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French Laundry DRC thieves probably ‘had buyer in place’

Finding $300,000 worth of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti and Screaming Eagle wines stolen from California restaurant The French Laundry on Christmas Day could be more difficult than is hoped, according to experts.

Thomas Keller, the chef-owner of the Michelin-starred restaurant in Yountville, Napa, said any attempt to sell on the 76 bottles of stolen wine would ‘immediately raise red flags’.

But, others believe the way thieves only targeted specific wines suggests that they had already found a buyer, as is sometimes thought to be the case with fine art theft.

Most of the wines stolen from The French Laundry’s cellars were DRC, including Romanee-Conti, La Tache and Grands Echezeaux from vintages spanning the past decade. Several bottles of Screaming Eagle and Dom Perignon Champagne were also taken in the Christmas Day heist. The stolen wines have an estimated market value of $300,000.

‘We have been given a list of serial numbers which we’ve posted in our warehouse,’ said Frank Martell, director of fine and rare wine at Heritage Auctions, which has a base in San Francisco.

‘That said, it isn’t hard to believe that a thief who was knowledgeable enough to target these wines will also know private individuals who are willing to buy the stolen property at a steep discount. Even at 50% of value, the perpetrators could stand to earn $150,000, which is a compelling figure.’

There have been a string of fine wine thefts in California in recent years, while the state was also home to Rudy Kurniawan, who is serving a 10-year prison term for wine fraud.

‘One thing in common with the burglaries is that thieves targeted mainly DRC wines, leaving behind many other valuable wines,’ said Justin Grover, owner of San Francisco-based retailer Fine Wines International, which has itself been a burglary victim. ‘This leads me to believe there could have been a buyer in place for the stolen wines.’

A single of bottle of DRC Burgundy wine can fetch thousands of dollars at legitimate auctions and retailers. Los Angeles retailer Wally’s was this week selling a single bottle of DRC Romanee-Conti 2004 for $10,500.

‘As wine prices are rising, we are seeing more and more of this kind of theft,’ said Martell. But, he believes The French Laundry burglary represents a new level. ‘The theft from such an important institution is a bold statement.’

He praised authorities and the restaurant management for doing an ‘outstanding job’ to make the trade aware of the stolen wines.

Jack Daniels, president and founder of Wilson Daniels, DRC’s exclusive distributor in the US, told Decanter.com his company has provided the restaurant with all bottle and case numbers for the stolen Burgundy wines.

‘Between various sources here and at the Domaine, every effort is being made to distribute the numbers identifying the wines to all sources.’

Grove said the episode ‘underlines the increasing importance of provenance and traceability’ for fine wine buyers.

Click here to see a list of the stolen DRC wines and their bottle numbers


Written by Chris Mercer

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