"Safer at home"? Not if you're wine. "On pause"? Not if you're the world's wiliest winecriminals. While the law-abiding shelter in place, the bad guys of wine have not stopped to rest. Just last week, a man spilled over 1,000 gallons of red wine onto Highway 99 in California after jumping on a tanker truck, climbing underneath it and unscrewing a valve for a few sips … while it was moving at freeway speeds. A rogue French policeman and his four accomplices have been charged with conning a Champagne heir out of tens of thousands of bottles, part of a $146,000 swindle over the course of five years that involved spurious promises of film appearances, and deals with international royalty and former President Barack Obama. And one man was charged with stealing Champagne and assault. His weapon? A cough.
Modesto California Highway Patrol got a call on May 5 from a Cherokee Freight Lines truck driver: He was leaking wine, and he suspected it might have to do with the underwear-clad man who'd attached himself to the undercarriage of his freight truck. The dashcam video from the tanker showed the thirsty perp signaling to the truck driver to pull over, then jumping onto the truck as it veered back onto the highway. CHP officer Tom Olsen told CBS13 Sacramento it was one of the top 10 calls of his career; the extreme to-go taster was still in a "snow angel" position beneath the tank when officers arrived. He was charged with vandalism, in the proud French tradition.
European winecrime hasn’t fared any less absurd. A French officer working for the country's protection service of VIPs was charged after allegedly defrauding a Champagne heir and winery owner in a series of baroque and bizarre ruses. Citing his connections in elite circles, the officer, according to charges, convinced the Champenois to pay to transport a plane that was supposedly a gift from Obama, and promised him roles as a secret liaison to the Moroccan royal family and an actor in an upcoming Alain Delon film, in exchange for fizz and cash. In one exchange, the officer requested 50,000 bottles of the vintner's finest Champagne and $43,000 to secure contracts with some high-level figures, including the “emperor of China.” The victim didn’t catch on when the Moroccan royals failed to show up at their first meeting in Marrakesh; by the time he got wise, his Champagne house was headed for bankruptcy.
“Usually, this type of business sees the weak exploiting the even weaker,” the plaintiff’s lawyer Marie Dosé told Le Parisien. “Here, they methodically fleeced him like real professionals and refined psychologists. It is abject.”
Wineries and warehouses have also been hit in recent weeks with more, ah, straightforward recent wine heists. Between April 3 and 6, burglars broke into Château Cassemichere, south of the city of Nantes in the Loire Valley, and stole thousands of bottles of Chardonnay, rosé and Muscadet, including a bottle from the 1601 vintage; the investigation is ongoing. Meanwhile, in Austria, a man was sentenced to three years in prison after stealing more than $500,000 worth of goods, including 3,144 bottles of Champagne from a warehouse near Vienna. The man explained in a virtual trial that he had accumulated tremendous debt; the judge was apparently unmoved, though the facemasks made it hard to tell.
And in England, thieves are targeting shops and supermarkets. On March 29, a man was charged with the theft of two bottles of Champagne from a store in Suffolk. An assault charge was added, as the suspect allegedly threatened to breathe and cough on a security guard as he was approached holding the bubbly. Another shoplifter near the city of Leeds was arrested after stealing over $1,200 worth of Champagne during multiple shoplifting trips—to the same Tesco store. The delinquents of drinks, it seems, have that much in common with the rest of us: They've grown increasingly insane.
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