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$300,000 in fine wine stolen from famed restaurant recovered

January 23, 2015

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — More than $300,000 in world-class wine stolen from a famed Napa Valley restaurant has been recovered from a private cellar on the other side of the country.

But the mystery of who broke into the unmarked wine room at the world-renowned French Laundry eatery and how the 76 bottles of fine wine got to a private cellar in North Carolina, has yet to be solved.

The theft occurred on Christmas, a day after Chef Thomas Keller’s restaurant closed for a six-month kitchen remodel.

The Yountville establishment is rated three stars in the Michelin guide and twice has been named the world’s best by Restaurant Magazine.

Sheriff’s Capt. Doug Pike said no arrests have been made. But he added authorities are withholding some information — including any clues about how the wines were located or who took them — to maintain the integrity of the investigation.

Still, those in the tight-knit Napa Valley wine community have their theories.

“This has the earmarks of somebody who knew what they were doing and had the knowledge to choose those wines,” said Stefan Blicker, who co-owns BPWine.com, an online merchant of fine and rare wines in Napa.

Because of their value, some of the stolen wines would have been outfitted with digital tracking devices, a practice used by winery owners to prevent theft and counterfeiting, Blicker said. It’s unclear whether that helped crack the case.

The stolen wine included Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, a single bottle of which can cost up to $10,000. An online wine list shows the bottles sell for $3,250 to $7,950 at the restaurant.

Bottles of Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the most highly sought-after American wines, also were stolen. The restaurant wine list shows one vintage sells for $6,000.

“I looked at the French Laundry wine list, and those wines probably make the most sense from a thief’s point of view in the sense that it packed the most amount of value in the least amount of space,” Blicker said.

The Domaine de la Romanée-Conti would have been especially appealing, he said.

“To have a very large collection of multi vintages of one very prestigious producer was a logical choice,” Blicker said. “It’s quite possible that this was pre-planned.”

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti bottles have a tracking number, and collectors want to see that number because it legitimizes the bottle, Blicker said.

“If the person buying the wine has the inclination to find out where the original sale of the bottle was, they can do that,” he said. “You have to imagine a bottle of wine like a rare piece of art. It may change hands five or six times.”

Screaming Eagle uses radio-frequency identification tags to fight counterfeiting.

On Monday, after a nearly month-long investigation, analysis of forensic evidence, and numerous interviews, Napa County sheriff’s detectives traveled to Greensboro to recover the majority of the stolen wines.

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Information from: The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, http://www.pressdemocrat.com

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