Domaine de la Romanée Conti, the legendary Burgundy wine estate, has been the target of an extraordinary blackmail attempt.
According to Aubert de Villaine, co-director of the estate and Decanter Man of the Year 2010, blackmailers threatened to poison the vineyards earlier this year.
‘We first received a series of anonymous letters in January, accompanied by a detailed map of our vineyard, with a section of vines marked out,’ de Villaine told decanter.com.
‘They demanded a ransom payment of €1m, and claimed that if we did not pay, they would poison the vines.’
De Villaine immediately contacted the police, and continued discussions with the perpetrator, during which a trap was set at the end of February.
The story was leaked to the French press this week, ‘catching us slightly on the hoof,’ continued de Villaine, ‘as we were just preparing our own press statement.’
The man, whose name has not been made public but who is from the Marne region of France, was arrested on February 22. His son was with him, but was not arrested.
He was allegedly trying to collect a package of false banknotes that had been left as a fake ransom by the managers of the DRC estate in the village of Chambolle-Musigny, near the estate itself in Vosne-Romanée.
‘We had no knowledge of this man prior to the first letter, but apparently he had completed two years of viticultural studies in Burgundy,’ said de Villaine. ‘He obviously decided a life in crime was more rewarding, as he has already spent time in prison.’
He seems to have had no previous connection with DRC as either an employee or client.
The only concrete loss from the affair has been one – or perhaps two – individual vine plants from the 1.8 hectare estate. These were found with a hole alongside them, into which some liquid had been poured in; probably a weedkiller, but analysis is ongoing.
One vine has been pulled up for testing, but the other is growing normally. ‘He was arrested before any actual damage was done.’
The suspect is currently on remand, and will face charges of extortion.
Written by Jane Anson in Bordeaux