Grape theft in Burgundy - Vintage 2016

It has been well reported just how small some of the grape harvests are in France this year. In places like Burgundy, and Chablis in particular, the yields are tiny – as little as 10hl/ha which is perhaps a 1/6th of what they would normally anticipate. The quality however seems to be excellent, thanks to a beautiful late summer.

So with the scarcity of grapes and the ever-increasing value of top wines, it was no surprise to read an article in the Times on September 29th relating to vineyard thefts in Burgundy.

Apparently in top appellations of Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet, grapes have disappeared mysteriously overnight. Jean-Pierre Latour of Domaine Latour-Giraud claimed he’d lost the equivalent of 1,200 worth of juicy grapes from his Meursault vines. In value terms, this equates to a staggering 70,000 euros worth of wine.

So it’s evident why thieves would want to steal grapes, based on their scarcity and value. But what on earth do they do with the grapes once they have removed them from the vine? They need to be vinified pretty quickly afterwards, so Gendarmes must surely be pursuing their enquiries locally?! Presses, tanks, vats, barrels – none of these vital pieces of equipment can be concealed easily, surely?! So you’d think the crooks will be found quite soon…

Apparently, thieves have also been seen in the Givry appellation in the Côte Chalonnaise. Our very own vigneron Nicolas Ragot has been on night patrol, armed with torches and binoculars, designed to deter theft.

It seems remarkable, but perhaps we will see video cameras installed within some of the most famous vineyards in future. In many cases, even the greatest, iconic vineyards can be easily accessed by anybody. Often, one just has to jump over a small wall – or just walk up to the vines from a road. They are often in remote areas too.

I have read stories of grape theft by machine harvesters in the dead of night in vast places like the Languedoc. But to see this happen in a relatively close knit community like Burgundy is quite a shock. Sadly, I fear that this kind of story may well become more frequent in years to come …


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