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DRC Extortionist Threatened to Poison Musigny Vineyard Too

Ex-con who targeted Romanée-Conti also sent letters to Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé, says director

Bruce Sanderson, Mitch Frank
Posted: May 18, 2010

If you're going to hold one of Burgundy's grand cru vineyards hostage for a 1 million euro ransom, why not target two vineyards? Wine Spectator has learned that the man accused of sending blackmail notes to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti sent nearly identical letters to Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé, threatening to poison their Musigny parcels. Romanée-Conti codirector Aubert de Villaine also provided additional details on the blackmail scheme, which was broken up Feb. 22 when French police arrested a man as he tried to pick up a fake ransom.

"The Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé received a package sent from Paris in January containing a very detailed map of the Musigny grand cru vineyard," sales director Jean-Luc Pépin told Wine Spectator. "In the second letter received in January it was written that if the domaine didn't hand over a few hundred thousand euro they would poison the vines. To prove their determination, the extortionist said they had already treated two vines with a product that would kill them. One of these two vines was immediately pulled out and handed over to investigators."

De Villaine says DRC simultaneously received identical letters threatening the monopole grand cru Romanée-Conti. Two vines were also supposedly treated. When DRC notified the police, they had de Villaine write back to the extortionist, setting up a fake ransom drop late at night in a small cemetery in nearby Chambolle-Musigny. The arrested man, an ex-convict from Marne who had previously worked in Burgundy vineyards, is being held while a trial date is set.

As for the two "treated" vines still in the ground, de Villaine reports that the one at Romanée-Conti appears healthy. But Pépin says the vine at Musigny "does not develop well at the moment." Authorities have yet to determine what substance the accused may have used.

And de Villaine has another concern. "Of course, this idea is now in the air and it is worrying," he said. "Not only for us, but for all the great vineyards in the world."

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