Close Menu

Top 10 wine thefts

In the wake of the theft of £80,000 worth of wine from a Côte-Rôtie estate, we have rounded up 10 of the most jaw-dropping wine thefts.

Lighter than gold and less protected than art, if one was to pursue a life of high glamour crime then wine theft would be the way to go.

But while you may think that it would be easy to walk out of shop with a $20,000 bottle tucked in your trousers – be warned. As our line-up shows, it is not all high stakes rewards, from the perils of celebrity shoplifting to the consequences of drinking Prince Charles’ cheap wine.

$2.7m stolen from a Californian wine bank

George Osumi, an employee at Legend Cellar, stole almost $3m of customer’s wine that was in storage at the company. From 2008 to 2012, he replaced the valuable wine with budget Two Buck Chuck, taking over 1,400 bottles from one customer. Not only was Osumi an employee at the company but he was also the father of the owner Scott, whom he had been embezzling.

Celbrity chef Worrall Thompson caught shoplifting at Tesco

Antony Worrall Thompson was caught stealing wine and cheese from Tesco in 2012. Staff at the Oxfordshire branch set up a security camera and found that the Food and Drink presenter regularly bagged items which had not been paid for at the self-checkout. On one occasion he paid £180 for three cases of Champagne and then stole £4 worth of goods. Worrall Thompson received a police caution.


 Trotter auction wine stolen in transit

As the entire wine world anticipated the sale of Chicago restaurateur Charlie Trotter’s four legendary cellars, 60 cases of the wine went missing en route to Christie’s. Trotter estimated that 10% of the stolen wine was “top-end”, listing “some pristine older Bordeaux, some red Burgundies”. Although the missing wines were not recovered, the rest of Trotter’s collection went on to raise almost $1m.

Plumbers steal $650K of wine

Two plumbers broke into a wine shop in Seattle on Thanksgiving in 2013, spending 13 hours emptying the shop of 200 cases of wine before attempting to burn it down. The thieves were caught when one of them was recognised on the security camera because he had bought wine at the store. It is not like they had not given the crime enough thought – the police found documents belonging to them called “Is it Accidental Fire or Arson?”, “How to Commit the Perfect Crime” and, most cunningly of all, “The Plan”.

Criminal return $20,000 bottles

Stories of crime do not usually fill you with a belief in the good of human nature. But the return of a stolen 1945 Mouton Rothschild, valued at $20,000, warms the cockles. Four bottles of wine with a combined value of $22,000 were stolen from a store in Massachusetts when a woman distracted the clerk while her two accomplices stuffed the wine down their trousers. After the CCTV footage was broadcast on television, an acquaintance of the criminals convinced them to hand back the most expensive bottle.

Thieves steal entire grape harvest

No one would opt to steal marble rather than Michelangelo’s David, but with wine crime it makes sense to go back to the source. In 2010 farmer Robert Cavaille woke up to find that 30 tonnes of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes had been stolen overnight. Police assumed that it had been a Russian or Eastern European “wine mafia gang” using a mechanical harvester. Unfortunately for Cavaille his insurance covered the wine but not the raw fruit that made it.

Women steals wine to get into jail

We all do crazy things for love – but one Texan woman deliberately got arrested by stealing a bottle of wine so she could be reunited with her boyfriend. Alicia Walicke nicked the $3.99 Mad Dog drink and sat drinking it in the carpark until the police arrived. She told them that she wanted to be arrested so she could see her boyfriend who had been arrested earlier that day. It seems a shame that she did not use her “get into jail free” card to nick a tastier bottle.

French gendarmes capture €1m wine thieves

Earlier this year French gendarmes conducted a dawn raid to round up 20 “very organised and professional” gang members who had stolen €1m worth of Bordeaux wine. For a six month period, the vineyards of Bordeaux reported a theft every 15 days. Determined to leave no traces, the thieves would use a stolen van that they would then burn after having cleaned it with bleach to remove their fingerprints.

£28K of wine stolen by Drogba conman/The Football Conman

A conman pretending to be the agent for Chelsea football star Didier Drogba tricked a two Michelin-starred restaurant in Cambridge into giving him £28k of wine. After booking a table, a taxi was sent to collect the pre-ordered wines, which included Château Lafite and Petrus. Chef Daniel Clifford said, “We thought that perhaps the footballer had more money than sense.”

Unemployed man breaks into Buckingham Palace/The Royal Burglary

Unemployed decorator Michael Fagan was arrested in 1982 when he broke into Buckingham Palace one night and ended up chatting to the Queen in her bedroom. However, since trespassing on royal property was not made a criminal offence until 2007, Fagan was charged with “stealing a quantity of wine” because he had drunk – in his words – half a bottle of “cheap Californian” wine intended for Prince Charles.

It looks like you're in Asia, would you like to be redirected to the Drinks Business Asia edition?

Yes, take me to the Asia edition No