In recent weeks, vandals have attacked two Canadian wineries on the Niagara Peninsula, dumping a total of 70,000 liters of 1999 wines that were ready for bottling. Stoney Ridge Cellars, in Vineland, and Pillitteri Estates, 15 miles away in Niagara-on-the-Lake, lost more than $690,000 of wine combined.
In both cases, the vandals struck at night, targeting tanks of wine that were stored outside. They simply unscrewed the valves on the unguarded tanks and let the wine drain out.
"It hurts -- '99 was a good vintage," said Charles Pillitteri, vice president of sales for Pillitteri Estates, which became the latest victim on Sept. 11. "I had that wine allocated for sale, but now I'm screwed."
On Aug. 20, vandals at Stoney Ridge opened the side valves on seven tanks, pouring out the equivalent of 4,400 cases -- valued at about $505,000 retail -- of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Gew8rztraminer and Seyval Blanc. Early the next morning, workers found 10 percent of the winery's 1999 vintage puddled on the ground.
"It was devastating," said Liubomir Popovici, the winemaker for Stoney Ridge. "It was frustrating, our work for one year, ready to be bottled. Wine is like our child, and having it spilled ... I really can't find the words for something like this."
The winery had recently planned to expand its onsite processing facility, but neighbors protested, saying they were concerned about potential noise and environmental damage from the construction. Stoney Ridge finally agreed to build the processing facility several miles away in another town.
"We had lots of meetings with them, we met their requests," said Popovici. "However, we believe someone may still not want us here."
Pilliterri Estates lost more than 3,300 cases worth of wine (mostly Chardonnay), which is about 8 percent of its total production. The wine, if bottled and sold, would have been valued at about $188,000. Pillitteri thinks that the crime was a copycat incident inspired by the earlier attack at Stoney Ridge.
Police are investigating the incidents, but since both wineries' tanks were located outside in unfenced areas and the valves weren't locked, there are few clues. A spokesman for the local department said the case is being treated as a common mischief complaint.
"One policeman said, 'Why don't you just make some more?'" said Pillitteri. "It's unfortunate that some don't understand this industry yet." Pillitteri added that the winery is building a new storage facility, so that in the future the wine vats can be kept under lock and key. "There will never be wine outside again, which is something I should have done in the first place."
Stoney Ridge general manager Glen Hunt said his winery now has a security guard with a dog patrolling the premises. In the future, Stoney Ridge plans either to move the vats to a safer place or to build a fence. But, said Hunt, "You get visitors to the winery who see a six-foot-high barbed-wire fence -- that doesn't do much for the visual appeal of the place."
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