Man buys nearly 125,000 bottles of wine at auction for $100

By Ryan Huff

Ken Jacques just bought nearly 125,000 bottles of wine for $100. That’s less than a penny a dozen.

And this isn’t cheap wine, either. It sells for $9 to $15 a bottle at your local store.

It all started when the 46-year-old San Luis Obispo wine distributor got sued. That led to a countersuit, which led to a six-figure monetary award for him, which led to a bizarre auction that ultimately found Jacques bidding alone.

Here’s how it went down.

James Estate Winery in 2002 signed up Jacques’ company, Evaki Inc., to market its Australian products in the United States.

But a few months later, James Estate stopped paying Evaki’s consulting fee, filed a lawsuit and claimed that his company was doing a poor job of marketing its wine.

Next, according to a San Luis Obispo judge, James Estate sent letters to Evaki’s clients, falsely saying Evaki was being prosecuted for stealing money.

Superior Court Judge Douglas Hilton sided with Evaki and Jacques, ruling that the Australian wine company should pay the local firm $399,000 for libel and breach of contract.

The wine company said it didn’t have the money to pay it. But then Jacques’ attorney, Jeffry Radding, learned that the winery had more than 10,000 cases of wine sitting in a Sonoma, Calif., warehouse. So the judge ordered a wine auction to help James Estate pay off its judgment. Jacques and three others showed up for it in December.

One man arrived late, so he was out. The second prospective bidder was a representative from James Estate hoping to push up the bidding amount or buy back the wine, according to Jacques. When the man’s liquor license didn’t check out, the sheriff’s staff escorted him from the warehouse.

That left Jacques and another bidder, a multimillionaire well known in the wine industry.

“He looked at me and checked me out like we were playing poker,” Jacques said. “I anticipated we’d have a couple buyers there to purchase everything for $100,000 to $150,000.”

Jacques threw down $100, and when the millionaire didn’t bid, Jacques won.

“I could have easily bid just a dollar,” Jacques said, in retrospect. “But that just didn’t seem right – it was too sweet of a deal.”

Indeed. The Wine Enthusiast, a top industry publication, gave most of the wines a high 80s rating, meaning it’s above average, good-quality wine.

Jacques is now selling the bottles of Shiraz, chardonnay and varietal blends and hopes to make more than $250,000.

“Without a doubt, this was the single most exciting transaction I’ve ever been involved in,” Jacques said.

The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department confirmed Jacques’ story, but the agency’s civil bureau manager who led the auction didn’t want to comment beyond that.

The Tribune could not reach James Estate for comment. The Australian phone number listed on its Web site,, is disconnected.

All this, and the story is still fermenting.

The winery still owes Jacques’ business $398,900 – not to mention the $60,000 libel judgment each to Jacques personally and to a local James Estate office manager, California Polytechnic State University student Kari Running.

Jacques hasn’t had any luck collecting his judgments yet but has an Australian law firm lined up to go after James Estate.

“I have no intention of letting these guys off the hook,” he said.