Hurt Robin goes to court

As far as defamation lawsuits against wine-journalists go, I have a little more receiving-end experience than most, unfortunately. First up, in the good old days before the Widow died of bitterness, I was sued by Graham Howe who’d been insulted by her in regard to his writing of wine advertorials. That was expensive in lawyer’s fees, and nearly came to court, but was resolved with a bit of sensible last-minute face-saving all round.

Advocate John van der Berg wanted half a million because we’d reported on his nasty nickname – which everyone seemed to know about except him (that was a joke and it was fun to apologise fulsomely and it fizzled out). There were threats of lawsuits from a winewriter and a PR consultant masquerading as a winewriter – those didn’t get to the actual lawsuit stage. I’m sure others came close. Sometimes I probably deserved a thrashing.

The most significant and scary of the lawsuits (because of all the money behind it) was when the now-abandoned chief KWV cellarmaster, Sterik de Wet, sued me for my non-satirical comments about his role (and the KWV culture’s role) in the scandal about KWV winemakers illegally adulterating their sauvignon blancs. De Wet was in charge of these men but escaped public censure (the others merely had to change jobs but somehow avoided being charged).

Well, that was really KWV suing me using a front man. They backed off when a powerful person with contacts pointed out to the KWV chief of those days that, in defence of media freedom, there was every likelihood that most journalists would support the right to make the sort of comments I had, and that the only result for the KWV would be more bad publicity.

This is an example that Robin von Holdt, tireless supremo of the “Top 100” brand should ponder, if he has moment to pause in his onslaught  of unattractive arrogance. I’ve heard that he is suing a blogger, whom I know only as “Dionysis”, for defamation. The cause, I believe (and I have not tried to find out more about this – it seems better not to), was what Dionysis trenchantly wrote (here) about von Holdt’s rather silly Wine List Challenge, in which his own establishment was not only entered, but did extremely well.

This was altogether a controversial event (there was discussion on Grape too about some of the ethical problems it raised), and in my opinion Dionysis wrote nothing more than he was entitled to as a concerned observer.

And it’s not as though Mr von Holdt, apparently hurt by this bit of rough and tumble, is a gentle little thing himself. He’s made vituperative public comments about the Platter Guide, for example, and a nasty personal attack on Angela Lloyd. But maybe the law about bullies not liking to get smacked applies here.

Possibly Mr von Holdt imagined, as rich people tend to imagine when confronting poorer people, that Dionysis would back down quickly and make an apology. I believe (again, I must say I’ve elected to have no contact with Dionysis – I don’t even know who he is) that this backing down didn’t happen, and that Dionysis will defend the action.

I’m delighted to hear it, and am happy to assure him of my support. And to assure him that I have little doubt there will be plenty of support from wine-writers of all stamps (bloggers, tweeters, newspaper columnists and all), including financial support if necessary, in confronting this challenge to legitimate comment.

I wonder if Mr von Holdt has taken too seriously my association of his self-aggrandisement with Batman’s Robin. He’d better learn that he can’t really fly. Has he considered the implications of this legal action? Quite apart from the fact that it’s notoriously hard to prove defamation in our courts, he must realise that he’s going to polarise the winewriting community (if indeed he’ll find any on his side, though of course many will cravenly try to evade the issue). He is also surely going to embarrass the more decent of those associates of his on the Top 100 and Wine List Awards, even more than he has already by his unappealing character. Unsavoury controversy will not endear him to the producers and restaurants whose money he wants as entrance fees.

I wonder if he consulted his Fine Wine Forum (previously known as the Wine Industry Executive) about all this – though they certainly haven’t spoken up about anything at all that I’m aware of in their year-plus of existence.

Whether he wins his case or not he is going to be a loser, recognised ever more widely as an arrogant whinger. And that would, of course, be terribly sad.

Keep going, Dionysis. You’ll find lots of us behind you if needed.

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