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February 9, 2021 February 2021 No Comments

Stalin’s wine cellar

In the late 1990s Australian John Baker, a well known as a purveyor of rare and old wines, and his sidekick, Canadian Kevin Hopko, were always on the lookout for examples of old vintages; often in forgotten cellars of  deceased trusts or breakups of rich marriages. They received numerous tip offs , most of which  came to nothing. 

One came from an occasional business contact with an extremely unlikely story which they quickly discounted. However he was persistent insisting that his informant was very reliable. Eventually a deal was made in which the businessman would pay for  John and  Kevin to travel to Georgia to check out the story in exchange for a quarter of any profits which may follow.

Stalin’s Wine Cellar is the story of what followed as told by John Baker and recorded by author Nic Pace. 

The lead they were following up was that Stalin, a known wine connoisseur, was also a massive collector of quality French wines. In addition he had also confiscated the cellar of the last Czar Nicholas 11 which had French wines going back to the mid 1800s. When in 1940 the German army looked likely to overrun central Russia Stalin had the thousands of bottles of wine removed to a old cellar in Tbilisi in Georgia where he grew up – where, it was claimed, it remains. 

John had the name of the Georgian contact who was said to have an old list of the wines and was acting for the owners of the cellar. The list supposedly included 1858 Château Yqem,1864 Château Coutet and 1900 Château Margaux. If correct these would fetch eye watering sums at auction. 

The contact was made , however there were numerous problems  not least being that following the with drawl from the Soviet Union Georgia was in a state of anarchy, being run by mafia like local groups. Plus there were more than one claiming ownership of the hidden cellar. There was an air of tension those they dealt with inevitably having a pistol tucked into their belt. Even gaining entry to the cellar to check out the contents was proving impossible.  

Stalin’s Wine Cellar takes the reader on a ride from the glamorous high end  of wine dealing from Sydney’s Double Bay to London, Paris and the Bordeaux Château to the dangers of rough and tumble out of control Georgia. 

This fact stranger than fiction story is a well written and interesting, a worthwhile read. A small quibble, the section of the searcher’s time in Europe is a bit drawn out, it seems as though it was to pad the book out a bit. 

Mike Beckett  

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