London fine wine merchants Mayfair Cellars has collapsed with the loss of hundreds of thousands of pounds – the victim of a massive internal fraud.

decanter.com has learnt that a senior member of staff, who cannot be named, fraudulently sold some £700,000 of top Bordeaux and Burgundy over the course of four years.

The total replacement value of the wines stolen could be as much as £1.25m, senior buyer Alex Hunt said. The wines were first growth and other top Bordeaux, and Burgundy’s Domaine de la Romanee Conti.

The fraud only came to light when Hunt was asked by a customer to release a parcel of 1990 Chateau Cheval Blanc. ‘When I went to look at that account I noticed that that rotation number had no cases attached to it.’

That discovery, made two weeks ago, led to the uncovering of an audacious scam whereby private customers’ reserves were sold to two major London wine merchants – which also cannot be named – and the proceeds pocketed after siphoning them off the company accounts.

In a bizarre anomaly, Hunt said that while the fraudster was selling off customers’ wines to the two merchants, Hunt himself was conducting legitimate deals with the same merchants. ‘I would have expected them to mention that they had just bought a pallet of such and such a wine from us. It is very odd,’ he said.

Mayfair Cellars will not survive the blow. Its main line Champagne, Jacquesson, has lost many thousands and will be seeking other representation, Hunt said.

Managing director David Searle said he was ‘appalled’ for his staff, and for the hundreds of private clients, many of whom were friends, who had been caught up in what was ‘a disaster on so many levels’.

He paid tribute to their ‘incredible generosity’ when they heard the news. ‘They were sad to lose their wine, but they were much sadder for us.’

Mayfair Cellars is now in the hands of administrators Grant Thornton.

Written by Adam Lechmere