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Smelly Sommelier

A friend of a friend - lets call him 'Guy' - is a sommelier in a very expensive restaurant in the West End of London. He attended a public school, attained a reasonable degree but freely admits that the work ethic does not run strong through his veins. Whilst I have always enjoyed drinking wine, Guy simply adores everything about it. He is incredibly knowledgeable, has a very educated palette and can wax lyrical about various wines for as long as anyone is willing to listen.

The owner of the restaurant is a very nice chap who clearly values Guy's skill-set; the combination of a public school accent and a genuine passion for what he was selling made a real difference in the restaurant's takings. As a rule of thumb, the restaurant would charge customers 3 x what they paid for a bottle of wine and given that the wine list included Petrus, it didn't take many sales to boost profits. Unfortunately, this was not reflected in Guy's salary and this began to grind.

Coming out of lockdown, Guy suggested that an interesting way of kickstarting business would be to hold a wine tasting party for a few selected (wealthy) clients. His boss was enthusiastic and readily agreed. The restaurant has a private dining room in which Guy hosted the party, and guests included the great and the good from corporate banking, business and a couple of minor celebrities (included purely for their role as social media influencers).

Guy was in his element and in no time at all, he had sold 6 bottles of Petrus at £7,500 a bottle, and several other expensive Bordeaux's. In total he clocked up just shy of £70,000 for his boss that night. Guy reflected on the success and suggested to his boss that they make this a monthly event, he would organise everything, select the wines, host the event, provide the knowledge and expertise and in return he thought it reasonable to ask for 50% of the profits. His boss loved the idea but laughed at the idea of sharing the profits.

Guy was seething and was just about to hand in his notice in a fit of pique, when he realised there was an alternative approach. He bit his lip and organised the next party, however, this time he took an entirely different approach. He had collected 4 (empty) bottles of Petrus during the intervening weeks together with their corks. He refilled the bottles with a decent supermarket Merlot (Petrus is made only from Merlot grapes) and used a home-brew corking machine to reinsert the cork. He sourced a matching foil and took all 4 bottles to the party.

The audience this time was larger (due to social media coverage and an air of exclusivity) and just as keen to drink expensive wine. Guy regaled them with interesting and fun facts sprinkled with a few amusing anecdotes as he gained their confidence. Tasting the Petrus was the highlight of the evening and as he uncorked his re-corked supermarket Merlot he made a point of showing them the specific markings on the cork to prove its authenticity. He poured the wine confidently and invited his guests to savour what was regarded as one of the most respected wines in the world whilst describing the taste using those ridiculous phrases that only wine experts would ever use.

The guests were instantly transformed into fellow wine experts and nodded ad smiled sagely at each other remarking on the wonderful rounded tones and aftertaste. Business was brisk, the evening's takings topped £100,000 and his boss was ecstatic. However, he still wasn't sufficiently ecstatic to share his spoils and all Guy received was a pat on the back. This was all Guy needed to take his plan to the next level.

Despite an industry agreement that all empty bottles of Petrus should be smashed to prevent unscrupulous individuals refilling them with other wines (yeah right - thats going to happen!) Guy collected the bottles of any expensive wine costing more than £3,000 and asked a couple of trusted sommelier colleagues to do the same. Once a month they gather at Guy's flat and refill those bottles. Some are swapped for genuine wines and served to customers who know no better, and the genuine wines taken home and resold. Others would be sold 'under the counter' to foreign customers who had more money than sense - or knowledge of wine. You have been warned.

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