Stolen French Laundry wine recovered on East Coast
The $300,000 of world-class wine whisked away from a Yountville restaurant last month has been found — in a private cellar in North Carolina — but who took it remains a mystery.
Stolen in a Christmas Day heist from world-renowned French Laundry, the 76 bottles of mainly rare French wine ended up in Greensboro, Napa County Sheriff’s Capt. Doug Pike said. All but a couple of the bottles have been recovered.
The break in the case came amid widespread publicity of the heist and with the help of sophisticated tracking technology, according to Pike.
The stolen wine included bottles of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, one of the most prestigious producers in the world, where the winery owners use laser and digital technology on corks, capsules and other parts of each bottle to curb counterfeiting and theft. A single bottle from the French estate can retail for as much as $10,000 and appreciate roughly 20 percent per year in storage, according to DRC’s exclusive U.S. importer.
After the theft, law enforcement authorities spread word of the pilfered collection through trade publications and auction houses as well as through the extensive social media contact list for Thomas Keller, the world-famous chef and French Laundry owner.
Two Napa detectives flew to the East Coast on Monday and verified the bottles were those taken from The French Laundry, Pike said.
Sheriff’s officials shared few additional details about how and where the wine was discovered, saying they did not want to undermine their inquiry.
Detectives still are investigating who broke into the restaurant, stole and sold the wine. Sheriff’s officials did not publicly disclose who had the wine in North Carolina. No arrests have been made.
Investigators are looking into the possibility that the theft was carried out by people connected to the restaurant.
Thieves pried open two locked doors — an outer restaurant door and a wine cellar door — and took the most expensive bottles. The restaurant was closed at the time for renovations and, atypically, a cellar alarm was not activated that day.
The detectives have arranged to have the wine shipped back to Napa County. In addition to the bottles of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, the theft also included several bottles from Screaming Eagle, the small-batch, high-priced Oakville winery.
Napa County sheriff’s detectives will be working with both state and federal law enforcement authorities as they continue investigating the case.
A representative with the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group said the company would not comment on the wine’s recovery.
The French Laundry theft is considered among the world’s all-time leading wine burglaries. It came 11 months after thieves struck at another exclusive Yountville restaurant just blocks away from The French Laundry. That January 2014 heist, at Redd, targeted some of the same wine.
The two burglaries were suspiciously similar as they both occurred when the typically bustling restaurants were closed for winter remodeling projects. At Redd, a door was pried open and an alarm at the restaurant was not set, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
About two dozen bottles of high-value wine disappeared, including some from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.
That case remains open, and the wine hasn’t been found. Investigators have not ruled out that the Redd heist was carried out by someone with a connection to the restaurant and were looking into the possibility the two thefts were connected, Pike said.
The high prices that premium wines command are proving tempting to thieves worldwide, who are targeting collections in warehouses, restaurants and personal cellars.
Staff Writer Julie Johnson contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 521-5412 or firstname.lastname@example.org.