San Francisco Wine Robbery Still a Mystery

Stolen bottles estimated at between $100,000-$130,000.

Atherton police are no closer to finding the culprit or culprits who stole a treasure trove of wine from a private cellar in this tony San Francisco suburb last month.

The value of the 454 bottles has been estimated at between $100,000-130,000 by Detective Sergeant Joe Wade of the Atherton Police Department. The stolen bottles included such rarities as a 1959 magnum of Pétrus, valued on one Internet site at nearly $12,000, and a magnum of 2002 Jones Family Cabernet Sauvignon.

The heist occurred sometime between December 28 and January 4, while the homeowner, who has not been identified, was on vacation. Speculation in this upscale Silicon Valley community centered on an inside job. 

"Wealthy households usually have people working for them, so a lot of people know [the collection] exists," says Payce Louis, chief underwriting officer for AXA Art Insurance Corporation, a Santa Monica-based collectibles insurer. 

But Wade said it's too early to reach conclusions. "We have not yet identified any suspects, and I can't say it was an inside job. But there was no sign of forced entry."

A theft of this magnitude from a private collection is rare, Louis says. "Wine is difficult to steal because of the sheer weight. You need to get all that wine into a truck and move it out, which takes time." Still, in 2005 a Colorado collector was robbed of $300,000 in wine, also while he was on vacation, and there have been a number of thefts worldwide from wineries and restaurants. Even Tony Soprano got in on a wine theft in an episode on the HBO television series The Sopranos.

Louis recommends that collectors insure their cellars against not only theft, but fire, water damage and other threats. (AXA will not insure against earthquake damage or damage due to loss of climate control.) A typical annual premium cost, he says, is about 50 cents per hundred dollars of value. AXA will accept estimated bottle values either from certified wine appraisers or from authoritative individuals at fine wine shops.

Collectors also should have "a central, working station burglar and fire alarm" that includes their wine collections, Louis advises.

Meanwhile, the wine blogosphere has been gaga over the story some are calling "The Great Atherton Wine Caper." A local wine shop president called for "something like an Amber alert" to mobilize the wine community when theft occurs. Another poster saw some humor in the heist. "Is there a guy in a trenchcoat by a dark alley somewhere going: 'Pssst! My Man! You need a bottle of Château Lafite? Cheval Blanc? Staglin, I got Staglin, man!'"

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