orb and Heritage Fine Wines learnt this to their cost when these two companies collapsed and they found that their wine investments were worth much less than they believed and had been led to believe.

Take particular care when buying en primeur. Due to two companies recently going bust a number of customers may find that they never receive wines they ordered and paid for.

I’m often amazed at how many people are ready to hand over substantial sums of money to people who cold call them. When I’m cold called I either put the phone down or tell the caller that I’m not interested. investdrinks advises you to do the same. investdrinks continues to be contacted by people who have been cold called and offered poor value wine investment deals with the promise of easy double figure profits in a year or less. Say no.

Many articles on wine investment end with trite idea that if all goes wrong you can always drink your wine. True but, if it is in bond, it will be at the cost of paying the duty and vat. If you paid £32,500 for a case of Pétrus 2005 it will cost you a further £5688 to pay the taxes due to remove it from bond. VAT is levied on the price you pay for the case not its current value.

Uvine - Bob Roche confirms that commitments can’t be met
(Posted 7th April 2008)

Bob Roche of Marqem told Graham Wolloff, uvine’s administrator on Friday (4th April) that ‘Marqem / BTP will NOT be able to meet its commitment to pay the first dividend this month’. It would be an understatement to say that this news is in any way surprising. Indeed it would have been astonishing had Roche phoned Wolloff to tell him that Marqem were able to keep to the repayments’ schedule.

In the light of Mr Roche’s call investdrinks decided it was time to visit our old favourite, the highly esteemed Magic Meg in deepest Penge to get some odds on uvine, Marqem and on creditors’ chances of getting any of the money they are owed.

On the day Meg may have been feeling rather pessimistic, as her odds won’t make pretty reading for creditors.

  • 10,000/1: Creditors getting all of the 80% that Marqem Ltd have pledged to pay.
  • 1000/1: that creditors receive more than a token payment from Marqem Ltd.
  • 25/1: that creditors receive any payment from Marqem Ltd.
  • 1/10: That Marqem and its parent company BTP Ltd are struck off for non-compliance before the end of 2008.
  • 1/50: That Marqem and its parent company BTP Ltd are struck off for non-compliance before the end of 2009.

Alpha Invest Worldwide and Classic Bordeaux Wines Ltd
(Posted 4th March 2008)

This heralds the return of Timothy Spenser Dunton (ex-Bordeaux Vintners Ltd that went bust on 27th April 2006) and Spyros Constantinos (ex-Bordeaux Wine Consultants Ltd that went bust on 19th July 2006). Constantinos has been a director of Classic Bordeaux Wine Ltd since 22nd April 1998, while Dunton is listed as the owner of the Alpha Invest Worldwide  (alphainvestworldwide.com) and Classic Bordeaux Wines Ltd (classicbordeauxwines.com) sites. The Classic Bordeaux Wines site claims that ‘Classic Bordeaux Wines was established in 1998 and continues to offer what we believe is an unrivalled service to our clients.’ Although it is true that the company was founded on 22nd April 1998, it changed its name from Constant Enterprises Limited on 28th January 2002, so it is unlikely to have been offering wine investments since 1998 as the site implies. Unfortunately ‘the unrivalled service’ does not include complying with UK Company Law - the annual return has been outstanding since 20th May 2007.

‘The unrivalled service’ does, however, include offering to some BVI’s ex-clients of BVI to sell their wine for a flat fee of £345. One client was offered a minimum total sale that came to a little under £14,000. At the time the same wines could be purchased (from cheapest prices on wine searcher) for a little over £17,000 - a difference of £3208. Obviously it would depend upon the commission charged if the client decided to sell their wine elsewhere but, in the event, the client decided that this was a deal that they could decline. Much of the text on the Classic Bordeaux Wines site bears a remarkable similarity to Wikipedia’s entry on Bordeaux and its wines.

Alpha Invest Worldwide, which is not a limited company, claims that it ‘is an Investment House specialising in Alternative Investments; our aim is to cherry-pick the best performing Investment vehicles from markets world-wide. Our sole concern is maximising the profitability of our clients’ investment portfolios.’ Alpha Invest Worldwide operates from a call centre at Witchford, Ely, UK as well as an address in Marbella, Spain.

uvine - creditors to  be disappointed

It looks increasingly odds on that Marqem Ltd run by Canadian businessman Bob Roche will fail to meet its commitment to the schedule of repayments to Uvine’s creditors. Both Marqem Ltd and its parent BTP Ltd of 3rd Floor Elizabeth House, 39 York Road, London SE1 7NQ are in the process of being struck off by UK Companies House. Marqem Ltd’s annual return has been overdue since 27.6.2007 and its accounts since 31.10.2007, while BTP’s return has been overdue since 19.9.2007 and the accounts since 31.10.2007. Equally there is no sign of the uvine trading platform being relaunched. The website still claims as it has done so since the end of October 2007 that the site will be relaunched in November. Under the agreement with the administrators Marqem Ltd are due to repay creditors 80% of their debt with the first repayment due on 30th April 2008. In return Marqem bought uvine's goodwill, intellectual property rights and customer database for a nominal sum. It is difficult to see what Roche will have gained from this transaction as investdrinks understands that a number of the creditors asked for their details to be removed from the database; nor can their have been much residual goodwill following uvine’s collapse.

Wine Traders International Ltd

The company had a complete change of management in August 2007. However, this has no improved its record for filing documents required by UK company law with Companies House. The annual return has been overdue since 7.10.2007. Miller Romi Ltd, the company secretary, has also failed to file its latest return on time (overdue 13.10.2007) or its accounts (overdue 31.1.2008). It has also moved its trading address from Manchester to  Leatherhead. In mid-February 2008 investdrinks was informed by someone who had been cold called by Wine Traders International that they had been offered a case of Mouton-Rothschild 2006 en primeur for £5800 a case plus their 25% up-front commission - a total of £7250. On 14.2.2008 Vintage Holdings was offering a case for £3825 making Wine Traders International 90% more expensive.

As Wine Trader International’s prices are uncompetitive before they add their 25%upfront commission, investdrinks’s advice is not to buy wine from them. Buying en primeur from them is doubly risky the company’s failure to file their annual return on time - a criminal offence under UK company law. If they can’t organise themselves to file documents on time, will they be able to make the necessary arrangements to order and pay for en primeur Bordeaux? This risk is compounded by their failure of their company secretary, Miller Romi Ltd, to file either their annual return or accounts. There must be a chance that both companies will have been struck off for non-compliance before the 2006 Bordeaux’s are shipped.

Bordeaux Advisory: advice to customers from London City Bond
(Posted 30th October 2007)

As around 3000 cases belonging to customers of Bordeaux Advisory are currently stored at London City Bond (LCB) in an account run by JWM Vintners Ltd (sole director - Jonnie May), investdrinks invited London City Bond to set out the options with their costs. Customers should be aware that other bonded warehouses, in particular Octavian, also offer private customers reserves. However it may make sense to remain within the LCB system. Whatever your decision investdrinks’ strong advice is to open your own private account if you intend to keep your wines in bond in the UK, then you will have control over your wine.

LCB’s advice:
‘Thanks for giving us this opportunity to advise BA customers who have approached you of the options open to them.

It occurs to us that many may have purchased wines as investment and may not want to take delivery, or they may not have space providing suitable conditions for storage, or they may not be living in the UK and do not want to incur the significant costs of shipping.

Wines held at London City Bond are held in bond in the UK. In other words the UK duty and VAT have not been paid. When wines are cleared from bond in the UK the excise duty of £16.02 per case of 12 bottles for EU still table wine not exceeding 15% is paid (technically £177.99 per hectolitre) and then VAT (currently 17.5%) is payable on the total cost of the wine including excise duty. However the wine may be sold while still in bond. This is attractive for investors who are not registered for VAT as no VAT is payable on the sale. Sales in bond are technically outside the scope of VAT.

For those who wish to ship their wine to another EU country they can ship their wine in bond, in other words without having to pay any UK duty or VAT. The wine, then, becomes liable for any domestic taxes in the destination country. It is important to note that wines may not be moved under bond in the UK unless the transporter has a Movement Guarantee with HM Revenue & Customs. Some transporters from Continental Europe may not be aware of the need for a Movement Guarantee in the UK. In summary therefore wines may be moved between tax warehouses in the EU. Such movements are controlled by an Administrative Accompanying Document (AAD). The despatching tax warehouse raises this and the receiving tax warehouse returns a copy as evidence that the wine has reached its destination.

If individual customers wish to collect wines themselves from the UK and take them back to their EU country they cannot transport them in bond unless covered by a Movement Guarantee. If UK duty and VAT have been paid then they are free to transport them and will not be liable for duty or VAT in their EU country provided they accompany the wine on import and provided that the wines are only for their personal consumption.

If a client wishes to pay UK duty and VAT this should be paid to whoever the depositor is, in this case JWM Vintners, JWM Vintners will in turn pay London City Bond.

Some may wish to continue to hold their wine under bond in the UK. The only 100% secure way of doing this is to open their own account directly with a tax warehouse such as London City Bond. London City Bond has a dedicated warehouse for holding customer reserves called Vinotheque. For full details including charges please see vinotheque.co.uk.

Or as FAQs.

Q. If I do not live in the UK can I collect my wines from London City Bond myself and return home with them?
A. Only if you prepay the UK excise duty and VAT. To transport wines under bond in the UK requires a Movement Guarantee, which is granted by UK Revenue & Customs to reputable VAT registered transporters only.

Q. If I want my wines transported to my home outside the UK how do I go about this?
A. Use a reputable transporter accustomed to carrying wine. We understand that Tradewines are recommending Schenker who are both reputable and used to carrying wine. Details of costs for home delivery need to be addressed to Schenker.

Q. If I nevertheless want to collect my wines how do I go about this?
A. You need to get your wines released by London City Bond. Only JWM Vintners can do this. You will need to pay UK excise duty of £16.02 per case of 12 bottles plus VAT at 17.5% on the total cost. This must be done through JWM Vintners Ltd. You can then export your wine without paying any duty or VAT in your (EU) country provided that you accompany the wine on import and that the wine is for your own consumption.

Q. If I do not want to incur the costs of moving my wine but wish to continue to hold it under bond in the UK can this be done?
A. Yes, London City Bond has a warehouse dedicated to holding private customer reserves called Vinotheque. In excess of 7,000 customers from around the world cellar their wines at Vinotheque, which offers perfect conditions for long-term storage and maturation. For full details including charges visit the web site www.vinotheque.co.uk

Q. Would my wines be insured at Vinotheque?
A. Yes, All Risks to replacement cost.

Q. Are my wines secure at Vinotheque?
A. Yes, London City Bond will only take instructions from you.

Q. Is there a cost for moving my wine to Vinotheque?
A. Yes, 30 pence per case + VAT with a minimum charge of £8 + VAT.

Q. I note that London City Bond add VAT to all their charges. Do I have to pay this as I live outside the UK?
A. Yes, as the service is provided in the UK.

Q. Can I sell my wine under bond in the UK.
A. Yes, and the big advantage is that you do not have to pay VAT as In Bond Sales are technically outside the scope of VAT.’

investdrinks understands that Tradewines has decided to delay the imposition of its swingeing storage charges by a month and introduce them at the end of November 2007. As the wines will presumably still be stored in Jonnie May’s JWM Vintners Ltd account at LCB, investdrinks wonders whether Mr May will receive a slice of the exorbitant storage fees that Tradewines proposes charging.

investdrinks continues to be bemused at how BCV and JWM Vintners Ltd, apparently reputable companies, have got involved with the shadowy Tradewines - whose only known address is a mailbox in central London - and that they have allowed themselves to be uncomfortably close to the rapacious fraud perpetrated by Bordeaux Advisory. investdrinks has been very surprised and extremely disappointed that Jonnie May, the sole director of JWM Vintners Ltd, has not been more helpful to the BA customers who have contacted him preferring just to refer them to Tradewines - only known address a mailbox in central London.

I can’t think this is doing much for the reputation of Jonnie May and JWM Vintners Ltd. Would you buy wine from a man, who now knows full well that the owners of the 3000 cases in his account, on which he charges a 10% commission on the storage charges, paid through the nose for their wines and who apparently isn’t prepared to lift a finger to help them?

Craig Dean told to cough up

Craig Dean, who was sentenced to three years imprisonment in March 2001 for fraud, lost his appeal against a confiscation order on 24th October in London’s High Court. Dean was convicted for his part in the House of Delacroix scam. Set up in 1996 the company was based in Amsterdam and sold over-priced Champagne on the pretence that there would be a shortage of Champagne.

In 2002 Dean was ordered to pay £133,692. This sum was calculated on unexplained cash withdrawals from Helmsley SPRL (“HS”), a Cognac investment company Dean set up with offices in Belgium and Madeira following the collapse of the House of Delacroix in August 1997. Dean’s claim that Ing Yang Oei, the manager of Helmsley in Belgium, removed the cash was rejected. The judges described Dean’s evidence as “incredible” and “absurd”. Dean was ordered to pay the outstanding £133,692 within six months or face 18 months imprisonment. He was also ordered to pay £10,000 towards the defence costs and £10,000 towards the prosecution costs, payable within nine months.

Tradewines tightens the Bordeaux Advisory screw
(Posted 18th October 2007)

Clients of Bordeaux Advisory have recently received the following notification from Tradewines. It is believed that it was sent out by Ricky Wydmanski, who is believed to be the key figure in Tradewines. It appears to be an attempt to squeeze more money out of BA’s customers who have already been royally fleeced by BA.

investdrinks’ comments are bold italics.

NOTIFICATION DOCUMENT

To All Customers of Bordeaux Advisory

This is to duly notify you of the following:

  1. Tradewines for a period of approximately 5 years have acted as buyers for and suppliers to Bordeaux Advisory. Tradewines is not a subsidiary or an associated company of Bordeaux Advisory and has no direct affiliation with Bordeaux Advisory.

There may be no direct affiliation between Tradewines and Bordeaux Advisory but there appears to be a close commercial association as Tradewines have access to BA’s client lists. Tradewines has told investdrinks that Bordeaux Advisory gave them ‘instructions to arrange storage of the wines on behalf of its clients’.

  1. At present Tradewines is exercising all of its rights, both proprietary and/or contractual, over stock and supplies invoiced to Bordeaux Advisory.

As storage has been delegated to JWM Vintners Ltd in the UK and BCV in France and that BA clients appear to have paid (usually through the nose) for their stocks, it is far from clear whether Tradewines has any rights at all over the stock.

  1. Wines that have been ordered by Bordeaux Advisory and received by Tradewines are stored with reputable shippers/agents either in Bordeaux or in London.

Either Borderac Cru et Vins (BCV) or JWM Vintners Ltd. JWM Vintners has an account with London City Bond with around 3000 cases of BA clients wine in it. London City Bond (LCB), a legitimate storage company, are an entirely innocent party here.

  1. If you consider you have a claim through Bordeaux Advisory for any of the wines held by and on behalf of Tradewines then before looking into the matter we require from you the following:
  • a) Reference number.
  • b) Bordeaux Advisory number (BA number).
  • c) Your full name and address and any other relevant information contact and other information specifically attributable to your wine purchase transaction with Bordeaux Advisory.

You will also need to pay to us any duty/VAT/delivery charges attached to your wine and, in the event that there are any unpaid amounts in relation to the wine, Tradewines will need to seek legal advice as regards reservation of title rights and ownership where wine title is not claimed and storage charges are not paid.

As the BA wines are in bond it is not clear what duty and vat charges could be outstanding unless, of course, BA clients decide to remove their wines from bond. Then there would also be delivery charges. Clients would have the option to set up their own accounts either with London City Bond or other bond.

Tradewines does not appear to hold any wines. As Tradewines arranged storage on behalf of the clients of Bordeaux Advisory, surely they already hold customers’ details.

Tradewines will pay storage charges to the end of October. Beyond that date there will be a charge of €2.50 per case of wine per week or any part of one week until it is agreed to be released.

 €2.50 a week is an absurd storage charge - the equivalent of €130 (£90.56) a year. Not clear whether this figure includes vat. LCB’s annual charge to their private customers is £12.69 a case including vat. Given the number of cases in the JWM Vintners account it would seem very likely that May has negotiated a more favourable rate. Tradewines may not be directly affiliated with Bordeaux Advisory but has clearly has the same policy of overcharging.

This raises the interesting question of who is going to pay the storage charges for unclaimed wine after 30th October. Will BCV continue to pay invoices from JMW Vintners Ltd? Will Tradewines pay invoices from BCV - if that is the route used? Presumably not if they are stopping from 30th October.  

Finally you should note that due to the time and administration costs to which Tradewines has been and will be put to resolve the issues referable to the Bordeaux Advisory situation there will be added to your account an administration charge of €75 which, as per the other terms above, will be payable to us prior to any wines being released and shipped. This is a “one-off” charge payable by each client in each claim notwithstanding the quantity of wine stored for any one client.

Not content with levying very high storage charges clients are to be hit with an administrative charge. London mailboxes must be more expensive than I imagined. In other communications Tradewines has assured BA clients that all of the wine ordered has been bought. BCV has told investdrinks that they have sold no wine to Tradewines since September 2006, which raises questions about wines ordered by BA customers after that date. Until it is known what wines are in storage in Bordeaux and London, there must be a significant possibility that BA did not buy all the wines that their customers ordered.

If the wine is not claimed and paid for by the 31st October 2008 then we will consider the wine unclaimed and forfeit, seize the same and exercise, in conjunction with the storage agents, rights of bailees and/or rights of lien over the goods by way of sale/disposition.

Tradewines has no control over the wines stored in the JWM Vintners account at London City Bond. The control lies solely with Jonnie May of JWM Vintners Ltd. May has the right to dispose of the wines should he wish to do so but it is hard to see what basis Tradewines themselves could establish a lien over the wines.

investdrinks’ advice is that BA clients should weigh up carefully whether it is worth paying out any further money on their wine. It would appear that very few of the wines bought have any investment potential and from the evidence so far they have been so grossly overpriced by Bordeaux Advisory as to make the possibility of profit negligible. wine-searcher.com is a very good site to see what price your wine sells for elsewhere bearing in mind that the customary commission for selling wine is 10%.

If you live far away from the UK it may well not be worth the charges to have the wines shipped to you. It may be worth trying to sell your wines but bear in mind that this is only likely to realise a small fraction of what you paid for them - a sum further diminished by Tradewines €75 administrative charge and their swingeing storage charges. 

Please note that we are a supplier and arrange shipments, storage and deal with attendant costs and expenses. We do not sell stored wines on behalf of clients or third parties.

Tradewines are probably all too aware that many of the wines held are of little value. Given that Tradewines’ sole known address is a mailbox in Knightsbridge, London it is far from clear what they actually do. investdrinks has asked Yorick d’Alton, managing director of BCV, and Jonnie May, the sole director of JWM Vintners Ltd for contact details for Tradewines and received no response. I can only presume that they either are not prepared divulge this information (I wonder why?) or the Knightsbridge mailbox is indeed the only address.

Subject to the above Tradewines will use all reasonable endeavours to locate, secure and ship the wines you have paid for but, inevitably, subject to its own legal and financial rights in this matter.

Around 3000 cases are held at London City Bond in an account owned by JWM Vintners and controlled by Jonnie May. Tradewines does not access to this account. It is far from certain whether it is worth the expense of having your wines delivered to your country

Yours faithfully,

TRADEWINES

Given the shadowy nature of Tradewines, investdrinks suggests that BA clients may well be better off contacting BCV (borderac.com) and JWM Vintners - 01223 891 122 or Jwmvintners@aol.com - direct. Clients should not contact London City Bond, who has no power to release wine from the JWM Vintners account. Only Jonnie May can authorize that. 

Another letter from Tradewines
BA clients received another letter from Tradewines this week.

‘Dear Sir/Madam,

Recently you may or may not have read that the AFM (Authorization Financial Markets) have black listed Bordeaux Advisory. Due to this, Bordeaux Advisory was unable to carry on trading and has unfortunately had to close its doors through no fault of its own.

There have been press reports insinuating that Bordeaux Advisory has funds in reserve, however the truth is that Bordeaux  Advisory is effectively bankrupt due to the negative onslaught by the AFM and by the lawyers wishing to feather their own nests with clients money to fight a case against a financial institution that never existed. Bordeaux Advisory was a wine trader, nothing more than that and lawyers have been informed of this. Your money was spent on wine and you are the owner of this wine.

Your wine purchase is safe and can be delivered to you or alternatively you can instruct another wine trader to deal with your wine purchase

We apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused and wish you success in future.

To facilitate delivery please contact the agent for the storage facilities

Tradewines
Attn Mr J. Reeves (Jason)
Suite 5043 
19 Cheval Place
London SW7 1EW
United Kingdom
(correct) email address: tradewinesSA@aol.com

Although the AFM warning was very welcome, it would have been good if this unpleasant and rapacious scam had been closed down years ago.  I can well believe that Bordeaux Advisory now has no funds. Given their huge mark ups,  this surely means that either funds have been removed from the company or it was incompetently run.  Nor is it yet clear whether Bordeaux Advisory bought all the wine its clients ordered.

Bordeaux Advisory disappears?
(Posted 9th October 2007)

Keen followers of Bordeaux Advisory (BA) will have noted that its website (bordeauxadvisory.com) now shows as a Plesk™ default page. It also seems impossible to reach BA on the phone.

On 3rd September the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets (AFM) ‘issued a warning to investors not to respond to offers of investment objects from Bordeaux Advisory B.V. The AFM believes that Bordeaux Advisory is offering and has offered investment objects in the Netherlands without either holding the required licence or being subject to an exemption.’

‘Bordeaux Advisory B.V. uses the following address to offer investment objects:Z.I. Letzebuerger Heck, L-3844 Schifflange, Luxembourg, and it previously used the following address: Orlyplein 85 Busitel 1, 1043 DS  Amsterdam, the Netherlands.’

‘Investors who have any queries or complaints can also contact the Financial Markets Information Line on 0900 5400 540 (5 eurocents per minute) or from abroad +31 20 797 3715.’

The full text can be found at: afm.nl/consumer/default.ashx?DocumentId=9939

It would appear that Bordeaux Advisory has ceased to operate. investdrinks understands that the French police are now investigating.

Unsurprisingly Bordeaux Advisory’s disappearance has alarmed some of Bordeaux Advisory’s clients. investdrinks has been  contacted recently by a client in China, who has bought several cases from BA including some Vieux Château des Templiers 2003 from Pomerol. This is the second wine of Château Rouget and is an exclusivity from Bordeaux Crus et Vins (BCV). In August 2007 the client was charged €2965 per case.

“The correct market price paid by an importer for a small Pomerol is around €10 to €12,” Yorick d’Alton, the managing director of BCV, has told investdrinks. Thus the buying the 2003 Templiers from BCV would be between €120-€144 a case. Certainly nowhere near the €2965 charged by BA and this wine has no investment potential.

The Chinese client also bought a case of Château Lascombes 1996 Margaux for €1755 and one of Château Caronne Sainte Gemme 1996 Haut-Médoc for €1425. From wine-searcher Bijou Bottles list the Lascombes for €357.50, while everywine.co.uk lists the Caronne St Gemme for €187.75. Although the client was severely over-charged on all the wines bought from Bordeaux Advisory, it is interesting to note that the most eye-watering mark-up is on the Templiers - the least well-known.

investdrinks has contacted Jon Reeves, the sales director of BCV. Reeves told investdrinks, although they had sold wines to Tradewines BCV had sold no wine to Tradewines since September 2006. BCV had had no contact with Bordeaux Advisory. Curiously in a general letter sent out to clients in September 2007 by Bordeaux Advisory advising them where to find their wine a J Reeves is listed as the agent for the storage for Tradewines at Suite 5043, 19 Cheval Place, London SW17 1EW. Clients are told that their wine will either be at London City Bond (LCB) or at Schenker-BTL in Bordeaux. However, Reeves told investdrinks that he had never been part of Tradewines and that the use of his name was “completely false”.

The storage arrangements on behalf of Bordeaux Advisory at London City Bond appear curiously complicated. Bordeaux Advisory does not have an account at LCB. Their clients’ wines are stored in an account run by JWM Vintners Ltd (www.jwmvintners.com), which is run by Jonnie May (contact details: tel: 01223-891122, fax: 01223-891124, email: jwmvintners@aol.com). investdrinks understands that May invoices BCV for the LCB storage charges adding 10% for his services. investdrinks understands from d’Alton that ‘BCV has an arrangement with Tradewines to store the wines some months before being shipped to LCB, because we are not allowed to store too long (VAT rules)’.

investdrinks understands there are some 3000 cases in the client account at LCB run by JWM Vintners. Apparently LCB have been contacted by a number of concerned clients of Bordeaux Advisory. I trust that the ownership of the cases is clear otherwise Jonnie May is likely to have a busy job sorting everything out and will certainly be earning his 10%, especially when Bordeaux Advisory’s clients realise that many of the wines are worth only a small fraction of what they paid for them and some have no investment potential at all.

A further curiosity is that Tradewines does have an account with LCB - apparently set up in 2005 -  but it does not appear to be used to store BA clients’ wines. investdrinks understands that Tradewines has been in contact with LCB, who were informed that Tradewines would soon be sending out a letter to all Bordeaux Advisory’s clients. The representative from Tradewines assured LCB that Bordeaux Advisory had bought all the wine that their clients had ordered. This appears to suggest that there is a fairly close relationship between Tradewines and Bordeaux Advisory.

Quite why a legitimate Bordeaux négociant would want to be involved in arranging storage in the UK on behalf of Bordeaux Advisory against whom the Dutch financial authorities have issued a public warning is unclear. investdrinks understands that it is normally the purchaser (here Tradewines), who would customarily arrange transport and storage.

Uvine - a relaunch?

The uvine.com site currently displays the following message

MARQEM LTD., having recently acquired the assets of www.uvine.com, will introduce THE PREMIER INTERNET TRADING PLATFORM FOR FINE WINE. LAUNCH DATE - mid-October, 2007
PLEASE NOTE THAT MARQEM LTD. IS NOT AFFILIATED IN ANYWAY WITH THE PREVIOUS MANAGEMENT AND DIRECTORS OF UVINE
For further information, please contact bob.roche@btpinvest.com

As requested investdrinks contacted Bob Roche back in late September but unfortunately hasn’t heard back from him yet but doubtless he is very busy so I remain hopeful that will hear something soon.

A phoenix rises in Godalming -
The curious tale of PMH Wines Ltd and The Wine Barrel
(Posted 28th September 2007)

investdrinks was recently been ask to assist an American client of PMH Wines Ltd, a company formerly based at 113 High Street, Godalming but now in liquidation. Its sole director was 46-year-old Paul Havers.

In the summer of 2005 the client ordered 11 cases of Bordeaux en primeur 2004 for a total of £3270. He received various acknowledgments by email from Paul Havers, in particular a letter dated 10th August 2005. The client was given a password and was able keep track of his order on line. The 2004s would normally be delivered at the end of 2006 or the beginning of 2007.

PMH Wines Ltd was set up on 5th August 2003. The accounts to 31st July 2004, the only ones filed, show a turnover of £51,697 and a small deficit of £1729.

In the summer of 2005 the company offered Bordeaux 2004 en primeur - ‘will be offering the pick of well-priced Bordeaux 2004s at keen prices, starting from £85 per dozen’.

PMH Wines Ltd, however, appears to have run into financial problems. investdrinks is aware of 11 county court judgments starting from £709 in Clerkenwell, London to 21st March 2007 for £580 in Stockport - a total of £11,761.

On 26th April 2006 there was a judgment in Northampton for £6622.

Five days later on May 1st 2006 Paul Havers signed an application to have PMH Wines Ltd struck off by Companies House on the grounds that it had not traded for three months. He also resigned as the sole director and his wife, Monika Havers, resigned as company secretary. On 25th May Havers formed a new company called The Wine Barrel. He and his wife Monika became directors. Currently Paul Havers and 74-year-old Weronika Jastrzebski are the two company directors. At present The Wine Barrel is in breach of company law as it has no company secretary as Secretariat Business Services Ltd of Folkestone resigned on 17th August 2007.

On 14th June Havers sent the following notification to various members of the press, especially those who had websites and listed PMH Wines in their links directories:

‘The current site of www.pmhwines.co.uk is being changed to our new and re-branded site The Wine Barrel, the new URL is thewinebarrel.co.uk.

The change takes effect as of 19th June. Would you please remove the reference to PMH Wines and amend your links page to reflect the change (currently a Welcome Page is displayed until the domain is propagated). If possible a new logo, which is enclosed can be added to replace the old one.’

The old details were:

PMH Wines Ltd
113 High Street, Godalming, Surrey, GU7 1AQ
Tel: (00 44) (0) 1483 424655 Fax: (00 44) (0) 1483 424122
Website: www.pmhwines.co.uk
E-mail: paul.havers@pmhwines.co.uk

To be replaced with:

Paul Havers
The Wine Barrel
Tel: +44(0) 1483 861080
Fax: +44(0) 1483 424122
Email: paul@thewinebarrel.co.uk
Web: www.thewinebarrel.co.uk
Post: 113 High Street, Godalming, Surrey, GU7 1AQ

The new company was to trade from the same premises but with different phone numbers. On 30th June 2006 Paul Havers did not renew his registration of the site (pmhwines.co.uk). His ISP transferred the registration to Stefan Rooyackers, who appears to be a Dutch insurance salesman, on 1st July 2006.

investdrinks understands that the signage of the shop in Godalming was changed from PMH Wines Ltd to The Wine Barrel. I understand that this may have been as early as February 2006 during the filming of The Holiday, a romantic comedy, in Godalming in Feb 2006. Conceivably the filmmakers may have asked after for a name change - apparently other Godalming shops changed their signage temporarily to fit in with the film.

It appears that the two companies stocked the same range of wines with the existing stock transferred to the new company. Later in 2006 the shop closed and The Wine Barrel moved to its current address 7 Gower Park, Sandhurst, Berks, GU47 0ZA. Tel: 0845 257 8058 

On 12th July 2006 the application to strike-off PMH Wines was received by Companies House and processed on 13th July. Similarly the resignations of Paul and Monika Havers were received on 7th July and processed on 13th July. However the company went into voluntary liquidation on 10th August 2006. Robert Thompson of Rendell Thompson, 32 Aldershot Road, Fleet, Hants GU51 3NN (tel: 01252-816636) was appointed liquidator.

On 23rd August 2006 Paul Havers swore and signed a statement of affairs drawn up by the liquidator for PMH Wines Ltd based on information disclosed by Paul Havers. The company’s deficiency is given as £57,398.13 with only two creditors - Hallgarten Wines Ltd for £7398.13 and P. Havers for £50,000. No secured or preferential creditors were listed and it was claimed that the company had no assets. Havers swore that this was ‘to the best of my knowledge and belief a full true and complete statement’ as to the affairs of PMH Wines Ltd.

In the first part of 2007 the liquidator filed his report on PMH Wines and on 31st May ceased to be the liquidator - investdrinks understands he is also owed money. The report raised concerns that Paul Havers had not made a full disclosure because another six creditors had come forward. However, the Insolvency Service decided not to take any further action.

Back in 2006 the American client was concerned when he noticed that the company name had changed and he apparently contacted Paul Havers, who assured him that all would be well and that he would receive his wine. However, the client later became very concerned when he found he could no longer track his ordered wines and found it very difficult to get hold of Paul Havers.

In September 2007 he appointed an agent to look into what had happened and he also contacted ASDW (Association of Small Direct Wine Merchants), who put him in contact with investdrinks.

I understand from the American client that he received three emails from Paul Havers (two on 23rd September and one on 24th September) in response to a request for information about his 2004 wines. In all three emails Paul Havers told his client that there was no connection between the two companies - The Wine Barrel Ltd and PMH Wines Ltd. In those of the 23rd I understand that PH denies any knowledge of PMH Wines Ltd and points out that The Wine Barrel Ltd. was formed almost a year after the client’s receipt of 4th July 2005. PMH Wines has only dealt on the internet since its foundation (PH appears to have forgotten that The Wine Barrel Ltd was based at 113 High Street, Godalming, Surrey, GU7 1AQ during part of 2006 - JB). The Wine Barrel does not deal in nor does it intend to deal in Bordeaux futures due apparently to the happenings in the Bordeaux market.

In the email sent very early on 24th September I understand that the US client was told that The Wine Barrel’s solicitors had now done a check at PMH Wines Ltd was in liquidation. The client was asked to remove any adverse comments from any forums, otherwise they would face legal action. I understand that The Wine Barrel Ltd declined, on the advice of their solicitors (obviously a 24-hour service as the client advises me that it was sent at 5.58 am Monday morning), they will enter into no further correspondence.

The text of these emails can be found here.

Paul Havers has claimed to me and on Tom Cannavan’s wine forum on Wine Pages (wine-pages.com) through the thread ‘PMH Wines Ltd - in liquidation En primeur’ that in 2006 he was duped by a bunch of swindlers who bought his business and then doubled crossed him. He claims they took everything: ‘obviously the company name, stock, money in the company accounts, my self esteem, my health just to mention a few’.

He explains his signature on the application to strike off PMH Wines Ltd by saying that he didn’t look at what he was signing properly. 'I was approached by a Financial Services company, from what I can remember they sounded viable and it all looked above board. They were acting on my behalf when I signed a contract with them, I can remember having to sign a shed load of forms when they came to the shop'.

Amazingly Paul Havers doesn’t know the name of the person who is alleged to have bought his business. He thinks the Financial Services company was called Companies 2 Go Ltd based in Newport (Salop) but this was a dormant company, which was dissolved on 29th August 2006. When he assumed that the sale of PMH Wines Ltd had gone through Havers claims to have destroyed all the company’s records. As he kept the shop and transferred the internet site to a Dutch insurance operation, what was there for a putative purchaser to buy? Goodwill - with a lengthening list of county court judgments? The probability must be that this alleged ‘swindle’ is a figment of Paul Havers’ imagination.

When asked why there were only two creditors listed on the statement of affairs, he replied  ‘To answer your questions, I did provide the documents to the liquidator, where and how he used them I don't know. He took all the details when we met and I even had to send him some additional details. He is still asking me for information that he took from me at our initial meeting so I am nowhere wiser.’

‘Wiser’ is an interesting and, possibly, apposite choice of word. Paul Havers appears to have forgotten that he swore and signed the statement of affairs (23rd August 2006) listing only two creditors. investdrinks understands that three further creditors have come forward this week. Nor were the nearly 20 cases of wine in PMH Wines Ltd’s account at London City Bond disclosed. It must be highly likely that Paul Havers knew the statement of affairs was inaccurate because he had failed to make a full and proper disclosure to the liquidator. Presumably he was aware that a full disclosure would have put the spotlight on the phoenix of 113 High Street, Godalming and the unfulfilled en primeur orders.

investdrinks has spoken to Robert Thompson. “I’m very concerned, as the former liquidator, by all the information that is now coming to light that was not available and not disclosed to me at the time,” he said. “I’m very concerned on behalf of the creditors that matters should be taken further.  I would be totally happy to provide information to any further investigation.” I understand that the liquidator still has his file on the company. When I mentioned the alleged ‘buyout swindle’ he said “this is a new one to me!”

Stop press: 28th September 2007

investdrinks now understands from Louis Vialard SAS that, although Paul Havers placed orders for 2004 en primeur payment was never received as Louis Vialard’s representative for the UK explains. ‘I can categorically state that Louis Vialard S.A.S. received no payment from "PMH Wines" or Mr Paul Havers for any primeur requested by him, Mr. Havers was called repeatedly for payments to be made but as no money was paid to us we cancelled his order.’

PMH Wines Ltd in liquidation
(Posted 25th September 2007)

PMH Wine Ltd, which sold 2004 Bordeaux en primeur, went into voluntary liquidation on 10th August 2006. It is likely that none of the company’s clients, who ordered 2004 en primeur from PMH Wines Ltd, have received their wines. They are not listed as creditors on the liquidator’s report - there are only two creditors - Paul Havers, the sole director, and Hallgarten Wines Ltd. If you bought 2004 en primeur from PMH Wines Ltd investdrinks would urge to contact the liquidator, who is Robert Thompson of Rendell Thompson 32 Aldershot Road, Fleet, Hants GU51 3NN. Tel: 01252-816636.  The company is due to be dissolved on 13th October 2007, so you will need act quickly.

Christopher Keiller contact details
(Posted 4th September 2007)

Christopher Keiller is in between moving house. His old email address is now working again and he can also be contacted on 01963-220788.

The Cellaret - £350,000 not passed on to Bordeaux négociants
(Posted 3rd September 2007)

Some three months after The Cellaret went into voluntary liquidation with debts of £550,000 it has emerged that the £350,000 paid to them by customers for 2005 en primeur was not passed onto the Bordeaux négociants. The company did pass on the approximately £135,000 to cover orders for 2004 en primeur.

The Cellaret’s failure to pay the Bordeaux négoce has sunk a possible class action by a number of the Cellaret’s en primeur customers led by a London barrister against the liquidator’s claim that en primeur customers do not have title to the wines they ordered.

The liquidators - The MacDonald Partnership - are waiting to have a meeting with Ray Dutton and Anita Doherty, the two directors of The Cellaret. investdrinks imagines that the liquidators will be expecting wanting a full and convincing explanation from Doherty and Dutton. UK liquidators have a duty to report details of any misconduct by the directors to the Department of Trade & Industry (DTI).

This is part of a disturbing pattern as The Cellaret is the third collapsed company in 13 months not to pass on customers’ money to secure en primeur orders. There appears to be a regrettable tendency for UK companies to treat customers’ en primeur funds as free money to be used to finance their business, in particular buying Christmas stock. The obvious danger being that poor Christmas sales leaves them unable to pay the Bordeaux merchants and that customers’ unsecured interest free loan turns into a donation.

investdrinks is pleased to learn that the Wine & Spirit Trades Association is looking at ways of trying to reduce the risk of buying en primeur and providing guidance to consumers when choosing an en primeur merchant. “We are looking at whether there will be benefits in developing a checklist for consumers and if so what would it include. Jeremy Beadles, WSTA’s chief executive said.

It will be good if the WSTA do come up with a useful and worthwhile checklist. However it is not enough to encourage customers to do their own due diligence, the fine wine trade through the WSTA needs to look at tightening up en primeur procedures and to set out best practice.

The following ‘best practice’ en primeur measures should now be considered:

  • En primeur money (the amount due to the Bordeaux négociant or the next company in the chain. Not to include merchants' profit margin) to be kept separate in a deposit or trust account. (In the spirit of The Distance Selling Code of Practice for Wines and Spirits 3.5.1)
  • En primeur money (as defined above) should not be used to fund a company's trading ie buying stock for the Christmas period in hope that sales will be sufficient to cover the amount still due to the négoce when payment is due.
  • Prompt payment to the négociants as scheduled
  • French bank guarantees with Bordeaux négociants. This guarantees funds paid to the négoce even if it does not ensure that possession of the wine should the négociant default.
  • Ship wines at earliest opportunity - may be particularly important in years like 2005 when it is conceivable that the orders will exceed supply.
  • Ensure that shipments of en primeur wines are comprehensively and properly insured 
  • Clients should be made aware of the risks involved in buying en primeur including at what stage title passes.

Christopher Keiller Fine Wines - request for information
(Posted 14th August 2007)

investdrinks would appreciate any information about the current situation and whereabouts of Christopher Keiller Fine Wines whose business address is 46 Green Lane, Redruth, TR15 1JU Tel: 01209-215706 or 217099. A client of the company has been unable to contact them. investdrinks understands that Christopher Keiller Fine Wines had a ‘large cellar clearance’ in July 2007. The above telephone numbers no longer exist and the web site (gladys.demon.co.uk/finewineservices.html) cannot be found and emails are returned.

investdrinks trusts that this is just a question of the business having changed contact numbers etc.

Dunbar - wines still outstanding

investdrinks has been reporting on the problems at Dunbar Fine Wines and the failure of its owner, Soorat Singh, to pre-paid wines to his clients since lat May 2006. Although the majority of Dunbar’s customers have received their wine there are still 8 or 9 who are still waiting for a total of around 40 cases they are still owed. One unfortunate client is still owed 13 cases of wine. It remains unclear whether Singh passed on money paid to him for en primeur wines to the brokers or to the Bordeaux négociants.

Tony Mcauley of the East Lothian Trading Standards Service is still pursuing Singh, although his patience must surely be wearing this that Singh has failed to get this all sorted out long ago. Singh has now departed on holiday until the end of August when he is due to meet Mcauley again. investdrinks would have thought that Singh could properly go on holiday once he had furnished the wines he is contracted and has been paid to supply. I fancy that unless Singh gets this all sorted very quickly the Trading Standards Service will take legal action against him.

investdrinks understands that one client has already started a civil action against Singh and expects judgment soon - having had no response from Mr Singh.

Languedoc producer scammed
(Posted 1st August 2007)

Unfortunately a Languedoc producer (Château Marmorières in La Clape close to Narbonne with 110 hectares of vines - chateau-de-marmorieres.com) supplied 18,000 bottles to a Dee James, who claimed to be buying for Maxwells Restaurants Ltd. Although Maxwells Restaurant is in Covent Garden Dee gave 678 High Road, London N17 as the delivery address. 678-682 is a small supermarket called TFC with a car park attached. It does not sell alcoholic drinks. James gave a mobile and a fax number that are now no longer operative.

There were three deliveries. The last left Languedoc on 29th June and arrived in London 3rd July. investdrinks understands that when the driver reached 678-682 High Road, London he was met by three people and directed to Markfield Road, which is nearby - a little south and east close to Tottenham Hale station. There is no suggestion that anyone at the supermarket was aware that 678 was being used as the delivery address. Apparently at Markfield Road, the driver was directed to Constable Crescent that runs between Markfield Road and Stamford Street. He waited here for around 90 minutes before being asked to return to Markfield Road where the lorry was unloaded. Markfield Road appears to have mainly light industrial units. The driver was given a NatWest cheque from a company that turned out to be bankrupt. Of the other two transport companies involved one sensibly asked for cash, while the other was given an international bank transfer document that turned out to be a fake. Apparently James has been involved in a similar scheme before when he was called David Clarke.

The 678 High Road address is just across the road from 675, which Dave Galan gave as a delivery address for the attempted fraud in Sancerre back in April. 675 is rather grandly called the Criterion Buildings with The Blue Bar on the ground floor.

Even more recently there were two attempts to scam Loire producers. On 26th July Dee James (manager) and David Nicholson (finance executive) supposedly with the Carlton Tower Limited, 207 Slane (sic - Sloane) Street, SW1X 9QX London, UK. Nicholson’s direct lines were given as tel:+44 (0) 7932780745 and fax:+44 (0) 7092867900 contacted Maison Audebert in Bourgueil. Then Robert Turpin (customer service) posing as a buyer for D&J Exports Ltd in Westcliff-on-Sea attempted to place an order for 2000 bottles of Cabernet d’Anjou and 2000 of Anjou-Villages from Château la Varière in Brissac-Quincé on 27th July. Fortunately Varière checked with D&J Exports Ltd, who had never heard of Mr Turpin nor placed an order for wine. Not surprising really as D&J Exports Ltd ‘are specialists in the export of materials to the oilfield and petrochemical industry sector’.

investdrinks understands that the police are investigating the theft of the Château Marmorières’ wine. It remains to be seen whether they carry out a serious investigation or whether the file is allowed to gather dust.

Clearly wine producers, especially those in France, need to be on their guard and to check carefully before agreeing to supply new customers.

The Cellar Rack - cold storage!

investdrinks was contacted recently by a client of The Cellar Rack, a storage company, who had several cases of 1998 Grange stored with them. They had been unable to contact the company and feared the worst, especially as the Yorkshire address given on invoices turned out to be The Cellar Rack’s web designer. Furthermore inquiries soon revealed that the company was facing an proposal to strike off because the annual return had been overdue since 25th August 2006 - it was finally filed on 18th July 2007. The sole director was Australian winemaker MacGregor Forbes and the company had been without a company secretary since 23rd May 2006 - another breach of UK company law. Doubtless MacGregor Forbes, who has worked in both Austria and Australia and now has his own brand of wines, is a fine winemaker but his running a UK company and complying with UK company laws.

Things now appear to be looking up with a Greg Thompson taking over with Forbes resigning as a director. Their new registered office is at 10 Beauchamp Place, Knightsbridge, London SW3 1NQ - email: info@thecellarrack.com. Cellar Rack store their clients’ wine in their company account at London City Bond in Tilbury.

I’m increasingly convinced that anyone, who has a significant amount of wine in bond, should have their own account, so that they have total control over their precious wine. This is quite the reverse of the position with an account like The Cellar Rack, where you need the company’s permission to move the wine and, furthermore, there is nothing to stop the company moving or selling your wine without permission. The UK’s two largest bonded warehouses London City Bond and Octavian both have private account facilities and are putting an increasing emphasis on them.

uvine: CVA accepted unanimously

At a meeting in Peterborough creditors accepted unanimously the Company Voluntary Arrangement proposals (see posting of 29th June). The imponderable remains whether Bob Roche’s plans through Marqem Ltd have real substance. investdrinks has tried to contact Bob Roche, so far without success but hopes in the near future to have an opportunity to learn more about his plans.

The Cellaret - en primeur misery

People who bought 2005 en primeur Bordeaux from The Cellaret will be treated as unsecured creditors and are unlikely to get any money back. Whatever assets that are recovered are expected to go to the two secured creditors.

In July The liquidators (TMP partnership) sent the following letter from their solicitors - Pinsent Masons - to those clients who claimed their en primeur purchases.

THE CELLARET LIMITED (IN LIQUIDATION) ("COMPANY")

We refer to your letter dated July 2007, the contents of which are noted.

We are instructed in this matter by the Company's liquidators, who were appointed on 29 May 2007 ("Liquidators").

As Liquidators of the Company, our clients are under a duty to investigate all claims made against the Company. From our investigations, any wine purportedly sold to you has never been specifically appropriated to the Company's contract with you nor has any wine, whether for you or for customers generally, been segregated from the Company's general trading stock.

Even if such wine had been segregated (which does not appear to be the case) it has not been identified to you or the contract itself. Accordingly, title in the wine cannot pass to you and we are unable to accept your claim.

For the purposes of the liquidation of the Company, subject to your filing a satisfactory proof of debt, you will be regarded as an unsecured creditor and will be entitled to prove for a dividend, if any.

If you are able to produce evidence to the contrary, our clients will of course consider your claim further. In order to prove your claim you are required to provide proof of the following: -

  1. Evidence that the cases of wine claimed by you have been specifically physically earmarked for delivery to you; or
  2. Evidence that the cases of wine claimed by you form part of a segregated bulk of homogenous cases of wine (i.e. wine of the same make, vintage, bottle size and case size) which have been physically identified to you;&
  3. Evidence that the cases of wine claimed by you have been physically separated from the Company's general trading stock.

We believe that in certain instances, customers of the Company have been provided with a "certificate of title". Our investigations have not revealed that the reference numbers on such certificates relate to any physically identifiable cases of wine. Unfortunately therefore, a reference by you to such "certificates" will not prove ownership of the subject wine claimed by you.

We also understand that Ms Anita Doherty, previously of the Company, wrote to various customers suggesting that such customers had good title in the wine paid for by them. Unfortunately, as set out above, this does not appear to be the case. For the avoidance of doubt, Ms Doherty neither has nor had any authority to accept or agree claims on behalf of the Liquidators.

Yours faithfully

Citypoint One Ropemaker Street London EC2Y 9AH United Kingdom
T +44 (0)20 7418 7000 F +44 (0)20 7418 7050 DX 119516 Finsbury Square www.pinsentmasons.com
LONDON BIRMINGHAM BRISTOL EDINBURGH GLASGOW LEEDS MANCHESTER BEIJING BRUSSELS DUBAI HONGKONG SHANGHAI

Here is yet more evidence that those who play at the Bordeaux en primeur roulette table may instead of winning lose their money, their wine though possibly not their shirts.

Atlantic Wine Agencies Inc - the future looks bleak

The company’s accounts to 31st March 2007 filed - around two months late with the US Securities & Exchange Commission on 13th July - do not make encouraging reading. Update has previously reported on Atlantic’s attempt to sell its Mount Rozier vineyard in South Africa and the negative press that it has received from Tony Levene (Guardian) and Tony Hetherington (Mail on Sunday). In November 2004, Hetherington revealed that the websites of Atlantic and boiler room operations in Amsterdam and Zurich selling Atlantic shares were all registered in Australia by the same person. Investors, who were persuaded to buy Atlantic shares, have seen the value fall. Since the second quarter of 2006 Atlantic’s share price has been stuck at $0.02.

The latest accounts make any recovery in share price and company fortunes look decidedly unlikely.  In October 2006, having concluded that the company needed to get out of South African wine and wine in general, Atlantic employed the Auction Alliance, a South African auction firm, to sell its Myrtle Grove Property and Estates, responsible for the Mount Rozier brand. Update understands that the auction held in December 2006 attracted one bid. Subsequently Auction Alliance was in negotiation, which proved unsuccessful, with two interested parties. Atlantic notes that it was ‘unable to sell its business to any auction bidders because it could not agree on terms. Therefore, the Company continues its business as a world-class wine maker.’

There is evidence that Mount Rozier did make good wine: in happier times Christopher Burr, the former chairman of uvine, was involved. Indeed the Mount Rozier Cabernet Sauvignon Cuvee Burr 2004 Stellenbosch was awarded a Gold medal in the 2006 Decanter World Wine Awards. However, they now have little wine to sell and may well not have made any 2007. Atlantic has just $144,480 worth of bottled wine. This compares to $324,492 for 2006, which included raw material and work in progress, not mentioned in the 2007 accounts. The implication appears to be that Mount Rozier has made no wine this year. The inventory is not low because of booming sales. In 2006 net sales were $1,132,060. In 2007 this dropped to just $196,920 with a net operating loss of $1,565,404 to 31st March 2007. The accumulated deficit has risen from $6,184,014 in 2006 to $7,749,230 and Atlantic now has a bank overdraft of $158,967. The London sales office was closed at the end of March 2006.

Small wonder that the question of whether Atlantic remains a 'going concern' is raised in the accounts. 'As indicated in the accompanying financial statements, the Company has incurred cumulative net operating losses of $7,749,230 since inception and has negative working capital of $1,912,728. Management’s plans include the raising of capital through the equity markets to fund future operations and the generating of revenue through its business. Failure to raise adequate capital and generate adequate sales revenues could result in the Company having to curtail or cease operations. Additionally, even if the Company does raise sufficient capital to support its operating expenses and generate adequate revenues, there can be no assurances that the revenues will be sufficient to enable it to develop business to a level where it will generate profits and cash flows from operations. These matters raise substantial doubt about the Company’s ability to continue as a going concern. However, the accompanying financial statements have been prepared on a going concern basis, which contemplates the realization of assets and satisfaction of liabilities in the normal course of business. These financial statements do not include any adjustments relating to the recovery of the recorded assets or the classification of the liabilities that might be necessary should the Company be unable to continue as a going concern.'

Unable to sell its only asset - Myrtle Grove - and with little wine to sell Atlantic looks to be effectively bust as the chances of raising the amount of capital they need must be slim.

A time to be on your guard
(Posted 4th July 2007)

From time to time some French producers, probably some from other countries too, get approached by people wanting to order wine from them who on closer examination are not who they claim to be. The danger, of course, is that the producer will supply the wine ordered but never receive payment. With many French producers, especially in Languedoc-Roussillon, finding it difficult to sell their wine, it must be tempting to jump at any offer that comes along.

Here are two examples where producers had suspicions and made inquiries. The first comes from Sancerre, where it is rare for producers to have problems selling their wines.

Attempted fraud in Sancerre

In late April Sancerre producer Hubert Brochard in Chavignol was the target for an attempted fraud. Fortunately Nancy Feron, their sales manager, was suspicious and rumbled the fraud in time.

A ‘Dave Galan’ first posed as a buyer for the Ram Brawery (sic) in Wandsworth, London and then as a buyer for Hydes Brewery in Manchester looking to buy 3000 bottles of Sancerre (1500 of Sancerre Blanc 2006 and 1500 Sancerre Rosé 2006) to be delivered to 675 High Road, Tottenham London N17 8AD. The order quoted Hydes Brewery’s address in Manchester along with their vat and excise number. It gave a mobile telephone number, which has no connection with anyone at the brewery.

Feron checked with Hydes Brewery. She told harpers that the two addresses made her suspicious. “Also Galan was in a big rush for the wine. Normally importers want us to send samples. He told me that it was needed for a hotel function.”

“We didn’t place this order nor do we have any knowledge of it and we have never done business with this address in Tottenham,” Denis Hogan of Hydes Brewery, told investdrinks. “I have passed this onto the Tottenham police. We don’t buy wine direct instead we have a wholesaler who delivers straight to our pubs.”

A more recent example from France’s Midi:

investdrinks gathers that a Coteaux du Languedoc producer in the Herault has been contacted by a Nathan Green, who says he is the wine buyer for the Thistle Kensington Hotel in London.

Here is his email message to the producer:

‘Cher Mr/Mme,
Notre hotel est tres interesse par vos vins.Nous aimerions avoir de plus amples informations concernant vos modes de paiements entreprise (30 ou 60 jrs), si vous exportez vers l'angleterre et vos tariffs.

N'hesitez pas a me contacter si vous avez besoin d'informations

Nathan Green
Sourcing Manager
Tel: 00447946649687
Fax: 00447092867900
**********************************************************************
Registered Office:
Thistle Kensington Park
De Vere Gardens, Kensington,
West London, W8 5AG
Registered No. GB031235 in England
Telephone 00447946649687
Facsimile 00447092867900’

Apparently Mr Green is keen to place an order 'very quickly'.

However, the registered company number given is invalid and there is no Thistle Kensington Park UK registered company. Mr Green appears only to have a mobile number. Normally the various companies in the Thistle group are registered at an address on the Bath Road, Uxbridge, Middlesex UB8 9FH.

Apparently the producer contacted Thistle who had not heard of Mr Nathan Green, whose email address is nathanthistlehotel@yahoo.co.uk

U.K.: uvine creditors may get 95 Percent?
(Posted 29th June 2007)

Proposals sent out to uvine creditors last week offer them the chance to get 95 percent of their money back. The London-based wine exchange, uvine, collapsed in September 2006 with debts of around £4 million ($8 million). In all some £10 million ($20 million) was sunk into the project since it was set up in 1999.

Following six months of negotiations, Graham Wolloff, the administrator, persuaded Trieste Direct Investments Ltd, which invested nearly £3 million in uvine, the three remaining directors (Frank Hohmann III, Paul Rogers and Jonathan Perratt) and the Amphora Fine Wine Fund Plc to waive their claims against uvine. Uvine's Australian subsidiary company claim for £300,000 ($599,280) is not affected. Perratt and Rogers have an interest in Trieste, which will make a cash contribution of £450,000 ($599,280) within 35 days of the proposals being approved. Trieste will also buy uvine's en primeur contracts and its commercial records for £25,022 ($49,984). Trieste will hope to deliver as much of the Bordeaux en primeur 2003 and 2005 wines ordered as possible.

Marqem Ltd, an unrelated U.K. company run by Canadian businessman Bob Roche, will buy uvine's goodwill, intellectual property rights and customer database for £5875 ($11,736). Marqem, a subsidiary of BTP Ltd, will pay creditors 80 percent of what is owed to them in six installments starting on April 30, 2008 and ending on September 30, 2010. BTP Ltd will guarantee the obligations of Marqem to creditors under promissory note arrangements. Roche became a director of Marqem Ltd and BTP Ltd on 14th February 2007, when there was a complete change of directors, company secretaries and the registered office changed from Leeds to C/O Focus Management, Lyndean House, 43-46 Queens Road, Brighton BN1 3XB.

Bob Roche is managing director of Roche Investment Holdings AG, an investment holdings and business management company based in Toronto. At the end of 2006 Roche Investment Holdings made an offer to buy uvine and its assets. The administrator rejected this offer because he was unable to find out enough information about Bob Roche and the company.  Graham Wolloff told investdrinks that he understands that Bob Roche intends to build a business marketing luxury brands, including wine to high-end customers.

Clearly investors will doubtless wish to weigh up whether enough is known about Bob Roche and the two limited companies - Marqem and BTP. They used to be part of the international Clairant chemical group but this is no longer the case, so previous company accounts for BTP Ltd may no longer offer much guidance as to the likely future performance of BTP and its subsidiary company Marqem. investdrinks suspects that some creditors will want to know more about Roche and his intentions.

Were the creditors to reject the CVA, uvine would go into liquidation and it is unlikely that the creditors would get any of their money back. This would probably depend upon pursuing a successful action against the three non-executive directors, who all live abroad. The chances of success are not thought to be high.

There will be a meeting at the administrator's offices in Peterborough (U.K.) on July 9 to vote on the proposals. The U.K. Department of Trade & Industry investigation into the running of uvine continues.

Cellaret collapse - uncertainty over en primeur wines
(Posted 14th June 2007)

Customers, who bought en primeur 2005s from the collapsed The Cellaret Ltd, face an anxious wait before knowing whether they will get their wine. “We are getting advice from our solicitors over who has title to these wines,” Lisa Jenkins the liquidator at the TMP - The Macdonald Partnership - told investdrinks.

However title may well be disputed as The Cellaret Ltd has two secured creditors - Euro Sales Finance Plc in Holborn, London and General Capital Venture Finance Ltd, Ipswich. Cellaret took out a mortgage with General Capital in April 2006 and one with Euro Sales in July 2006. Both have a charge on all of the assets of the company, so they may claim that the en primeur orders are part of The Cellaret’s assets. The amount secured is undefined: ‘all monies due or to become due from the company to the chargee on any account whatsoever ‘.

Asked whether all of the money paid by customers to Cellaret had been passed onto the Bordeaux négociants. Jenkins replied “A lot of it was.” Previously Ray Dutton, CEO of The Cellaret twice assured investdrinks that the wines bought en primeur were safe. As of Tuesday 12th the Liquidator did not know how much en primeur had been sold.

The company went into liquidation on 29th May with a deficiency of £550,000 owed to some 60 creditors. This, however, does not include en primeur sales, so that if not all the money was passed onto the Bordeaux merchants or the en primeur customers lose their wines to the secured creditors, the deficiency is likely to rise.

If the en primeur sales are treated as company assets that are due to the secured creditors, then this will be a very nasty shock for anyone contemplating an en primeur purchase.

Another en primeur merchant goes bust
(Posted 29th May 2007)

On Tuesday (29th May) fine wine merchant The Cellaret Ltd will be put into liquidation and a liquidator appointed at a creditors’ meeting in London  called by TMP - The MacDonald Partnership - ‘specialists in solving financial distress’.

The Cellaret Ltd, which was set up in May 2004, bought the Wine Portfolio Ltd and online merchant Wine Direct Ltd at the beginning of 2006. 58-year old Ray Dutton and 39-year old Anita Doherty are the two directors and the company operated from extensive premises, with a vaulted tasting room, in Roseberry Avenue in London.

Selling en primeur to private clients was an important part of The Cellaret’s business and investdrinks understands that the company sold a significant amount of Bordeaux 2005. It is not known at present whether all of the money paid by private clients for en primeur Bordeaux was passed onto the négociants in Bordeaux.   Generally the deadline for the final payment on the 2005s was 31st December 2006, although terms and conditions vary from one négociant to another.  It is too early to know either the total loss or how many trade and private creditors there are.

However, Ray Dutton has assured investdrinks that ‘anyone who has bought en primeurs have had their wines safeguarded and will be able to take delivery as normal next year. We have written to our en primeur customers to reassure them that there wines are safe.’

Dutton also told investdrinks that ‘I have called a creditors meeting for both The Cellaret and Wine Portfolio on Tuesday.  The reason for this is that as we are loss making we run the risk of being seen to be trading whilst insolvent so we had to take preventative action. The creditors meeting will vote on the disposal of stocks and I have agreed to assist with this over the next two months.’

In October 2006 The Cellaret announced a ‘landmark agreement with London-based EIS investment specialists Enterprise Corporate Finance Limited. The initiative provides for the raising of £650,000 of additional equity capital by March 2007, with a further £4 million over the following two years.’ Dutton said that “the additional funding will enable the company to capitalise on key opportunities to negotiate new relationships with suppliers, significantly increase our stocks of fine wine for trading and expand our current sales force and customer service offering.”

Susan Phillips (CEO of Enterprise Corporate Finance Limited) commented then that: ‘The Cellaret has particular appeal in terms of Return On Investment with initial tax discounts under the EIS, exemption from inheritance tax, capital gains tax freedom and, of course, the ability to distribute to shareholders in specie. Over the longer term, the maturing wine portfolio and capital value of the business has great potential for the private investor or, should I say, imbiber!’

However, the private placement was a flop. “It didn’t raise sufficient funds to provide working capital,” Phillips told investdrinks. ‘The directors of The Cellaret Ltd have decided that it was not viable to continue and to place the company in liquidation.” Dutton told investdrinks that ‘The EIS fund raising was rather less than we were anticipating.  It also took much longer than we were led to believe so in the end we decided not to go ahead with it.’

The accounts to 31st March 2006 show that stocks grew rapidly from March 2005 to March 2006 - to £285,465 up from £3,500. The company had total assets of £95,202 after meeting £351,339 due to creditors within a year, while the profit and loss account made a loss of £143.354.

The Cellaret is the third fine wine company offering en primeur to collapse in the past 13 months. It follows Mayfair Cellars (April 2006) and uvine (September 2006).

 

Bordeaux Advisory’s staggering prices
(Posted 14th May 2007)

This wine investment company is based in Luxembourg and sells its portfolio wines for remarkably high prices and offers wines that appear to have little investment potential. An investor (Mr A) with Bordeaux Advisory recently sent details to me of their portfolio that cost 89,500 euros (£60,966) when it was purchased in February 2006. According to wine-searcher.com these wines can be bought for €8944.29 (£6388.78).  Of course were this portfolio to be sold on the open market it would realise considerably less after commission charges are deducted.

Mr A’s portfolio of 18 different Bordeaux includes a case of Château Leoville Las Cases 1992 charged at €6250. In June 2006 this was available through Wilkinson Vintners for £536.50 - a difference in price of £5713.50. Furthermore 1992 was probably the worst Bordeaux vintage of the decade and its investment potential is very far from obvious. Most of the portfolio consists of minor AC Bordeaux properties, some Montagne St Emilion and several second wines of classed growths - Sarget de Gruaud-Larose 1997 for instance. A case of Château Canon 1996, the one wine that might accrue in value, cost €3590 (£2564) when it could be bought for €558.98 (£339.27) from Corney & Barrow in mid-June 2006 - a difference of €3031.02.

Bordeaux Advisory International SA, founded and apparently run by John Taylor, is based in Luxembourg and is part of the Graniton SARL group. Bordeaux Advisory was registered here on 4th July 1995 and its address is 60 Grand Rue/Niveau 5 Lu1660, Luxembourg. Tel 00 352 2633 1930 and email: info@bordeauxadvisory.com. Making up its board of directors are Seline Finance Ltd, a dormant UK company founded on 19th July 1996 with a registered office at 88A Tooley Street, London Bridge, London SE1 2TF and Judith Dekker of 60 Boulevard Napoléon 1, L-2210 Luxembourg. Dekker was appointed on 20th October 2006 and is mandated to continue until 2012.

The sole director of Seline Finance Ltd is South African Richard Glen Frank Turner (DOB: 10.12.1939) of 28 Rue du Couvent, Howald, 1363 Grand Duchy of Luxembourg who was appointed on 15.8.2004. He is also a director of Seline Management Ltd, also of 88A Tooley Street, which is Seline Finance’s company secretary. Turner is also managing director of Falcon Participations Holding sarl, which is also based at 60 Grand Rue, Luxembourg.

A previous director of Seline Finance Ltd, Jan H. van Leuvenheim (DOB: 15.3.1937) who resigned from Seline Finance on 15th August 2004 is managing director of the following companies that are also based at 60 Grand Rue and have Seline Finance Ltd as their director: Sandhurst Financial Trust S.A, Ivory Invest S.A., Fire And Ice Investments Group S.A., Fiscopar S.A, Mortirolo Participations S.A., Société Anonyme, Models Unlimited S.A., Euro Flor Invest S.A., M Trust S.A., Interfinance For Development S.A., Felijo Holding S.A. and Falcon Participations Holding. It is not known if any of these companies have any connection or involvement in InvestNow2 (www.investnow2.com), also part of the Graniton SARL Group, whose registered office is 60 Grand Rue, Luxembourg. ’ Graniton was registered on 16th May 2001. Its two accociés (partners) are Seline Finance Ltd and Seline Management Ltd. The InvestNow2 claims a way of investing that brings ‘unprecedented high return of 29,64% on average per year or more!

Bordeaux Advisory’s website (bordeauxadvisory.com) acknowledges in the FAQ section that the wines they sell can be bought more cheaply elsewhere. However, they explain that: 

Is it possible to come across the same wine I bought through Bordeaux Advisory sold at a lower retail price?

Yes. However, this is the old comparison of apples and pears. These cases have travelled a very different route from the château. The wine from the château intended for the shops does not have a specified history. In other words, you can never be quite sure how this wine has been handled as far as transportation (lorries, delivery vans, trolleys) and storage (at the wholesaler's, in shops, whether or not it was removed from the case) are concerned.

Wine that has been transferred directly from the château to a Humidity-Controlled storage in order to remain there, will undoubtedly have been treated appropriately. This wine is particularly suited to be left stored for years for future enjoyment.

‘The same wine, but with a completely different history.’

Provenance is an important consideration. For instance at the auction a few years ago of old vintages of Latour, including 1961, that came direct from the property sold for a significant premium. However, this does not explain the price difference between wines sold by Bordeaux Advisory and those listed on wine-searcher.

The Bordeaux Advisory site carries a number of testimonials from ‘satisfied investors’.  Before purchasing his portfolio Mr A was encouraged to contact one of these investors - a Mr. B. van Dam. On the site van Dam says: ‘Experience tells us which investments give the best return. I have invested in wine via Bordeaux Advisory. And the result? An average return of 30.46% per annum. You see, experience is not the only thing I gained!’

Mr A telephoned van Dam. A told me that van Dam ‘claimed to have invested 500,000 euro with BA and has had a yearly return of about 17% minimum. He was so enthusiastic that he claims to have converted all his capital to investments with BA. He said he was in his mid-forties and had retired from all other work as the investment was paying off so handsomely.’

Assuming that van Dam has bought similar wines at similar prices to Mr A it would indeed be a remarkable achievement to make 17% a year. It would, of course, be possible if Bordeaux Advisory were able to find someone prepared to purchase wines at an amazingly inflated price.

Bordeaux Advisory’s contact in the UK is JWM Vintners Ltd, which is based at Hadstock in Cambridgeshire and is run by 37-year old Jonnie May. ‘Having spent most of my professional life in and around wine, with the exception of a stint at a soft drinks manufacturer, I have had the opportunity to experience all aspects of the trade: harvesting, winemaking, and of course advising and selling to a broad range of customers.‘ (jwmvintners.com). May founded JWM Vintners in 29th October 2001. May told investdrinks that he sells some wine to Bordeaux Advisory and arranges storage for Bordeaux Advisory at London City Bond. Update understands that BA clients’ stock is stored in the JWM Vintners account. Interestingly JWM has sold Château Crabitey 2001 Graves, another wine in the Bordeaux Advisory portfolio. Wine-searcher.com shows that JWM was selling Château Crabitey 2001 for €177.60 (£126.86) in June 2006. Bordeaux Advisory charged €1745 a case - €1543.40. Update is puzzled how John Taylor and Bordeaux Advisory can believe that Crabitey, a minor Graves, is a suitable investment. Update understands that JWM did not supply Bordeaux Advisory with this wine.

Dunbar Fine Wines: disappointing lack of progress
(Posted 23rd April 2007)

Unfortunately the optimism expressed in my posting of 10th November 2006 was misplaced. A number of Dunbar’s customers still haven’t received all of their wine and some have not received any at all.

I spoke yesterday to Tony Mcauley, the trading standards manager for East Lothian who has been pursuing this case with vigour, about what progress has been made. Mcauley is decidedly disappointed that Soorat Singh has not got all this sorted out by now. Last November Mcauley was optimistic that progress was being made. However, this year Singh’s efforts to sort out the situation ‘have dried up’ Mcauley told investdrinks. “It is completely unacceptable that clients have been waiting for their wine for well over a year,” said Mcauley. Clients continue to have problems contacting Singh.

Following formal meetings with Singh the trading standards officers have now established a timetable for clients to receive the rest of their wine. This process is due to be completed by the end of June. Singh will be writing to his clients who are owed wine to tell them when their wines will be delivered. I understand that around 15-20% of the original amount of wine outstanding (as notified to Mcauley) remains to be delivered to clients. There may, of course, be other wines not delivered but these people have not contacted Mcauley. It would be wise for them to contact him as he has been impressively thorough in pursuing this case.

I sense that Mr Mcauley's patience is wearing decidedly thin and that unless he gets his act together fast Singh will be facing the Fraud Squad. Should this occur I trust that the Scottish police are way more impressive than Hammersmith and Fulham, whose investigation into the looting of Mayfair Cellars moves at the pace of a geriatric snail.

Evans & Tate reject Yarraman bid

The board of Australian winery Evans & Tate rejected the Yarraman Winery merger bid on 15th March.

The figures did not stack up, Evans & Tate said in an announcement to the Australian Stock Exchange. 'The Board did not consider that satisfactory evidence of Yarraman having secured debt and equity sufficient to complete their proposed transaction had been provided. In these circumstances, the Board of Evans & Tate has resolved today to terminate the agreement with Yarraman.'

On 20th February Evans & Tate - which is heavily indebted - had provisionally agreed to merge with Yarraman subject to an audit of Yarraman's finances. Yarraman is based in the Hunter Valley but is a subsidiary of Yarraman Winery Inc, an American company based in Nevada.

In particular the Margaret River-based Evans & Tate wanted to know how Yarraman - which is also indebted - could obtain the necessary capital to finance the merger.

Evans & Tate's latest results for the half-year to 31 December 2006 underline how financially fragile the company remains. Although the trading loss has been slashed to AU$6.74m (£2.74m) from AU$44.4 (£18.1m) over the same period in 2005, its debts exceed its assets by AU$74.4m (£30.3m). Evans & Tate owes its bankers, ANZ, AU$97m (£39.5m). In this latest report Evans & Tate's accountants warn of 'material uncertainty regarding continuation as a going concern'.

Yarraman was looking to the merger with Evans & Tate to ease its own financial troubles. Its latest trading report announced 'we are currently in discussions with potential acquisition candidates that will significantly improve our operating results and working capital.'

Evans & Tate said it would immediately resume work on any other proposals - but Yarraman maintains its proposed merger is best for all parties.

'Yarraman remains committed to the merger proposal made to Evans & Tate and continues to maintain a positive level of communication with the board and management of Evans & Tate,' it said on 15th March. It added that it would report to its debt and equity financiers and 'submit its complete and final offer' to Evans & Tate in due course.

Since Evans & Tate’s termination announcement everything appears to have gone quiet, although John J. Moroney one of Yarraman Winery Inc’s directors has resigned. The announcement filed with the SEC states that ‘ there were no disagreements between Mr. Moroney and the Company on any matter relating to the Company’s operations, policies or practices, which resulted in his resignation. Mr. Moroney was a member of the Company’s Audit Committee and Nominating Committee at the time of his resignation.’ Moroney is the President, chief executive officer and a director of Juvent, Inc., a company specializing in drug-free therapy for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis.

Yarraman Bid: The Saga Continues
(Posted 23rd February 2007)

But is Yarraman a going concern?

Nearly two months after Yarraman Winery Inc made its surprise bid for indebted Western Australian wine company Evans & Tate on December 21 2006 the outcome remains in doubt, although both companies have now agreed a due diligence procedure. It will be interesting to see whether E&T’s due diligence investigation will solve the mystery of how loss-making Yarraman can finance its proposed deal.

Yarraman improved its offer on 4th February and the time limit for acceptance of this offer was extended to 16th February when Evans & Tate made a counter offer timed to lapse at 12.00 noon West Australian time the same day. It is understood that this included raising the bid to $AU148.3 million ($116.599 million) the demand that Yarraman open their books to enable the Evans & Tate board to establish if Yarraman Winery Inc is able to finance the merger. Just before this deadline Yarraman made a further offer and on 20th February Evans & Tate announced that they had agreed a due diligence procedure.

21-day due diligence investigations will be carried out by both companies and is to be completed by 14th March. Evans & Tate will look to ‘verify the debt and equity commitments for Yarraman’s proposal as well as Yarraman’s forecasts.’ If a merger is to take place there must be a merger implementation agreement by 20th March. ETW has granted Yarraman a ‘no-shop’ exclusivity, ‘subject to Yarraman meeting specific milestones concerning the provision of due diligence information’. ETW retains to right to consider and accept an unsolicited and better offer.

There remains a large question mark over how Yarraman Winery Inc can finance this merger and Yarraman’s delayed results for the quarter to 31st December 2006 appear to only to add to the uncertainty. Over this period Yarraman made a comprehensive loss of $1,239,496. This compares to a loss of  $150,145 for the same period in 2005. Over the six months to December 31 the net loss is $1,881,237 compared to a loss of $367,635 for the same six months in 2005. In its latest report the company also raised ‘substantial concern about its ability to continue as a going concern’.

GOING CONCERN

The accompanying financial statements have been prepared on a going concern basis which contemplates the realization of assets and the satisfaction of liabilities in the normal course of business. As shown in the financial statements, during the six months ended December 31, 2006 and 2005, the Company incurred losses of $1,881,237 and $367,635, respectively. In addition, the Company has suffered recurring losses from operations, cash deficiencies and the inability to meets it’s maturing obligations without borrowing from related parties and sale of its stock.  These issues may raise substantial concern about its ability to continue as a going concern.

The financial statements do not include any adjustments relating to the recoverability and classification of liabilities that might be necessary should the Company be unable to continue as a going concern. The Company's continuation as a going concern is dependent upon its ability to generate sufficient cash flow to meet its obligations on a timely basis, to retain its current financing, to obtain additional financing, and ultimately to attain profitability.

Management has prepared the following statement in order to address these and other concerns:

Yarraman Australia has completed its merger with Yarraman Winery, Inc. as stated in Note 9. Related to this merger we were able to sell 5,253,500 shares of stock for $2,000,000. We also borrowed $675,950 from Delta Dawn.

We are currently in discussions with potential acquisition candidates that will significantly improve our operating results and working capital.’

On 14th February Yarraman filed a late notice report to the SEC for their inability to file their latest quarterly results (the three months to December 31 2006) on time. The filing stated that they could not file ‘within the prescribed time period as a result of an ongoing discussion between the Company’s management and its independent auditors regarding the appropriate treatment of certain presentation issues with respect to the Company's financial statements for the six months ended December 31, 2006 under US GAAP.  Consequently, the financial statements were not completed by its accountants and could not be completed within the prescribed time period.’ Yarraman’s previous quarterly report filed with the SEC on showed that their comprehensive loss for the three months to September 30 2006 was $558,097.

Atlantic Wine Agencies - virtually dormant. Is there life after wine?
(Posted 23rd February 2007)

Six days after Atlantic gave notice that their accounts would not be filed on time, their latest accounts for the three months to 31st December 2006 have now been filed with the SEC. The results show that sales have fallen dramatically - $20,577 compared to $468,723 for the same period last year and that the Myrtle Grove wine estate in South Africa remains unsold, although it is hoped that a sale will be concluded within the next 30 days.

There follows gloomy news for anyone holding shares in Atlantic Wine Agencies.

NOTE B - GOING CONCERN

As indicated in the accompanying financial statements, the Company has an accumulated deficit of $6,533,246. Management’s plans include the raising of capital through the equity markets to fund future operations and the generating of revenue through its business. Failure to raise adequate capital and generate adequate sales revenues could result in the Company having to curtail or cease operations. Additionally, even if the Company does raise sufficient capital to support its operating expenses and generate adequate revenues, there can be no assurances that the revenue will be sufficient to enable it to develop business to a level where it will generate profits and cash flows from operations. These matters raise substantial doubt about the Company’s ability to continue as a going concern. However, the accompanying financial statements have been prepared on a going concern basis, which contemplates the realization of assets and satisfaction of liabilities in the normal course of business. These financial statements do not include any adjustments relating to the recovery of the recorded assets or the classification of the liabilities that might be necessary should the Company be unable to continue as a going concern.

NOTE C - DUE PRINCIPAL STOCKHOLDERS

At December 31, 2006, the principal stockholders are owed $1,257,663 for working capital advances. The amounts are unsecured and non-interest bearing.

NOTE D - POTENTIAL SALE OF PROPERTY

Pursuant to the agreement entered into with Auction Alliance, a South African auction firm, the Company’s Myrtle Grove Property and Estates was auctioned subject to the minimum reserve being met. However, the reserve was not met. Therefore, the Company continues to negotiate with a number of potential purchasers and intends to close within the next 30 days.

Item 2.  Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operation

On October 13, 2006, we entered into an agreement with Auction Alliance, a South African auction firm, to sell our Myrtle Grove Property and Estates, subject to the minimum reserve being met. Assets including land, vineyards, winery equipment and stock will be included in the auction sale. Our management has concluded that (i) after expending considerable resources and efforts in developing our business and building world class wine brands from South Africa, significantly more capital is necessary to further grow the business which are unable to procure on commercially acceptable terms, (ii) The ZAR (South African Rand) has shown considerable volatility related to uncertainty regarding future political situation and (iii) the best time to maximize our South African property and operations is by selling through the public auction process locally in South Africa prior to the growing season in the southern hemisphere. While the auction was held, the reserve was not met. We therefore continue to negotiate with a number of potential purchasers and intend to close within the next 30 days. When the sale has been completed, we will seek to use the proceeds from such sale, after satisfying our current liabilities, to develop or acquire a business or businesses which we believe will best serve the long term interests of our shareholders. Such businesses may or may not be related to the wine industry.

As the sole bid for Myrtle Grove was it must be highly unlikely that Atlantic will raise anything like enough money to cover their $6.5 million deficit. Nor is it clear how Atlantic will be able to raise capital through the equity markets for businesses ‘that may or may not be related to the wine industry.’

 

Is Yarraman serious in its bid for Evans & Tate?
(Posted 5th January 2007)

What investdrinks wonders did the board of Evans & Tate, Australia’s 6th largest wine producer, make of the takeover bid they received from Yarraman Winery Inc on 21st December 2006. Did they think that the whole thing was a seasonal joke? Did they check the calendar to see if time hadn’t fast-forwarded to April Fools’ Day? Did they wonder how on earth a financially sickly tin-pot winery in the Hunter Valley was going to take on their own financial problems and solve them? 

With the cricketing Ashes out of the way, the Australian wine industry is now waiting to see if the founder of the collapsed Barrington Estates is about to rise phoenix-like from the ashes. If Yarraman’s audacious and intriguing $AU131 million (£52.9 million) take-over bid made for struggling Western Australian producer Evans & Tate succeeds, Gary Blom could be back as a major player just four years after his Barrington Estates company collapsed.

Australian entrepreneur Blom’s, whose Cinema Plus company that operated a chain of Imax cinemas in Australia collapsed in 2000 owing $AU140 million (£56.58), then attempted to build a wine empire called Barrington Estates. Blom acquired Yarraman Road (Hunter Valley), Mount Avoca (Victoria), Hay Shed Hill (Margaret River, Western Australia) and Haselgrove Wines (South Australia). Barrington collapsed in October 2002 with debts of at least $AU25 million (£10 million) with some estimates as high as $AU40 million (£16.14 million). In September 2004 the ASIC (Australian Securities and Investment Commission) banned Blom from running any Australian company for three years.

Blom bought back the Yarraman Estate in the Hunter Valley from the liquidator in 2004 and at the end of 2005 Yarraman Australia become the subsidiary of Yarraman Winery Inc an American company based in Reno, Nevada. Yarraman Winery Inc was originally called January 1, 1997 under the name Dazzling Investments, Inc. and was incorporated on 1st January 1997 with the intent to sell jewellery on the Internet. The name was changed on 6th December 2005.

Blom bought back the Yarraman Estate in the Hunter Valley from the liquidator in 2004 and at the end of 2005 Yarraman Australia become the subsidiary of Yarraman Winery Inc an American company based in Reno, Nevada. Yarraman Winery Inc was originally called January 1, 1997 under the name Dazzling Investments, Inc. and was incorporated on 1st January 1997 with the intent to sell jewellery on the Internet. The name was changed on 6th December 2005.

60% of Yarraman Winery Inc belongs to Delta Dawn Pty Ltd, whose American address is 6767 W. Tropicana Avenue, Suite 207, Las Vegas. Through The Lingerie Trust, Blom and his family own 26.52% of Delta Dawn.

Evans & Tate is Australia’s 6th largest producer but has lately hit the financial rocks posting a loss of $AU64 million (£16.14 million) in June 2006. Its chairman and largest shareholder Franklin Tate resigned in 2005 and new management hired. In September 2006 Evans & Tate agreed a financial restructuring deal with its bank.

Yarraman, which is a much smaller concern, has offered Evans & Tate shareholders one of its shares for nine in Evans & Tate and proposed a restructuring of the company’s $AU90 million debt (£36.38 million) through ‘a major New York investment bank’, whose identity Yarraman will disclose once Evans & Tate agrees to the merger. It is now rumoured that this is the American financial conglomerate GE, which has had a presence in Australia since 1902 and has been increasingly active since buying the Coles Myer’s credit card business in 1995. Evans & Tate’s largest shareholder is Grape Expectations Enterprises Pty Ltd (a company owned and controlled by Franklin with 31.6%. It appears that Franklin Tate has recently sold 19.9% of his stake to Yarraman.  

It is clear that Yarraman Winery Inc has its own financial problems. Its last quarterly report filed with the SEC (Securities & Exchange Commission) in November shows a net loss of $581,883 (£300,000) for the three months to 30th September 2006. It has a $1,844,944 (£951,395) long-term loan to Delta Dawn and another with the Provident Bank for $4,207,230 (£2,169,430), which it is seeking to refinance. Yarraman has a tow consultancy arrangement that started in January 2006 with Delta Dawn costing $78,000 (£40,481) a year. This is believed to be for the services of Gary Blom.

Furthermore the quarterly report indicates that Yarraman’s survival is in doubt - ‘the Company has suffered recurring losses from operations, cash deficiencies and the inability to meets its maturing obligations without borrowing from related parties and sale of its stock.  These issues may raise substantial concern about its ability to continue as a going concern.’

On 26th December the board of Evans & Tate announced that it ‘notes that it is not bound by the Yarraman offer, and intends to fully consider and evaluate the offer and provide its view of the offer in due course. The Board has neither approved or dismissed the offer.’ Yarraman asked for a response to their bid by 16th January 2007 and hopes to complete the merger by April 2007.

If successful Yarraman wants to expand the merged business, to be named New World Wine Estates making it ‘a leader in the global wine market’.  If the rumour that the American financial giant GE is behind the bid is correct then the Yarraman bid looks far more financially secure, whether hitching a small producer in the Hunter Valley with Evans & Tate will make business sense remains to be seen.   

Vintage Hallmark plc: How US doctors were scammed
American doctors hit for £80 million
(Posted 20th December 2006)

Two former UK company directors have been disqualified as directors for the maximum period of 15 years for their part in an ingenious wine and spirit investment scam that targeted American doctors and relieved them of nearly £80 million. Following a trial in the High Court Robin Grove of Holme, Cambridgeshire and Richard Gunter of Welwyn, directors of Vintage Hallmark plc were found by His Honour Judge Richard Havery to be ‘utterly unfit to be concerned in the management of a company’. Grove and Gunter have been banned from 6th December 2006 to 5th December 2021.

Court papers recently released show how American doctors and others in the US medical community were duped into investing in overpriced wines and spirits by the Hallmark Partnership and then Vintage Hallmark plc using a slick sales team based in Luton, UK. Their imposing shop at 36 St James’s Street, in central London and one of the capital’s most exclusive streets, usefully bolstered the company’s image. "They were later persuaded to exchange their investments for equity.

Havery’s judgment describes how Vintage Hallmark Ltd bought the Hallmark Partnership for £59 million ($115.74 million) - described by Havery as a ‘worthless partnership’ that was ‘raising money by offering impossible returns to credulous clients’. Vintage Hallmark Ltd bought the assets and liabilities of the Hallmark Partnership on 19th November 2000. It was re-registered as Vintage Hallmark plc on 27th November 2000.

Hallmark Partnership, which had been set up around 1984, entered the drinks sector in 1995. Grove, Gunter and David Lamb were the principal partners and were also the principal directors of Vintage Hallmark plc. Lamb was a chartered accountant. Following the company’s bankruptcy on 22nd January 2003 Lamb committed suicide on November 1 2005. In a letter (16th November 2000) to the company’s American attorney, who was based in Tulsa Oklahoma, Lamb assessed the assets of the Hallmark Partnership at $37.3 million plus $52.3 million as ‘goodwill’ set against liabilities of $77.7 million, mainly owed to American investors who had bought investments in wines and spirits. Shortly afterwards Vintage Hallmark acquired Harbour Industries (US) Ltd based in New York State. Harbour had been providing Hallmark Partnership with warehousing facilities and was their US distributor. Richard DeCicco, Harbour’s CEO, became a director of Vintage Hallmark plc and continued to run Harbour. A private memorandum offering shares to the value £70 million (then worth $105 million) in Vintage Hallmark plc was sent out on December 6 2000. In reality, according to estimates by the UK DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) the company was worth no more than £5 million (then $7.5 million).

The Hallmark Partnership sold overpriced wines and spirits as an investment promising remarkable and guaranteed returns. Havery’s judgment describes how in June 2000 a Mr Gordon was persuaded to buy $50,000 worth of vodka that would be resold for $90,000 in three months’ time. Although he was told that his vodka, which turned out to be Cutty Sark whisky, had been sold in less than three months for the promised $90,000, Gordon never saw his money. He was eventually persuaded to swop his ‘investment’ for equity in Vintage Hallmark plc. Most of the investors were persuaded to do the same. Grove and Gunter were more fortunate: in the year 1999/2000 their directors’ salaries were around £900,000 ($1.77 million).

Both the Hallmark Partnership and Vintage Hallmark plc offered investments in fine wines and spirits. David Ellsworth, head of international wine sales for Christie’s auction house, and whisky broker Margaret Lombard-Chibnall of Lombard Brands Ltd gave expert evidence. Ellsworth said that ‘the vast majority of the products offered no interest for potential buyers as they are not those products that form the body of wines/spirits with investment potential.’ In the very few instances where they might have made a profit Ellsworth described the price paid by the investors as ‘so ridiculously high that they stood no chance of reselling at a profit’. For example Château Latour 1996 was priced between $5184-5760 for a dozen bottles, when its market price was between $1200-1400. Similarly Lombard-Chibnall testified that ‘the rates of return offered by Vintage to investors were unobtainable and completely unrealistic’.

Neither Grove nor Gunter challenged Ellsworth’s or Lombard-Chibnall’s evidence. However both Grove and Gunter vehemently proclaimed their innocence and sought to put the blame on David Lamb, their late partner. Judge Havery refused to entertain their weasel pleas. He pointed out that they drew equal salaries with Lamb and had been present at a meeting in August 2000 when it was recognised by the Partnership ‘that it might be necessary to sell some of the inventory at lower prices to get the inventory moving’. This contrasted with Gunter’s evidence at the High Court that “When I see a wholesale price of $11. I know that I can achieve $30. I can sell it for 37½ times the acquisition cost: three times the wholesale price.  I have no idea how the inventory figure of $33.7 million was arrived at. I knew we could beat the figures.”

On 15th February 2002 the American shareholders removed Gunter and Lamb from their directorships - Grove had resigned on 12th February 2002  - and attempted to rescue the company. Since it was built on thin air, smoke and mirrors this proved impossible and Vintage Hallmark went bust in January 2003.

Howes Percival, a firm of solicitors in Norwich, carried out the investigation into the collapsed company for the DTI. Howes Percival have recently been hired by the DTI to look into alleged misconduct at uvine.

investdrinks has been told by a spokesman at the SFO (UK Serious Fraud Office) that “we are conducting an investigation into suspected fraud at Vintage Hallmark plc, although as yet no charges have been laid”. Following the disgraceful decision of Tony Blair and Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, to force the SFO to drop the BAA fraud investigation, it seems likely that they will pursue other cases with renewed vigour. There must be a high probability that there will prosecutions in the Vintage Hallmark scam.   

Two bidders for uvine
(Posted 8th December 2006)

There are two bidders for collapsed company uvine - the directors and an unnamed company based abroad with apparently no previous experience in the wine trade. Some details were revealed at the meeting in Peterborough on 4th December called the administrators to approve their proposals. Graham Wolloff, one of the administrators, said that following placing an advert offering uvine for sale in the Financial Times on 29th September the overseas bid emerged as the only serious bid.

However, the three remaining directors of uvine (Frank Hohmann III, Paul Rogers and Jonathan Perratt) later submitted their own proposals through Trieste Direct Investments Ltd, a company registered in the British Virgin Isles and a major shareholder in uvine.  Graham Wolloff said that the three remaining directors  (Christopher Burr MW resigned 18th September) were very angry over what had happened and intimated that they had only recently been fully aware that as directors that they had full legal responsibility even though they had acted as non-executive directors leaving Burr to run the company. They were not informed of Burr’s bankruptcy until at least 8th September when Wolloff was called in to advise on the financial situation of uvine. He told Burr that the company was insolvent and that as a bankrupt he could not continue as a director and that the other directors had to be informed.

Wolloff revealed that he had received an improved bid from the overseas company on the morning of December 4th.  Their intention is to continue to run uvine and that some monies would be repaid to creditors over a number of years.

Creditors overwhelmingly approved the administrators’ plan to continue exploring the bids for uvine. Now they will have to assess the final offers and decide whether such a company rescue would be more in the creditors’ interests than liquidation. This decision will then be put to creditors for approval.

Should the directors bid be successful it would reduce the possibility of legal action against them and also Wolloff believes that the creditor claim of £1.18 million from Trieste Investments Ltd would either be greatly reduced or withdrawn altogether. It is not known whether Perratt would also reduce or withdraw the claim for £86,507. ‘I do not know what Trieste's future intentions would be or, whether they have even decided whether they would run it or just close it.’ Wolloff told investdrinks.

Other concerns raised at the sparsely attended meeting included whether uvine needed to seek approval or be subject to regulation as they offered interest on deposits. Apparently this is not a simple question and I’m awaiting a response from the FSA (Financial Services Authority). Apparently it hinges on the definition of a deposit and whether the money was deposited for buying goods - I guess here it depends on whether this means specified goods ie specific wines or a general category ie wine.

Also it appears that some creditors’ wine was sold against their express wishes that it should not be sold. This includes former BVI customers, whose wine was transferred to uvine when BVI ceased trading. It also emerged that the last uvine’s 2003 en primeurs were cancelled by the Bordeaux négociants as late as September 2006. However, they did appear to be prepared to consider orders from uvine for the 2005s.

The DTI has appointed William Shirley (william.shirley@howespercival.com) of law firm Howes Percival in Norwich (tel: 01603 762103) as the investigative solicitor. He will be contacting all creditors.

Update on Atlantic Wine Agencies

Put up for sale by auction on 24th November Myrtle Grove (whose wines are sold as Mount Rozier), the South African wine estate of Atlantic Wine Agencies Inc, remains unsold. investdrinks understands that only one bid of £12 million rand (£854,980) was made. Industry sources in South Africa say that in the current depressed climate this was a reasonable bid. There are now two parties interested in buying Myrtle Grove ­- one from the UK and the other from Germany. The estate has 20.95 hectares of vines planted with a further 30ha that could be planted.

The latest filing on 20th November 2006 with the American SEC (Securities & Exchange Commission) from Atlantic Wine Agencies Inc warns of an uncertain future for the company.

NOTE B - GOING CONCERN (20th November 2006)
As indicated in the accompanying financial statements, the Company has an Accumulated deficit of $6,346,709. Management’s plans include the raising of capital through the equity markets to fund future operations and the generating of revenue through its business. Failure to raise adequate capital and generate adequate sales revenues could result in the Company having to curtail or cease operations. Additionally, even if the Company does raise sufficient capital to support its operating expenses and generate adequate revenues, there can be no assurances that the revenue will be sufficient to enable it to develop business to a level where it will generate profits and cash flows from operations. These matters raise substantial doubt about the Company’s ability to continue as a going concern. However, the accompanying financial statements have been prepared on a going concern basis, which contemplates the realization of assets and satisfaction of liabilities in the normal course of business. These financial statements do not include any adjustments relating to the recovery of the recorded assets or the classification of the liabilities that might be necessary should the Company be unable to continue as a going concern.’

The accounts for the six months to September 30th 2006 show that sales are substantially down on 2005 - $100,599 against $331,360. The rise in the accumulated deficit has, however, slowed rising from $6,184,014 to $6,346,709. The last filed accounts of the UK subsidiary, Atlantic Wine Agencies Ltd show a loss of £188,474 in the year to accounts to 31st March 2005. £1,336,165 was due to creditors within one year, while they were owed £863,405 from their South African sister company, Mount Rozier Pty.

investdrinks has been told by Adam Mauerberger that Burr no longer has any connection with Atlantic Wine Agencies. ‘Needless to say Cuvee Burr has been removed from our portfolio including any association and AWA have no agreement or working relationship any longer.’

Adam Mauerberger comments: ‘What is frustrating is seeing the same articles regurgitated that have no merit or truth. Mount Rozier is a stringently audited company and is indeed real with some of the most successful new premium single vineyard wines in the market place, which can be confirmed via agents and recent international competitions. The South African market and category remain volatile hence recent action taken by management regarding sale of assets.

The press articles associating 'boiler room' charges against my brother have no relevance or association to our company and indeed he has no involvement in day to day running so you can imagine surprise at indirectly being associated to history in NZ due to sharing same family name! Having been in the wine trade since 1995 I believe my reputation is one of integrity and unfortunately our share price has been directly affected by relevant press scaremongering causing several investors to opt for early exit hence driving share price below realistic level. Current assets and sales in annual audit reflect this. All directors and board still hold original shareholding.

As I previously mentioned its business as usual until we update public and when back in the UK would be happy to meet and discuss and answer any relevant questions. I am sure you are more interested in fact as opposed to creating tabloid journalism!’

While there is uncertainty over the future of Atlantic Wine Agencies Inc and its subsidiary companies, it seems pretty certain that Mr Mauerberger will never take delivery of his 2005 Bordeaux en primeur ordered from uvine. Although a major creditor Ben Mauerberger did not vote (the amount you are owed determines the size of your vote) on the administrators’ proposals.   

Uvine - an intriguing twist
(Posted 27th November 2006)

The administrators report shows that a Ben Mauerberger of 34 Baynards, 1 Chepstow Place, London W2 4TE is a substantial creditor. Mauerberger ordered £244,379 worth of 2005 en primeur Bordeaux from uvine. It seems probable that an order of this size would have included some First Growths and perhaps the equivalent from the Right Bank. The top Bordeaux châteaux declared the first tranche prices of their 2005s around 22nd June 2006 - a little over two months before uvine went into administration.

It also appears probable that Ben Mauerberger of Chepstow Place is also Benjamin Jean Mauerberger, an alleged boiler room operator, who was convicted in absentia by the Auckland District Court on 30th May 2003 for failing to comply with a Securities Commission summons and fined $30,000. Mauerberger had been summoned to help the Commission with its investigation into Mauer-Swisse Securities Limited, an Auckland sharebroking company in liquidation. The Commission suspected that Mauer-Swisse was running a boiler room operation which made unsolicited calls to people in New Zealand and Australia offering dubious share deals. (For further details see: sec-com.govt.nz/new/releases/2003/300503.shtml)

Mr Mauerberger has recently featured in the financial investigations of two of the UKs leading financial investigative journalists - Tony Hetherington (Mail on Sunday, thisismoney.co.uk/news/columnists/article.html?in_article_id=410784) and Tony Levene (The Guardian, money.guardian.co.uk/investments/shares/story/0,,1927682,00.html). Levene’s story that was published on 21st October 2006 includes mention of Atlantic Wine Agencies, which he had already covered back in November 2004.

On 14th February 2004 Atlantic Wine Agencies Inc informed America’s SEC that they had an independent contractor agreement with Benjamin Mauerberger, who would be hired as a consultant. Adam Mauerberger, brother of Ben, is the company’s CEO and one of the executive consultants is Christopher Burr MW. Atlantic Wine Agencies own the Mount Rozier wine estate in Stellenbosch, South Africa, which they bought in May 2004. On 2nd July 2004 Mount Rozier signed a preferred distribution agreement with Uvine Limited.

There is no suggestion that Mount Rozier and Atlantic Wine Agencies is anything but a legitimate operation only that according to Levene’s article that its shares and their likely performance were oversold by Pacific Continental Securities and that instead of gaining in value the shares have ‘plunged by 95%’. On the other hand it seems highly unlikely that Mr Mauerberger will ever take delivery of his 2005 Bordeaux en primeur from uvine.

Uvine - another shameful story for the wine trade
(Posted 22nd November 2006)

The report (dated 16th November) from the administrators to uvine’s creditors makes sorry reading - once again the public are entitled to wonder whether they can trust the wine trade.

The joint administrators, Graham Wolloff and John Munn, have sent a report to the Prosecutions Section of the DTI as well as the section dealing with the disqualification of directors. They cite the following nine ‘misconduct issues’:

3.5
During my enquiries into the company's affairs, I found a number of misconduct issues and made a report to the Department of Trade & Industry. The issues included:

  • The company was apparently in breach of its own Terms & Conditions relating to En Primeur wines in that the deposits paid had not been held in a separate account and the wine had not been specifically allocated from the supplier to the client;
  • The company was apparently in breach of its own Terms & Conditions as, although it had held a bank account that was entitled as a Trust Account, I understand that for a number of years the company had not ensured that the monies paid into that account were held in trust;
  • Some clients had prepaid for wine in the belief that the wine was already owned by Uvine and capable of being delivered, whereas in fact it appears that the intention was to source the wine when the prepayment was received;
  • Other clients are alleging that they had not given authority for their wine to be sold, or that they had been told that although there wine would be placed on the Uvine Exchange, it would not be sold in the normal way where a sale is completed when a buyer makes a purchase at a 'matching' price;
  • Other clients were informed that their wines had been sold by mistake and that they would be replaced; although this had not happened due to the lack of cash to purchase replacements;
  • Some clients had produced sequences of emails regarding the overdue payments for wines of theirs that had been sold that support the allegation that the company had been insolvent for some time;
  • The published accounts show the company to be balance sheet insolvent throughout its life and to have a rising trend of net current liabilities since 31 December 2002. The accounts for 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 all noted that the accounts had been prepared on a 'going concern' basis on the assumption of continuing financial support from the shareholders;
  • During 2006, it appears that Christopher Burr had withdrawn funds from the company that fully repaid his loan to the company, (£68,000), in preference to other creditors. In addition, by 31 August 2006 it appears that he had an overdrawn loan account of £102,000.
  • There could be potential claims against the directors for misfeasance, preference, wrongful trading and even fraudulent trading if criminal intent could be shown.

3.6
Although the non-executive directors did not appear to have actively participated in any of the above alleged misconduct and expressed themselves to be shocked and angry with what had occurred, they were appointed as directors at the relevant time and had duties to act in the interests of creditors. The directors are also aware that a small number of former clients are threatening legal action, either directly or, through the liquidator in due course.’

Christopher Burr MW emphatically denies that he was withdrawing cash from the business for his own purposes or benefit. He explains that ‘A very large part of the withdrawals were to repay loans for Uvine guaranteed by me, and the lawyers fees associated with this. Other completely legitimate withdrawals from my loan account balance were in lieu of non claimable business expenses, and minimal salary, as I have not drawn any salary from Uvine for over two years.’

Since it was set up in October 1999 uvine has racked up a staggering loss of £9.98 million according to the administrators’ report to creditors sent out at the end of last week. Nearly £3 was lost by 2000 and the losses continued to accumulate nearly £1 million in 2001, £500,000 in 2005 and £400,000 in the eight months of this year before the company went into administration. Clients of the wine exchange are owed £1,076,734 with an additional £551,810 owed on 2003 and 2005 en primeur purchases. The en primeur breaks down to: £210,292.30 for 2003 with the Amphora Fine Wine Fund suffering the largest debt (£125,701) and £341,618.00 for 2005. Only four people bought 2005s with one unfortunate down £244,379.00.

The joint administrators, Graham Wolloff and John Munn, are hoping to sell the company under a Company Voluntary Arrangement and there are two interested parties. One is from Trieste Direct Investments Ltd in which uvine directors Paul Rogers and Jonathan Perratt have an interest, while the other is from an unnamed and unconnected party.

The report also reveals that uvine.com pty Ltd, its Australian subsidiary, is also insolvent and notes that ‘although the company's records show that Amphora Fine Wine Fund PIc is a creditor for approximately £350,000, the provisional claim in the proceedings exceeds this by some £250,000.

A creditors’ meeting has been fixed for December 4th at Peterborough.

Once again customers have found that wine they paid for isn’t there, nor money for wine that has been sold as well as money paid over for en primeur hasn’t been past on. uvine comes after Mayfair and, on a smaller scale Dunbar Fine Wine, whose clients have had problems getting their wine. Fortunately in the case of Dunbar most now appear to have got their wine. Has there been any reaction from the wine trade to all of this. Zilch - apart from a wise shake of the head and a mutter that this does the trade no good. Guy Woodward has it right in his editorial entitled The wine trade’s bad smell in the December 2006 issue of Decanter:

‘More time needs to be given to the dull, boring administrative side of wine retail. Customers need to be sure that if they lay wine down with their wine merchant, its stays laid down, and isn’t ‘borrowed’ to meet another customer’s request and replaced at a later date, as has been alleged. The wine trade has been disturbingly silent on the issue, with a conspicuous lack of debate or even disquiet over the issue. Currently, there is not even a code of practice in existence among UK wine retailers governing such issues as inter-dealing. We think there should be, and we’ll be pressing the trade to take action. It’s an issue we will be returning to.’

Dunbar Fine Wine
(Posted 10th November 2006)

At the end of last week I spoke to Tony McAuley, the trading standards officer who has been dealing with Dunbar Fine Wines. He told me that around 90% of the wine ordered had now been accounted for and that clients were either taking delivery of this wine or knew where it was in bonded warehouses. Mr McAuley is still continuing to monitor the situation and will continue to do so until either all the wine has been supplied or full compensation has been paid out. He expressed surprise that it had taken so long to get this sorted out. investdrinks understands that Soorat Singh and Dunbar Fine Wine are not trading at the moment, although they may well be plans to start up again next year. It will not be easy to relaunch Dunbar Fine Wines and the longer it takes to resolve the remaining supply wine, the more difficult it will be.

investdrinks has been most impressed by the tenacity of Tony McAuley and that clients of Dunbar owe a considerable debt of thanks to him for the conscientious way he has dealt with this case. Anyone, who is still owed wine, and who hasn’t been in touch with him so do so as soon as possible.

Uvine in Administration
(Posted 4th October 2006)

Uvine, the universal fine wine exchange, went into administration on Tuesday 26th September with debts believed to be in region of £2 million. The insolvency practitioner, Graham Wolloff of Elwell Watchorn & Saxton LLP, is hoping sell the business as a going concern and an advert offering the business is going into The Financial Times. It has also been revealed that 55-year-old Christopher Burr MW, the company’s chairman, was declared bankrupt at Bedford County Court on 29th June 2006. He resigned his uvine directorship on 18th September.

Uvine’s demise is particularly unfortunate for clients of BVI, whose md Tim Dunton agreed a deal with uvine. (See 18th August 2005 posting.) One of these clients was still chasing uvine for £36,000 owed from wine sold by uvine in December 2005 when the company went into administration. Clearly it looks as though uvine may have been less reputable than it appeared.

Uvine’s latest accounts (to 31st December 2005) indicated that the company was in trouble with losses of £496,126 and net liabilities of £2.43 million. Uvine’s auditors gave a qualified opinion as they had ‘not obtained all the information and explanations we considered necessary for the purpose of our audit’ and had been ‘unable to determine whether proper accounting records have been maintained’. Uvine was judged to be a going concern providing there was ‘continuing availability of financial support from the shareholders and other parties’.

The two leading shareholders are Christopher Burr with 71.7 million preferred ordinary shares and Trieste Direct Investments Ltd of Tortola, British Virgin Islands with 72.4 million. uvine had five county court judgments against it dating back to November 2002. The two most recent were in 2005 and totalled £15,955 - £2734 in Bournemouth on 13th May and £13,221 on 31st March at Colchester. These sums appear to have been paid. The full number of creditors is not yet known but Burr estimates that there are some 50-60 clients for whom uvine sold wine who are owed money.  

“I called in an insolvency practitioner three weeks ago to save the business,” Christopher Burr MW, uvine’s chairman, told investdrinks. “We decided on Tuesday that we had to go into administration as it wasn’t possible for the directors to continue to support the business. We are hoping to sell the business as a going concern and it is very likely that the directors’ loans will be written off.” It is believed that this will reduce the debt to around £1 million. “For the past year we had a suitor, who unfortunately pulled out recently. Uvine was valued at £3.75 million and this suitor would have refunded the business. Since we have gone into administration some of our leading clients have been phoning up and asking much is needed to save the business. This is very gratifying.”

The company was founded in November 1999. “uvine was set up in the midst of the dot.com boom,” explained Burr. “The idea and model is sound but it was set up far too expensively - the computing, logistics, franchising etc.. Our system is hugely complex and uses the same model as internet spread betting. It is designed to handle £50 million trade a week! Although I cut costs when I took over as chairman, the company was never profitable.”

investdrinks understands that most of the stock held by uvine for its clients is stored at London City Bond and Octavian.  London City Bond, who are owed storage charges, are hoping to reach ‘an amicable agreement’ with clients to pay outstanding charges - ‘a few £s per case’ - and to set up new accounts for them.

Christopher Burr has assured investdrinks that The Amphora Fine Wine Fund plc  is unaffected as it is entirely separate from uvine. The fund is managed by Cardinal Partners Limited and he is one of the directors. Burr is not a director of Amphora.

Bordeaux Wine Consultants in liquidation
(Posted 1st September 2006)

Bordeaux Wine Consultants went into voluntary liquidation on 19th July 2006.  Bordeaux Wine Consultants charged clients an up-front commission on the wine they bought with the promise that they would be no commission for selling the wine. Now that the company is in liquidation its clients will have to pay a seller's commission as well as it is highly unlikely that another broker or a merchant would waive their commission for selling the wine.

This is a very clear illustration of why an up-front commission is bad news for investors. investdrinks' strong advice is not to deal with any wine investment company that charges an up-front commission. 

Bordeaux Vintners Ltd is also in voluntary liquidation, going into liquidation on 27th April 2006. The liquidator for both companies is Elias Paourou of the Kelmanson Partnership, Avco House, 6 Albert Road, Barnet, Herts EN4 9SH

Dunbar Fine Wine - an update

I have been in touch with Soorat Singh about wines that are outstanding and have received the following reply from him (25th August) :

'I fully expect that all outstanding wines will be delivered to the relevant accounts by the Friday the 13th October, with the vast majority within the next 2 weeks. On Tuesday deliveries from that supplier and Berrys that will cover 98% of my 2003 orders and any other outstanding wines.'

I trust this will be the case and that everyone will get their wine. It does, however, illustrate the dangers of buying en primeur of which customers are often unaware when showered with en primeur offers from merchants and brokers.

Should there be any further concerns please contact me. Also I know that Tony Mcauley, the Trading Standards Manager for East Lothian, Tel: 01620 827365 Email: tmcauley@eastlothian.gov.uk will be continuing to follow this case until the last customer has received their final bottle. In case of any problems he is keen for people to contact him.

Mayfair en primeur bombshell as predicted
(Posted 3rd July 2006)

As the last posting warned Mayfair's customers (116 in total) are now facing the loss of 1061 cases of en primeur Bordeaux that they ordered and paid in full. investdrinks understands that there are three vintages involved - 2002, 2003 and 2004. Of the 1061 cases -  306 cases have been paid for by Mayfair; 105 cases have been part-paid; 400 cases remain unpaid. It is currently it is not known whether the remaining 250 cases were paid or not paid by Mayfair Cellars. The vast majority of these cases are understood to be held by the suppliers in France. However, whether the wine has been paid for or not may ultimately be academic as Grant Thornton told investdrinks that 'we are seeking a definitive legal view. However, the initial legal opinion is that title has not passed from Mayfair Cellars.'

There are a number of unanswered questions here. Why are the 2002 en primeurs, which investdrinks understands have been paid for, still lying in Bordeaux, when they would normally have been delivered in the first half of 2005? It seems likely that a significant proportion of the 2003s have not been paid for. investdrinks understands that payment terms vary from one négociant to another. However, final payments for the 2003 en primeur wines would have been due at the very latest by January/February 2005. It does seem decidedly odd that the various négociants (Mayfair are understood to have dealt with between 15 and 20 companies) did not do more than chase Dominic Smith for payment - by April 2006 Mayfair were at least a year in arrears.  investdrinks understands MD David Searle has explained that the négociants were apparently prepared to cut Mayfair 'some slack'. Doubtless there are a number of other UK brokers and merchants who would be keen know the names of these Bordeaux négoce, who offer such obliging terms. (Nathaniel Johnston and Jean-Baptiste Audy are understood to be the two largest creditors amongst the Bordeaux négociant.). At present the value of the en primeur wine is not known.

Wider implications of the Mayfair en primeur debacle

Although there are clearly special circumstances surrounding Mayfair's en primeur purchases, the initial legal opinion obtained by Grant Thornton could have very serious implications for the en primeur business. 'A bombshell," said Andrew Hosking of Grant Thornton. "We have effectively made an unsecured loan to a wine merchant," two of Mayfair's en primeur customers told investdrinks.

Consumers' confidence, which is essential if this whole long drawn out waltz is to continue, could be severely dented if they come to fully appreciate the high risks of buying en primeur. investdrinks understands that title to the wine belongs to the individual châteaux until the wine leaves the property. Then it is likely to belong to the merchant or négociant that ordered the wine.

It is probably necessary to set the question of title against the steps that merchants take to establish their customers' right of ownership by issuing certificates of ownership backed against payment details and what each client ordered, invoices etc. investdrinks suspects that it will often be easy to establish what a client has paid and ordered. It is much more difficult to identify the particular cases to which they are entitled. Until the wine is bottled it is clearly impossible to identify any individual's wine while it is in barrel or bottle. Although, as in the case of the Hospices de Beaune or the Toques et Clochers auction in Limoux, whole barrels are sold then title will be clear providing the barrels are properly identified. It is already well established that customers' reserves have to be physically separate from a merchant's stock and identified if those reserves are not to be treated as part of the assets of the company should it go bankrupt.

Grant Thornton have indicated that they will be taking a "pragmatic and commercial view' of Mayfair's en primeur stock. Mayfair does not have the funds for an expensive legal battle to establish in the courts who holds title. It will be extremely interesting to see whether the more definitive legal opinion now being sought by Grant Thornton following representations by Mayfair's en primeur customers. What the position of en primeur wine under French, US and various countries in Asia-Pacific may also need to be established. Clearly customers are like to be rather leery of paying out around £7,500 for a case of Ausone or £4,800 for Cheval Blanc and not being sure whether they will get their wine should there be a financial problem in the UK or France. Furthermore, although if carried through Grant Thornton's 'pragmatic and commercial' approach to the Mayfair's en primeur customers is obviously welcome, it is hardly a very sound basis on which to purchase wine.

investdrinks advice to anyone contemplating buying en primeur is:

  • a) do not spend more than you can afford to lose, as in the event of your merchant collapsing or the failure of a significant négociant in Bordeaux, delivery probably cannot be guaranteed,
  • b) buy from one of the larger, long established merchants,
  • c) check what systems they have in place to establish your right of ownership to the wine you have ordered and paid for in full.
  • d) does the company have any insurance in place in the event of the collapse of a Bordeaux négociant.

Wilkinson Vintners and Farr Vintners - further clarification

It transpires that the request to Farr Vintners and Wilkinson Vintners for information relating to the trades between them and Dominic Smith was made by solicitors Herbert Smith, acting on behalf of Mayfair Cellars, and not by Grant Thornton direct as the report to creditors implied. Wilkinson Vintners supplied information requested on 25th May. investdrinks understands from Patrick Wilkinson of Wilkinson Vintners that a new report is being sent to creditors which includes the following:

"Our solicitors have written to Wilkinson and Farr requesting copies of documentation relating to the unauthorised sales.  Creditors should note that Wilkinson supplied all information requested to our solicitors on 25 May 2006 and have co-operated with our enquiries to date.  We are still awaiting a response from Farr."

investdrinks regrets that the initial creditors' report from Grant Thornton did not make this position clear.

Other Mayfair Cellars news

If the en primeur losses, whose value is yet unknown, and the current market value of the looted customers' wine are added to Mayfair's losses the total deficiency may rise to between £2.5 and £3 million.

Of the approximately £1.2 million worth of wine missing from the customer reserves, Grant Thornton has traced £300,000 paid to Dominic Smith. £200,000 paid to Andrew Comer, Smith's now civil partner, and some £200,000 that Smith paid into Mayfair Cellars between 2002 and 2005. It is not clear why Smith paid £200,000 into Mayfair. Was it to cover his tracks or did he want to keep the company afloat so that he could continue to loot customers' reserves?

It is also understood that Smith donated around £60,000 to several Gay charities, who had no idea that the money had been stolen. There remains another £500,000 untraced. Dominic Smith petitioned for bankruptcy on 15th May.

In a bizarre twist Andrew Comer has apparently changed his name by deed poll to Lord Comer - it is not known whether his title is Lord Comer of all comers.

It is clear that Dominic Smith gained the trust of the other two directors, Michael Mackenzie (chairman) and David Searle (managing director) and had a large area of responsibilities within the company. It is believed that Smith only took one week's holiday in four years. Directors' insurance had expired some six years ago.

Finance director caused Mayfair Cellars collapse
(Posted 19th June 2006 - amended 20th June 2006)

(In their report to creditors Grant Thornton, the administrators for Mayfair Cellars, allege that Farr Vintners and Wilkinson Vintners, the two merchants who are named by the report as buying the wine from Dominic Smith, have not yet supplied them with the information requested. This is disputed. I understand from Patrick Wilkinson of Wilkinson Vintners that Grant Thornton) did not ask for the information on the trades as stated in the report sent to creditors. However Herbert Smith, Mayfair’s solicitors did request information and this was apparently supplied a month ago. Until the position is clarified I have removed this disputed part of the report from this posting.)

43-year-old Dominic Smith of Cambrian House, Brimmon Lane, Newtown, Powys SY16 1BY systematically looted nearly £1 million worth of customers' wines from Mayfair Cellars passing the proceeds onto his then boyfriend and now civil partner, Andrew Comer. Smith, who was Mayfair's company secretary and finance director, now claims that all the money has been spent and none of it was used to buy realisable assets. Smith, is a qualified accountant and prior to joining Mayfair in late November 1995 had previously worked for KPMG and Hoare Govett.

Mayfair Cellars Ltd. ceased to trade on 6th April 2006 and was placed in administration on 12th April with Grant Thornton. The report sent out to creditors by Grant Thornton in advance of the creditors' meeting (20th June 2006 in London) reveals that Dominic Smith, the finance director, sold approximately £995,000 worth of customers' wine. This figure may well top £1 million as investigations are still continuing. It is believed that the major losers amongst Mayfair's clients are based in Hong Kong. It has been suggested to investdrinks that Smith particularly targeted overseas customers as his looting was less likely to be discovered.

Mayfair's liabilities now total £1,370,000 including £104,000 owed to Barclays Sales Finance and £209,663 to Champagne Jacquesson within one year and £76,006 after one year.

Smith's fraud was discovered on 30th March 2006 and he was sacked on 3rd April. Civil proceedings were started the following day for 'breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and/or deceit'. Smith has provided Mayfair's solicitors with details of the unauthorised payments from the company's bank account between 1st February 2006 and 31st March 2006 as well as details of his bank accounts and credit cards from 1st January 2002.

Hammersmith & Fulham Police is investigating and will interview Smith once they have received all the available evidence from Grant Thornton. No charges have yet been laid.

The report from administrators Grant Thornton to Mayfair creditors notes that 'Regular sums were paid to Andrew Comer, Mr Smith's partner from the unauthorised sales'. Comer claims that 'he believed the money was paid to him for debt collection work' for Mayfair. He also claims 'that Mr Smith was able to pay the balance to him because he earned much more than he actually did.' As a debt collector for Mayfair one might imagine that Comer would have had some idea of how profitable or not the wine trade is and what salary someone in Smith's position might draw. Comer claims to have no assets of real value. Decanter understands that Smith and Comer have recently signed a civil partnership.

All the looted wines were sold through Farr Vintners and Wilkinson Vintners with the majority being sold by Wilkinson investdrinks understands. Smith sent 'false invoices to Wilkinson and Farr which made it appear that Comer owned the wine being sold'. Smith claims that some invoices were sent from Mayfair and that he later diverted this money, with a limited amount going into other third party accounts, who may well have had no knowledge of Smith's activities.

The report mentions that investigations 'into the position of auditors, bonded warehouses and the other directors of Mayfair' will be carried out. Mayfair filed abbreviated and unaudited accounts with Companies House to 31st March 2005. The company's turnover exempted them from having to file audited accounts and the company dismissed their auditors, Horwath Clark Whitehill based in the City of London, in September 2004. It seems reasonable to assume that it was Smith who persuaded his fellow directors that audited accounts were an unnecessary expense.

Mayfair's clients may be facing a further bombshell over 2003 Bordeaux en primeur orders. Grant Thornton will be writing very shortly to all en primeur customers to inform them of the current position. Were there to be a substantial shortfall, this would undoubtedly put further pressure on Mayfair's other two directors - Michael Mackenzie (chairman) and David Searle (managing director) - regarding the running of the company.

investdrinks understands that a furious Michael Mackenzie contacted decanter.com following the posting of the story of the collapse on 19th April on the magazine's website. Initially the story said that Champagne Jacquesson was the parent of Mayfair Cellars. Mackenzie complained that this was inaccurate. Technically Mackenzie is correct - Jacquesson is not a shareholder of Mayfair - but it is part of the same group.

The annual accounts show that Mayfair Cellars' parent company was Rectory Wine Ltd, an Irish company registered in Dublin and which was founded in 1993. Michael Mackenzie is a director of Rectory Wines Ltd, whose sole shareholder is Casnam Ltd, PO Box 71, Craigmuir Chambers, Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands.

Mayfair's 2005 accounts state that Champagne Jacquesson is an associate company of Rectory Wines Ltd. Champagne Jacquesson is based in Dizy, in the Marne Valley. It is owned by Chiquet family and Michael MacKenzie, who is also its director-general. They own and operate 28 hectares of vineyards.

There are many questions yet to be answered about the Mayfair debacle. It will be interesting to see how far they are addressed at the creditors' meeting on Tuesday 20th at 11.am at the Novotel London Euston.

It still seems incredible that Dominic Smith was able to cream off £1 million of customers' stock in four years without anyone at Mayfair noticing. Diverting money into various accounts as well as issuing false invoices in Andrew Comer's name. Although Mayfair was David Searle's sole directorship, chairman Michael Mackenzie is an experienced director as his bio on the zi corporation (intelligent interface solutions) website trumpets:

'Board of Directors
Angus Michael Roderick Mackenzie, Director

Michael Mackenzie was appointed a director in 2001, and brings extensive experience in corporate governance to Zi's board of directors. Currently, Michael is chairman, Mayfair Cellars Group; chairman, Tasmanian Vineyards Pty; director, Taltarni Vineyards; director, The Lindsell Train Investment Trust PLC; and directeur-général and managing partner at Champagne Jacquesson & Fils.

For over 15 years, Michael has held leadership positions with a variety of Hong Kong based organizations. As director of James Capel (Far East) Limited from 1986 and then executive director of Wardley James Capel (Far East) Limited from 1991 to 1994, Michael was directly involved in managing the growth and strategic direction of the company. In 1994, Michael joined Jefferies Pacific Limited as a director. Since July 26, 2000, Michael has also served as director for three of Zi Corporation's Bermuda based subsidiaries.'

There is also the question of whether the two companies should have had suspicions over the looted wines that Smith flogged to them, especially as some invoices were apparently coming from Mayfair Cellars Ltd and some from Andrew Comer. Alex Hunt, Mayfair's wine buyer, has said that neither company ever mentioned that they were buying choice parcels of Bordeaux and Burgundy from Mayfair's finance director.

Presumably the cheques for wines falsely invoiced in Andrew Comer's name were also made out to Comer, so it is odd that Comer didn't wonder why he was receiving substantial cheques from Farr Vintners and Wilkinson Vintners.

Dunbar Fine Wines back in business
(Posted 6th June 2006)

I have spoken to Soorat Singh of Dunbar Fine Wines today. He assures me that all the wines ordered have been bought and that his recent absence was due to family difficulties that have now been resolved. He is now in process of contacting all his customers, which he expects to complete in the next two or three weeks.  I hope that this is the end of the recent problems. If this is not the case please let me know. I have also spoken to Tony Mcauley, the Trading Standards Manager for East Lothian, for an update. Mr Mcauley is continuing to monitor the situation, so that if any clients still have concerns they should get in contact with him.

Details of stock position at Dunbar Fine Wines
(Posted 22nd May 2006)

Here is a report on Dunbar's stock position (19th May 2006) from Lay & Wheeler, who store wine for Dunbar. Please note that this is a purely commercial arrangement - Lay & Wheeler has no involvement in Dunbar's business. It is not known whether Dunbar also used other companies' storage facilities.

Dunbar Fine Wines is not a limited company. I don't know whether Soorat Singh was a sole trader or whether Dunbar was a partnership. With its wine accounts frozen and the difficulties its clients have experienced in contacting Dunbar, it looks as it has effectively ceased trading. My guess is that it will very difficult for Mr Singh to revive the company should he wish to do so. I trust that Dunbar bought all the wine that its clients ordered and paid for. The news from Lay & Wheeler indicates that there may be problems in identifying clients' wine held in the Dunbar Holding account.

investdrinks urges anyone who stores wine with a company, whether in bond or not, to ensure that the wine is stored in their own account. Furthermore no wine should be moved from your account without your written permission.

I would urge anyone concerned about wine purchased through Dunbar to contact both Dave Smith, Head of Operations at Lay & Wheeler, and Tony Mcauley, the Trading Standards Manager for East Lothian, as soon as possible.

Report from Lay & Wheeler

'There are a collection of private client accounts, which we have checked out individually and they are all registered independently (as opposed to c/o Dunbar).

There are two further accounts - one for Dunbar, which is apparently a trading account and was designated as belonging to the company. This account is frozen). There is another Dunbar Holding account, which was designated as belonging to customers but we were not informed of individual names. This account is also frozen.

We have had a letter from East Lothian Council saying that they have been approached by consumers who have purchased vintage wine from Dunbar and so we will await those applications. At that point we will have to take legal advice as we'll have to have 100% proof of their ownership before we can release anywine, there may be charges to pay and it may be that not all the wine purchased by them was transferred to our care at Vinothèque (bonded warehouse).

All the reserves team here are totally aware of the situation relating to Dunbar and Dave Smith, Head of Operations is the contact.'

Dunbar Fine Wine - request for information 
(Posted 18th May 2006)

I have been contacted by a couple of clients of Dunbar Fine Wine run by Soorat Singh. The first instance was in mid-February and the second this week. In both cases the clients had found it impossible to contact Mr Singh and were concerned about wine they had bought from Dunbar. In February I was unable to get a response from Mr Singh or Dunbar either by phone or email. Today a phone call elicits nothing more than an automated 'hello'.

Today I spoke to Tony Mcauley, trading standards manager for East Lothian on tel: 01620  827365 or email: tmcauley@eastlothian.gov.uk Following complaints he is investigating Dunbar Fine Wine and visited Mr Singh yesterday, who explained that his recent failure to contact clients was due to his mother's illness. He told Mr Mcauley that Dunbar Fine Wines was still trading. In February from another source I heard a similar explanation. Tony Mcauley is very keen to hear from clients of Dunbar Fine Wine.

I would also welcome any information about the current position of Dunbar Fine Wines.

Collapse of Mayfair Cellars and 2005 en primeur campaign
(Posted 25th April 2006)

The sudden collapse of Mayfair Cellars Ltd, which went into administration on 12th April 2006, has stunned and shocked the UK wine trade. The story is carried on decanter.com/news/83492.html

Mayfair Cellars was a legitimate company and certainly not like the various scam wine investment companies that were closed down in the public interest by the DTI. Unfortunately the losses are substantial and apparently include bottles of Romanée-Conti as well as top Bordeaux from 2000 vintage and 1998s from the Right Bank with a total replacement value estimated at £1.25 million. Sadly most of the missing wine appears to belong to private customers who will be lucky to get anything back. Ironically they appear to be a worse position than if they had been shafted by one of the companies closed by the DTI as in most cases at least their clients had the wine even if they paid well over the odds for it.

Among the trade there are three talking points - amazement that £700,000 worth of wine could be sold over four years and the apparent fraud not be discovered earlier; the two merchants or wine brokers who bought the private customers' reserves while dealing with Alex Hunt, Mayfair's senior wine buyer, and the possible repercussions that Mayfair's collapse may have on the en primeur campaign for the much trumpeted 2005 Bordeaux.

There has been much comment and shaking of heads that it took four years for this fraud to come to light. It may be that the unauthorised selling of customers' reserves started off in a small way and then accelerated later but it does seem odd that stock reports from the bonded warehouse didn't alert someone at Mayfair to what was going on.

The two companies who bought the Mayfair customers' reserves have so far not been named. It may well be that there is an entirely innocent explanation why they did not tell Hunt that they were buying wine from another member of Mayfair's staff. investdrinks trusts nobody at the two companies involved had any suspicion that the person selling the wine had no right to do so and that any unease was suppressed because profit and the bottom line were paramount.

According to a report in the Independent (22nd April 2006) the police are due to start an investigation into the company's collapse this week. It will be interesting to see what action is taken. On past evidence investdrinks will not be holding its breath - there were no DTI or police investigation and certainly no charges when the late David Allan's Allwines collapsed owing in the region of £3 million. As the liquidator's report indicated it was highly likely that Allan looted his clients' wine reserves and may well have sold the same wine to several different clients.

It seems unlikely that Mayfair's collapse will have any substantial effect on the apparently already superheated thirst for 2005s from Bordeaux. The publicity surrounding the vintage coupled with a booming stock market in the US and large city bonuses in London has ensured that interest is extremely strong and that it would appear that some people will be prepared to pay whatever extraordinary price the top châteaux decide to charge.  300 euros a bottle seems to be the current estimate for the opening price for the First Growths.

However as buying en primeur is particularly built on trust, the sudden collapse of Mayfair ought to make buyers pause for thought. Title to the wines does not pass until they leave the Bordeaux châteaux, so it is essential to buy from with a company that

Should you buy 2005s en primeur as an investment?

Over time it is highly likely that the best 2005 Bordeaux wines (around top 20-5 properties) will increase in value and have long-term investment potential. However the question is whether it is worth buying them now or waiting a few years until they are in bottle. The danger is that the hype and frenzy will push prices up realistically high and that it may be possible to buy the wines for the same price or cheaper in three or four years time when the hype has died down.

During the en primeur campaign it can also be very difficult to secure only the investment wines you actually want without having to buy other wines. Brokers and merchants are understandably reluctant to let their customers cherry pick all the most sought after wines.

Merchants around the world are likely to find it difficult to obtain sufficient wine to match demand. The struggle for allocation will be particularly intense this year as due to the drought 2005 is not a large vintage and there is growing interest from Asia Pacific and the US is back in the market after staying away from the 2004s. Stephen Browett of Farr Vintners explained to Anthony Rose (harpers - the wine and spirit weekly): 21st April 2006) that in 2004 they bought 300-400 cases of the First Growths through 100-odd négociants. (The Bordeaux châteaux do not sell direct to the trade. Instead they sell to the various Bordeaux négociants, who then sell the wine onto wine merchants around the world.) Dealing with so many négociant companies makes it more likely that mistakes can be made over allocations. This year there may be companies who offer 2005s that they will not in a position to supply. 

Not free of capital gains free

Anyone who tells you that 2005s bought en primeur will be free of UK capital gains tax is likely to be misinformed. 2005s have plenty of tannin that will allow them to go the distance and it is highly probable that some 2005s, especially those suitable for investment, will be drinkable in 50 years time. Therefore they are not classed as a wasting asset and thus liable to capital gains tax when sold.

investdrinks believes that there is a strong argument for not attempting to buy the top priced 2005s en primeur and to wait and buy them once they are in bottle. As there are many attractive 2005s amongst the lesser wines (cru bourgeois etc.) it may be worth buying these to drink if they are offered at a sensible price.

 

Older news in can be found in the Other News Archive.