‘Vinegar’ screen rights optioned

Will Smith among team of producers

Escape Artists and Overbrook Entertainment have optioned screen rights to “The Billionaire’s Vinegar,” an upcoming Benjamin Wallace book about the scandal that ensued when an auctioned cache of wine bottles purported to have been owned by Thomas Jefferson were called fakes. Crown will publish the book this spring.

The film will be produced by Todd Black, James Lassiter, Jason Blumenthal, Steve Tisch and Will Smith. The producers teamed previously on “The Pursuit of Happyness,” and they will reunite for “Seven Pounds,” the Gabriele Muccino-directed drama that stars Will Smith and begins production March 10.

Both companies have first-look deals at Columbia, but they optioned the book with their own coin.

“The Billionaire’s Vinegar: The Mystery of the World’s Most Expensive Bottle of Wine” starts in 1985, when a Forbes family member paid $156,000 at auction for a bottle of 1787 Chateau Lafite Bordeaux, which Christie’s of London billed as part of a Jefferson cache discovered in France.

The wine was supplied by Hardy Rodenstock, a music manager-turned-wine dealer who somehow unearthed several bottles of old wine. After paying $500,000 for the Jefferson bottles, billionaire Bill Koch paid twice that for an investigation to confirm their origins and then sued Rodenstock.

“For me, the movie is the unraveling of a mystery that comes down to a guy who punked the wine world,” Lassiter said. The deal comes after HBO Films and producer Ben Karlin optioned “The Jefferson Bottles,” a New Yorker article about Koch’s investigation of Rodenstock’s supposedly bogus bottles.

“Billionaire’s Vinegar” will be exec produced by David Bloomfield and Ken Stovitz. The deal was made by Gersh.

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