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Abject Greed In Wine Country

By Charles Olken

When will it end? Can it? Now, I don’t think all that much of wineries that bottle bad wines and know it, but at least they are subject to the market and its observers, of which there are many. If a producer bottles swill, it is going to get called on it. And it matters not whether you like the style or not, or whether you or the winery or the winemakers knows brettanomyces from a hot rock or can tell a cooked, vinegary bottle from dried out, smelly leather sandals.

What matters to me on a day to day basis is clean, balanced, focused and interesting. If you meet those tests and do not gouge your customers, you are okay with me.

But then there are the true cheats—the ones that say they will store your wine for you and then sell it off, or the ones who put fancy labels on plonk and sell those bottles for the fortunes that real bottles of the name would bring, or to come to the latest scandal, those who sell wine that they do not own, never will own and simply take your money and buy fancy houses, Ferraris and a long list of greedy young women willing to do anything for a big pay day.

This latest scam was perpetrated by John Fox, who once upon a time ran a nice little wine store on Piedmont Avenue in one of Oakland up-scale neighborhoods. Mr. Fox ran an honest business, and he took advantage of the “futures” rush of the early 1980s to buy up and sell lots of wines recommended as barrel lots by none other than Robert Parker. Mr. Parker has been accused of all kinds of things, but he has never been accused of aiding and abetting the troubles that Mr. Fox found himself in as success after success led to ever bigger buys, increased profits and appetites that eventually ran way beyond his ability to pay.

In short, he created a form of wine Ponzi scheme. He would sell futures without paying for the wine, and then when he finally had to deliver, he would sell the next year’s futures and buy up at least a bit of the wine he was supposed to deliver. Well, his abject greed finally got the better of him, and finally there was no way he could catch up and so he just did not even buy any wine until his backlog got so big that he was eventually sued and then criminally indicted.

He made himself into a comic book figure—a caricature of greed incarnate. And yesterday, as he was on his way to slammer for a long rest, he was parodied by none other than the Hosemaster of Wine1.

There are many sides to the John Fox story. The Hosemaster has his take, and I commend it to you, if you, like me, enjoy the searing wit and biting humor that the Hosemaster delivers.

Here is another take. One that is personal to me. It is a note I left as a comment over on that aforementioned site. The story is true. Only the names (well, really, one name) have been changed to protect the innocent.


“I knew John Fox. John Fox was a friend of mine. I bought one round of futures from John, and fortunately, it was early in his career and he delivered.

About two months ago, I had a confrontation with my dentist. I say "confrontation" because I can assure you that it was not voluntary and I did not like it.

So, after he stuck this long needle in my mouth, and I was strapped to chair lest I escape, or it least it seemed like that, he opened up, which is unusual because usually it's me with my mouth open like a drunk dog on Fentanyl.

"Did you ever do business with John Fox?", he intoned.

Well, yes, say I and confess that I bought some Ch. Margaux futures back around 1983. Fox mismarked the price in his offer sheet, and I bought the wine. He then asked me to pay a higher price, and I told John that I was going to report him to the Hosemaster and make him infamous. So, he upped and delivered.

The dentist then went on to explain that he had paid for hundreds of cases of rare wines, and while he did not put a dollar number on it, my quick math suggests that he had over a million dollars invested. Can you believe it? My dentist listed along with all those other schmucks.

I didn't know whether to cry for the guy or run out of his office in fear that his dentistry might be as bad as his judgment.

I kind of like this dentist. He is a funny guy who happily lives the high life--except that he found out that he was allergic to wine and now does not drink. He gets high flying his plane and lounging around on his friends' fancy boats. And, of course, he tells me all this while I am bound and gagged while he sticks needles and drills in my mouth.

One could argue that he deserved what he got. After all, he is a dentist, and doesn't that say it all?

I was only a friend of John Fox for a few months until he tried to rip me off. My dentist was friends with John almost to the end. Talked about hanging around with him.

My dear wife now wants me to change dentists. And honestly, it is true that John did screw him out of a big chunk of money. But, he still has his airplane and his girlfriend--so how bad a dentist can he be?”



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No Subject
by doug wilder
Posted on:8/30/2016 10:31:30 AM

Reminds me of that comment attributed to Steve Jobs. "That is the kind of Porsche that dentists drive."

John Fox
by Bob
Posted on:8/31/2016 6:45:24 AM

 "he tells me all this while I am bound and gagged while he sticks needles and drills in my mouth."

  I thought all dentists do that.

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