I have known and known of John Fox, the now defunct and infamous Berkeley wine retailer, for almost twenty years. His company, Premier Cru, last week collapsed filing for Chapter 7 bankrupcy,
This morning I was amazed to receive a quite virulent, nay acrimonious email from a colleague because I had expressed some sympathy, or at least empathy, for the man himself. I just feel the guy wasn’t Hannibal Lecter.
I first met him in 1998 in his Berkeley store with his team, all chomping on pizza at four o’clock in the afternoon. My company had just cancelled a 40k order of 1996 Dominique Laurent wines on him for absence of payment. And his response?
“I wish you’d have told me, I would have sold my car…” Sardonic and totally passive.
When I was seventeen, I spent the most glorious semester of my schooling at Middlesex School in Concord, Mass. There was a lovely dog on campus, to whom some mindless adolescents had given acid. The dog never really came back from that trip. You would pat it and a benign recognition would follow some seconds later.
Whenever I think of John Fox I think of that dog.
Now for sure, a lot of people are out of pocket, have perhaps been swindled and have been lefts with orders and hopes unfulfilled. So far, so bad. But honestly, John Fox’s demise comes as no surprise. I remember talking to a friend in DC about their troubles more than ten years ago. This has been a train wreck waiting to happen for years.
Honestly, people still buying wine from him/ them/ Premier Cru were simply STUPID. As my dear mother used to remind me, often, fools and their money are soon parted. Premier Cru were always first on the market and cheapest on the market, and in general, if a deal seems too good to be true, it isn’t.
They also did buy a lot of real, hard, physical wine. So a lot of clients were getting delivered. Knowing the beast, as it were, I think things just gradually got out of control, snow-balled and turned into a final, fatal avalanche.
It’s happened elsewhere, at Carolina WIne Company for example. They were a great client for several years, but then things got out of hand. There was no deliberate intention to defraud.
I do not believe this was Ron Wallace Mark II, and it’s certainly less criminally intended than Rudy Kurnivian’s fakery.
The self-righteous, indignant, “holier than thou” posturing of some in the wine trade is quite ridiculous. Businesses go under, shit happens. Most big players were perfectly happy to take his orders; my erstwhile employers took hundreds of thousands of euros from him each year. On payment he was delivered, and while not paying, he paid substantial interest on the undelivered wine. Such was his reputation already. But his intention to get the wine were clear.
But, hey, nobody died, and in the end, I refer to my previous post, it’s only wine.