Thieves targeted several winemakers in eastern France’s Jura region in September, entering vineyards undetected and helping themselves to a portion of grapes making up the 2023 vintage.
It’s the not the first time thieves have stolen grapes from French vineyards on the eve of harvest. Yet, the scale of thefts in three separate incidents in the Jura were unusual, said Jean-Charles Tissot, head of Jura’s regional wine council (CIVJ), to BFMTV.
Catherine Hannoun, of Domaine de la Loue winery in Port-Lesney, told Decanter thieves stole an estimated 2,000 to 2,500kg of grapes from an area of vines spanning around 0.3 hectares (or ’30 ares’).
‘At first, I didn’t believe it,’ Hannoun said. ‘I went up and down the lines telling myself: “it’s not possible”.’ Thieves didn’t touch the first one or two vines on each row, making it difficult to see the theft without entering the parcel of vines.
To make matters worse, the grapes in the parcel affected had been looking magnificent for the 2023 vintage, Hannoun added.
Red wine grape variety Trousseau made up around 55% of the stolen haul, said Hannoun, who had to quickly reassign a team of harvest workers after finding the affected parcel empty.
Chardonnay made up around 35% of the stolen grapes, with Savagnin accounting for a further 5% and other miscellaneous varieties also accounting for around 5%.
Hannoun described experiencing a surge of anxiety upon discovering the loss, ‘with thoughts like, “Who could have done this? Why? Why me?”.’ She subsequently realised it wasn’t personal, after another winemaker based in Arbois called to say grapes were also stolen from their vineyards.
Thieves have reportedly taken grapes from three Jura wineries, with the total stolen haul estimated at €150,000 (£130,000), reported French news channel TF1 in September.
It quoted one victim, Laura Bourdy, of Domaine Bourdy in Arlay, as saying the speed and apparent skill with which thieves stole grapes suggested the culprits were well organised.
France’s gendarmerie, a military body with policing responsibilities, regularly patrols French vineyards during harvest time. TF1 said the local brigade in Jura reinforced its vigilance following the thefts.
Hannoun said the local gendarmerie team was very understanding when she reported the grape theft. Having considered the incident since, however, Hannoun was still at a loss to explain it. ‘I don’t see who could have done it.’
Jura was likely to see a relatively bumper crop in 2023, with harvest size set to rise 35% on 2022 and around 64% versus the area’s five-year average, said France’s agriculture ministry on 16 October.
Nationally, France was expected to produce around 46 million hectolitres from the 2023 wine harvest, around 3% up on the country’s five-year average. The picture varies by region, with the overall crop in Bordeaux set to be smaller year-on-year, but France is set to overtake Italy as the world’s biggest producer.