The biddies discuss what it takes to steal $5 Million worth of wine and lay out the details of some of history’s biggest wine heists. Tune in to hear all about the seedy underworld of forklift operators as well as the best (or worst) wine thief who literally replaced $370 wine bottles with Charles Shaws’ Two Buck Chuck.


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Please note some of these notes may be directly copied and pasted from above sources.

Study notes for Wine Heists:

New South Wales, Australia: March 2013

  • 60,000 bottles of South Australian wine were stolen while in transit in New South Wales
  • It affected 12 McLaren Vale wineries
    • Gemtree Vineyards, Chapel Hill Wines, Lakebreeze Wines, Tapestry Wines, Setanta Wines, Zontes Footsteps, Paxton Wines, Geoff Hardy/Pertaring Wines, Dandelion Vineyards
  • These wines were unlabeled in “shiner bottles”
  • WineWorks Australia handles logistics and warehousing for the wine industry
  • The wine was intended for private labeling
  • The trailer carrying the wine were found empty 4 km from the Sydney depot for a transport group (Wettenhalls Express Transport Group) shortly after their pick up
  • The 76 pallets of wine were sent to be stored here as they were sub-contracting for Wine Works Australia but they were placed outside the depot’s gates as Wettenhalls Group was placed into administration the same day (your company is being taken under the management of an Administrator appointed by the court, almost an interim thing)
  • Holiday weekend in Australia so when the company returned to the warehouse three days laters, both trailers were missing and then found 4km away 
  • These thieves were able to coordinate special movers, forklifts, a storage facility, etc plus the ability to load it up and take it elsewhwere

** New South Wales seems have some issues with missing wine:

  • “The Mystery of the Missing Grange” – $5 million worth of Australia’s prestige wines vanished without a trace after the Hunter Wine Empire liquidated
  • James Estate Wines was placed into receivership (an offering to insolvent company to recover and resume business operations) in 2013 and was placed up for sale in March/April 2014
  • David Anthony James was the former owner and when it went under in 2013, it had amassed debts of $25 million AUD
    • This winery formaily was recognized by Australian and international wine judges, winning 300 medals and trophy from 2000-2005
  • In March 2016, police launched Strike Force Farrington to track how $5 million worth of Australia’s best wines vanished without trace during the liquidation of this wine empire
  • The collection included 30,000 collectable and vintage Penfolds Granges, Henschkes, and Torbrecks with up to 300 private collection owners
    • One of the bottles was a 1951 Penfold’s Grange that sold for a record AUD $80,386 at auction
  • James owned multiple other companies including Wine Investment Services
    • In October 2013, complications were noticed in the liquidation of the company on how to determine the ownership of the wines
      • A large amount of the stole wine was recovered but was not returned to its owners due to advice from “industry and legal experts”
      • Apparently, it was inspected by cellaring experts who deemed the conditions were substandard and the wine would not longer be of value
    • Numerous inquiries by owners, liquidators, and local police lead to nothing as to where the wine was located during this period
    • The value of the missing wine was AUD $5 million
  • In 2019, Strike Force Farrington was abandoned and no chargers were given

Champagne France, 2013:

  • At the same time as Australia is losing wine left and right, thieves broke into Champagne producer Jacques Selosse (pronounced: Sell-loss)  on March 21, 2013
  • The thieves stole more than 300 cases of bubbly worth nearly $350,000.
    • Labels were also stolen leading the chef de caves Anselme Selosse & his wife Corinne worried about counterfeits hitting the market
  • Thieves are assumed to be professionals
    • Broke into the cellars in the village of Avize (pronounced: advise without the D) in the southern part of Champagne late at night
    • Erased traces of DNA with alcohol aerosols, removed fingerprints and palm prints with dishwashing fluid or car coolant, and avoided the security sensors
  • Selosse has a cult like following and it known for solera-style blending of many vintages to produce his two of his cuvees – the Substance and the Contraste
  • Were able to steal 8 pallets of Champagne including cuvees of the Version Originale, Exquie, Substance, Rose which were destined for the US and Japan
    • 16,000 front labels, 12,000 neck labels, and 2,5000 caps
    • They were hoping that their distinct almost black champagne glass bottle would help to differentiate from counterfeits as they are one of the only ones to use it
  • Because of how orchestrated this crime was, the authorities suspect that they may have had some inside help via a tip-off but no suspects or stolen wine ever turned up
  • Theories as to where they went?
    • Could have been sold in the west through the parallel market – brokers, restaurateurs or smaller distributors in Europe who find buyers in the US and circumvent the official distribution channels
      • Difficult because the bottles were packaged for export complete with US and Japanese import labels but didn’t have French tax stamps on them yet; still making the labels difficult to strip off without leaving any trace behind in order to try to sell them legitimately
    • Most likely sold in Eastern Europe or Russia

Legends Cellar, Orange County, California: 2008-2012

  • Legends Cellar is located in Irvine and is a place where wine collectors pay to store their wine in temperature controlled units
  • Over the course of four years George Osumi, the operator of Legends Cellar stole $2.7 million dollars of wine
  • Legend Cellars is owned by George’s son but George ran the day to day operations when police began investigating some claims of theft.
  • Wine lockers held anywhere from 8-250 cases of wine at a cost of $325-$2750 a year. 
  • Osumi hired two men to do construction work around the business and would sometimes ask them to move boxes of wine from one locker to another.
    • He also instructed them to remove wine from the boxes and replace the bottles with inexpensive wines
  • Victim Robert Cmelak of Laguna Niguel said he remember Osumi standing over his shoulder while moving wine into locker and commenting on the collection
    • Cmelak raised some concerns about outdoor hinges on the storage boxes but was assured no break-ins or thefts had ever occurred; that they had 24 hour surveillance monitors (which is how Osumi got busted)
    • Cmelak ended up losing 166 bottles worth about $38,000
  • Victim Geoffrey Stack had started storing his wines in 2006 at Legends Cellars.
    • In April 2012 he opened a box of white wine from Domaine Leflaive ($370 each) and found 6 Bottles of Two Buck Chuck Chardonnay
    • He lost $1 million
  • Chad Steelberg had 1,804 bottles worth about $1.2 million stolen
  • Why did Osumi need all this money? He was being indicted on 71 felony counts of tax and insurance fraud, identity theft and perjury, plus other chargers
    • He had his girlfriend at the time funnel the money by saying his clients wanted to thin their collections without the wives knowing and asked him to sell the wine
    • She sold the wine mostly to San Carlos-based Belmont Wine Exchange which sells wine on consignment – neither party knew the wines were pilfered.
    • Payment was sent to her and Osumi would receive it in cashier’s checks payable to him or directly to his attorneys who were defending him in a state tax fraud case in which he under reported $3.5 million in payroll from several businesses he owned
    • She backed out after finding out the money was going to attorneys, not the wine owners so Osumi began selling the bottles by himself
  • Osumi had his own and when it was investigated, latex gloves, nails to seal wine crates and $500,000 in wine were found
  • The surveillance cameras confirmed that he was entering wine lockers after normal business hours

Wine black market:

However, this whole caper brings into question the idea of stealing wine. It’s heavy. Unless you have a buyer ready to take it off your hands, it takes space and probably an air-conditioned space at that to keep it safe. Moreover, if you are going to steal much more than two or three cases, then you’ll need two or three people to do the job. Finally, unless you are going to steal the really, really valuable stuff (which these thieves apparently did have the sense to focus upon) then the weight to value proposition just doesn’t make sense.

(Tom Wark’s Fermentation Daily Wine Blog)