Wine thieves targeting leading French vineyards

A Chablis vineyard has been attacked four times in a year

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The Independent Online

Fears are growing of a new type of organised crime in France: the “theft to order” of high-quality Burgundy and other wines.

A leading vineyard in the Chablis area has been attacked four times in a year – and in the latest raid, reminiscent of a jewellery heist, an armoured car was used to demolish its sales-room doors.

The thieves stole more than 600 bottles of Chablis Grand Cru, one of the most prized white wines in the world.

“It has moved to a new stage,” said Julien Brocard, proprietor of the Domaine Brocard, at Préhy in northern Burgundy. “Before, they just used to break the windows. This time they smashed into the sales area with a specially armoured car. They only took our best bottles, the Chablis Grand Crus from vineyards like Vaulorent, Vau de Vey, Les Preuses and Les Clos vintages 2011, 2013 and 2013. They knew exactly what they were looking for. There must be some kind of network which markets this wine.”

Police also believe they are dealing with a well-organised gang, stealing wine to order. All bottles of Grand Cru Chablis are numbered. It would not be possible to sell the stolen wine to shops or restaurants in France without their illegal origin becoming apparent.

Investigators think the gang may be shipping the wine to unscrupulous traders or private buyers outside France.

Captain Patrick Lyon, of the local crime investigation unit, said: “Some vineyards are not sufficiently protected. We are advising them to install heavier doors, alarm systems and cameras.”

Frédéric Gueguen, president of the Chablis wine-makers’ union, said: “We need more gendarmes on the ground. Our members are growing more and more exasperated. This could end in a tragedy.”

Mr Brocard said the raiders had also caused €50,000 (£36,180) of damage.

“It has come to the point where we have to protect our wine like jewels,” he said. “We are living under siege”.

There have been 13 similar raids in the Chablis area in the last year and a scattering of attacks on vineyards elsewhere. An armoured car was also used in another Chablis raid in the village of Lignerolle.

Mr Brocard said Chablis wine-producers were reluctant to move their most-prized bottles to secure town warehouses because their livelihood depended on having samples on the premises for visitors to taste and buy.

Chablis, made entirely from Chardonnay grapes, is one of the world’s most-celebrated white wines and Chablis Grand Cru sells retail in France for €45-€70 a bottle.