Saint-Emilion owners Beatrice Ondet and Marie-France Fevrier are hiring a private security company in a bid to fight back against gangs of well-organised wine thieves.

The sisters, who own and manage Saint-Emilion grand cru classe Château Chauvin, lost their complete stock of Chateau Chauvin vintages 1986, 1987 1988 and 1989 last year.

The ‘fence’ who received the bottles has since been identified, but the problem is still there. Well-informed and carefully prepared wine-thefts are regularly organized at this time of year when bottles are capsuled and labelled ready for despatch.

Last week another – unsuccessful – attempt was made to break into the wine store at Chateau Chauvin, setting off an alarm which alerted a surveillance squad and an employee who lives nearby. The thieves left empty-handed – but they had time to escape before the police arrived.

‘The time-lapse between the alarm going off and the arrival of the police was a full 20 minutes, ample time for the thieves to get away,’ Ondet said.

The sisters now intend to set up a private surveillance squad in Saint-Emilion itself to ensure a more rapid response. The biggest names in Saint-Emilion already have sophisticated alarm systems connected to private companies who can mobilise a squad in minutes.

Chateaux in Libourne are banding together to hire such protection, and Fevrier told decanter.com a small group of like-minded grand crus and grand cru classes are considering joining her and her sister in hiring private security and sharing the costs.

Wine burglaries by well-organised gangs who know what they are looking for are not uncommon in Saint-Emilion. Bottles of Yquem 1918, Lafite-Rothschild 1955, Palmer 1937, and Latour 1950 were stolen from the wine shop Le Cellier in the town centre on the night of 2-3 January.

Three nights later, the cooperative in Puisseguin was targeted by well-informed and highly organized burglars, who loaded 4,140 bottles of Lussac-Saint-Emilion into a refrigerated van and escaped. On 8 January burglars were frustrated by the alarm going off at Chateau La Grace Dieu.

In December 2001, 4,596 bottles were stolen from grand cru classe Chateau Cormeil-Figeac, and 3000 1997s from premier grand cru classe Chateau Angelus.

Written by Alan Spencer24 February 2003