Punctured Tanks to Pilfered Grapes, Global Wine Crimes and Blunders Run Rampant
Twitter / RadioAlbacete The wines yearned for free run at Bodegas Vitivinos in Spain.

Punctured Tanks to Pilfered Grapes, Global Wine Crimes and Blunders Run Rampant

A Frenchman tries a self-checkout scam with a classified-growth Bordeaux. A famed wine merchant falls prey to an elaborate heist. A wine distributor defrauds investors with a Shark Tank product. And on, and on

Oct 21, 2020

The world's most nefarious practitioners of winecrime are always innovating. In recent months, the bad guys of wine have raised their game, moving on from moving tankers and changing out of their wine-stealing pants, with ever-sneakier schemes to snag prized bottles, and even grapes.

But first, let's check in on the less adept swindlers of swill. Earlier this month, wine and liquor distributor Joseph Falcone was sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to pay $1.8 million in restitution after pleading guilty to fraud. Falcone solicited investments between 2014 and 2015 to distribute the single-serving wine product Copa di Vino, pitching investors on the Copa's Shark Tank appearance. Falcone claimed he would use the money to distribute the Oregon-based company's cups; instead, he pocketed around $527,000 for personal benefit, according to prosecutors. A judge put a lid on that, and Copa di Vino is accused of no wrongdoing.

"I did not engage with his company until four years after my Shark Tank pitch," Copa di Vino founder James Martin told Unfiltered via email. "I am not familiar with any details around [Falcone's] indictment, as we were in no way involved, but was very saddened to hear that he was using our Copa di Vino brand to mislead investors."

In recent months, other perps have been caught claret-handed in less (?) sophisticated capers. A would-be winecrimer in France ("vinfracteurs," they are called) was caught attempting to steal a bottle of 2017 Château Beychevelle at a Carrefour supermarket in the Champs-sur-Marne suburb of Paris. His method? The self-checkout switcheroo. The man spotted the fourth-growth for $504 and grabbed a second, $10 bottle. Store guards found him scanning the cheaper bottle, and placing the prized Bordeaux in the bin instead.

Other cases have gone slightly chilled, if not cold. Earlier this month, Parisian wine merchant Les Caves de Taillevent, sister business to the famed haute-cuisine dining destination of the same name, fell victim to break-in tactics not unlike those used in the Great DRC Robbery of Earlier this Year: Europe 1 reported that the burglars, positioned in a neighboring room, drilled a hole in the wall of Les Caves 1.6 feet across and rigged a pole to snatch around 20 bottles through the aperture, evading security cameras. They made off with $59,000 worth of wine.

The U.S., of course, is not immune. In Bakersfield, Calif., the Kern County Sheriff's Office is looking for tips on locating a woman accused of "grand theft of produce" early in harvest season. The woman allegedly stole grapes from a local vineyard, as much as a silver Honda Accord can hold, anyway. Last year, the same sheriff's office arrested a 22-year-old accused of stealing $300 worth of grapes and selling them online.

"Local farms and vineyards have recently seen an increase of grape thefts due to the harvest season," the office stated on its website. "Detectives contacted the farmer who grew the unique variety of grapes." No lead there, though: "The farmer said they did not sell grapes on that internet website."

Wine tanker truck crash
A truck runneth over on a highway near Strasbourg, France (ITBR67)

While most of these crimes are intentional and the losses recuperable, some misadventures are forever. As the world waits on investigations of negligence and foul play, wine spills continue to leak. In August, on a highway near Strasbourg, France, a wine tanker lost control and turned on its side, dumping thousands of gallons of wine across lanes into both directions of traffic.

Then, a few weeks ago, a large wine tank at Bodegas Vitivinos in central Spain ruptured, causing more than 13,200 gallons to stream onto the ground. As workers clean up the scene and fix the offending machinery, we all await the verdict: Misdeed or mistake?


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