A series of high-profile burglaries in the past two years suggest that wine cellars have joined banks, art galleries and jewellery shops at the top of the criminal underworld's hit list.
There was much fervour yet relatively little surprise after it emerged that burglars had pulled off a Christmas Day heist at California’s celebrated French Laundry restaurant, escaping with 76 bottles of wine – predominantly Domaine de la Romanee-Conti and Screaming Eagle – worth $300,000.
Similar episodes have occurred regularly in the past couple of years.
Before Christmas, several restaurants in the London area reportedly fell victim to scams, including one in which the thief falsely claimed to be ordering bottles of fine wine to a particular address on behalf of Chelsea footballer Didier Drogba.
‘As wine prices are rising we are seeing more and more of this kind of theft,’ Frank Martell, fine wine director at US-based Heritage Auctions, told Decanter.com this week.
And, he has his own suspicions about the culprits. ‘Since so few “pedestrian” wine drinkers know which labels are most valuable, we have to assume that many such occurrences are inside jobs.’
Are higher prices for the world’s most sought-after wines leading more thieves to target them? Burglaries are nothing new and it’s hard to say for sure, but this is certainly a seductive argument when one considers the expanding international market for fine wine.
London-based fine wine exchange Liv-ex shows that the average case price for DRC’s Romanee-Conti 2004, which was among the wine stolen from The French Laundry, has doubled in the past five years. Los Angeles retailer Wally’s was this week selling a single bottle of the same wine for $10,500.
The short-term success of Rudy Kurniawan, who concocted copycats of rare wines in his kitchen sink and is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence for fraud in the US, suggests some consumers are willing to take risks with authenticity to acquire special bottles.
Prior to the recent scams in California and London, there have been numerous other burglaries and attempted robberies in 2013 and 2014.
Here are examples of some of the biggest:
- Thieves face prison after $650,000 wine heist
- Man jailed for $2.7m wine theft
- Top French wine collector held at gunpoint
- Thieves snatch 380 bottles in break-in at Chateau d’Yquem
- Suspected Bordeaux wine thieves arrested in police raids
Written by Chris Mercer