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Bordeaux's famous 'Grands Crus' become a thieves' favourites

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By Euronews  with AFP
In this Oct.3 2019 file photo, wine bottle are seen in a wine shop in Paris.
In this Oct.3 2019 file photo, wine bottle are seen in a wine shop in Paris.   -   Copyright  Kamil Zihnioglu / AP   -  

Symbols of French luxury, the great wines of Bordeaux have become the "preferred target" of thieves and traffickers, forcing authorities and winemakers in the region to review their security measures.

Since 2018, the phenomenon of fine wine thefts has become significant in the region, with at least 20 break-ins against warehouses, private or small specialised cellars, as well as supermarkets, according to the Bordeaux public prosecutor. 

The total haul was around €5 million.

In September last year, eight thieves broke into the warehouse of a major Bordeaux wine merchant, crawling along the floor before sliding the wines onto a skateboard to avoid the "presence sensors".

In one weekend, 278 cases of 'Grand Crus' were taken: Château Latour, Haut-Brion, Ausone, amounting to an eye-watering loot of €1 million.

Thieves are pivoting from precious jewels to plonk

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Cases of Grand Crus worth millions are being stolen by organised crime gangsCanva

"We've realised over the last ten years that international criminal networks are diversifying their activities," says revealed Colonel Olivia Poupot, commander of the Gironde gendarmerie group.

"As wine is a luxury product, which has a market value and a significant resale capacity on the black market, they have also entered this field."

The group of eight thieves has just received sentences ranging from one to three years in prison.

"With prices soaring in recent years, some wines have become a prime target for thieves, especially as they can be resold very easily, not like a painting," says a spokesman for the Bordeaux Wine Trade Council (CIVB).

At the Bordeaux court, the deputy prosecutor at the economic and financial division, Céline Pagès, describes a "criminal phenomenon" with teams of "seasoned" thieves who come from "classic burglaries – gold, silver, jewellery".

Familiar with the methods of "big banditry", she said the thieves "are capable, in record time, of organising themselves to target victims, choose wines and rely on an efficient network for receiving stolen goods so that the wine leaves the Gironde very quickly," to merchants, restaurants or abroad, particularly to China, the largest market for the prized wines in terms of value and volume.

Just like with the fight against drugs, investigators have to deploy special investigation techniques: DNA research, telephone tapping, geolocation," noted Pagès.

'Ten years ago we didn't have any problems'

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Bordeaux's swathes of vineyards could be taking a serious financial hit if cases continue to be stolenCanva

In December 2020 and March 2021, police officers were able to dismantle a theft and fencing network, with some twenty suspects arrested and charged. The crucial link: a Chinese fence based in the Gironde region.

"The wines were exported to China, sold to restaurants and traders in the Asian community in the Paris region, or resold to individuals through informal networks in the Gironde," explained Gendarmerie Colonel Jean-Baptiste Félicité.

Wine merchants are also now working more closely with the police, installing cameras around their cellars.

"We've installed cameras around the cellars, and around the buildings. We also put padlocks on the gates, and we keep the gates closed," explains Frédéric Mehaye, the manager of Château Sipian in the Médoc region.

Mehaye revealed that ten years ago, this wouldn't have been something he would have ever thought of.

"At that time we didn't do that. Ten years ago we didn't have any problems."

It now seems that criminal networks are really beginning to understand the value of good wine.