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The Case of the Missing Viognier: Thieves Steal Guigal's Grapes from Prized Northern Rhône Parcel

A harvest team arrived to find 1,000 bottles worth of Condrieu grapes missing; loss for rare dessert wine
Photo by: Jon Wyand
Marcel Guigal, son Philippe and a co-worker (left to right) inspect grapes arriving for harvest.

James Molesworth
Posted: September 15, 2015

With the 2015 harvest proving to be an excellent one in France's Northern Rhône Valley, producers are enjoying seeing the fruits of their labors as picking draws to a close. But it seems some folks are enjoying the fruits of other people's labors. On the morning of Sept. 11, a harvest crew for E. Guigal arrived at a Condrieu vineyard to pick their grapes and found someone had already done part of the job.

"It was very strange," Philippe Guigal, general director and winemaker for the famed estate and négociant house, told Wine Spectator. "We have never seen or heard of anything like this before. There has been the theft of bottles from cellars from time to time, but never the theft of grapes from the vines."

With the 2015 vintage providing ideal harvest conditions, the missing Viognier grapes were hanging late, after Guigal's team had harvested the majority of the vineyard. The grape skins were shriveling, concentrating sugars to above-normal levels for production of a late-harvest dessert wine (a process called passerillage) in hopes of making E. Guigal's Condrieu Luminescence bottling. The bottling was only made in two previous vintages where conditions allowed for it: 1999 and 2003.

About one-third of the grapes earmarked for the bottling were stolen off the vines, presumably overnight—the Guigals had checked the vineyard the day before. The vineyard, located in the Le Colombier parcel, is accessible by only a single dirt road that ends in a cul-de-sac, leading the Guigals to believe the theft was planned and executed by experienced workers.

"I must say the harvesting was done perfectly," said Guigal. "This was not random or messy. And what's more, with the grapes at a potential alcohol of 19 percent, these are not grapes that could be vinified easily for a regular Condrieu. You would need to have some experience to handle these grapes."

Had everything been harvested, the small-production wine would have totaled only six barrels of juice. The lost grapes are the equivalent of two barrels, or about 1,000 half-bottles, according to Guigal.

"It's difficult to put a value on it because the wine would not be sold for quite some time. But based on our ex-cellar price of 40 euros per bottle for the 2003, the value we have given the police is 40,000 euros," said Guigal. That's about $45,000.

But Guigal insists the lost money is not what upsets him most. "The issue is the quality of the vintage. My dad says he hasn't seen a year like this in his 55 vintages. It's a really special vintage and we will really miss the wine."

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