Late-night lawsuit thoughts

Amid the excitement of harvest and the depression of an industry in rather a lot of trouble (just ask some of those harvesting), here am I thinking, late at night, more about the two currently threatened wine-industry lawsuits. And I rather suspect that so are the two people who are suing for defamation, and maybe wishing they hadn’t.

First up, on the financial scale anyway, is auctioneer Rael Levitt. He’s pretty rich himself, and he’s suing much, much richer Wendy Appelbaum because of her comments about the auction sale in which she initially thought she’d fairly bought the Quoin Rock wine estate (with ideas of a hotel, restaurant, etc there – not to mention grapes). Ms Appelbaum already owns De Morgenzon, of course, at more or less the other end of Stellenbosch, where she lives with a magnificent view from the top of a high and windy hill.

The auctioneer denies that the auction was “fundamentally flawed” – ie, that he was cheating, and hoodwinking the successful bidder. But feisty Ms A, who’s already complained to the National Consumer Commission about the whole business, is relishing the chance of confronting Mr L in court, and hoping that he doesn’t back out.

Will he? And will Robin von Holdt? The latter is probably only moderately rich (trying to get richer through wine competitions) and suing (as surely everone knows by now) comparatively poor Dion Martin who made some uncomplimentary comparisons between the wine-show entrepreneur and unsavoury dictators who give themselves medals – just because Mr von A had, er, got a medal in his own winelist awards thing.

So after I wrote something about it, and then a wine-blogger wrote a bit more, Mr von Holdt was clearly rattled. Somehow things weren’t going quite right – he was being presented as an arrogant bully, which might not be good for his bloody Brand.

So he wrote a statement for winecoza. Which must have sent, I’d imagine, a spasm of pleasure through the lawyer acting for Dionysis, as the complainant is, as I say, obviously rattled. More spasms of pleasure, perhaps, on looking through the comments received, which show scant sympathy for the poor insulted man (who’s not at all like Idi Amin, really).

Mr von Holdt might desperately insist as much as he likes that the misbegotten lawsuit has nothing to do with his Top 100 Wines competition. The fact is that, more and more, it is going to be inevitably linked with it. It’s still likely, as I suggested before, that the competition could attract a lot of entries this year – but I’m starting to wonder. Wineries hesitant about the advantages of handing over a lot of money for the privilege of entering another of these lotteries are going to weigh in the balance the revelation of the unattractive reputation the main spokesperson of the competition is getting in winewriting circles.

My own distaste for Mr von Holdt’s brash, self-aggrandising style has been tempered by a vague admiration for the deftness of his programme. But I’m starting to wonder. I remember at an early stage of my literary studies the theory that Shakespearean villains were tripped up by a fatal flaw in their character. Is the Top 100 brand doomed by the fact that its owner just can’t learn to shut up when necessary?

I’m sure Mr von Holdt is starting to become aware that if he doesn’t withdraw his suit against Dionysis he’s just going to become seen as increasingly unattractive. Worse, he might well find very few winewriters turning up to publicise the competition results for him. And I’ve heard a lot of appreciative murmurs so far for my suggestion that Dionysis will receive, if worst comes to worst, the contents of a hat passed around in support of his expenses.

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