Several weeks ago, thieves broke into Domaine Jacques Selosse and made off with eight palettes of Champagne.
You may not have heard of Domaine Jacques Selosse, probably for good reason: They produce grower Champagnes, very different from the mass-market bubbly that most consumers are familiar with. Their wines are rare, hard to find, and retail between $150 and $300 per bottle.
The heist was described by authorities as a professional job. The thieves broke into the estate in the middle of the night, and seemed to know exactly what they were after. They used alcohol sprays to wipe surfaces clean of any traces of their DNA. In the end they made off with about 225 bottles of Champagne, worth approximately $500,000.
When I heard this story, I thought of the art robbery that took place at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990, which has recently been the subject of a CNN documentary. In that case, the pattern was the same: The thieves entered at night and targeted specific canvasses. Among others, they netted three Rembrandts, a Vermeer, five Degas sketches and a Manet.
So the question, of course, is what are you going to do with a stolen Rembrandt? You’re obviously not going to take it to your neighborhood U-Frame-It shop and try to sell it. Just as obviously, the robbers had commissions for specific canvasses from extremely wealthy private collectors, and the paintings disappeared into their mansions. They have never been seen or heard of since.
In the Selosse case, the Champagne was earmarked for the U.S. and Japan; the bottles already had the importers’ slip labels on them, so they would be difficult to sell on the black market. Presumably, some individuals wanted this stuff, couldn’t procure it without a struggle, and decided to take a shortcut. Is this the beginning of a rash of burglaries at high-end wine estates? Perhaps. In the meantime, if someone comes up to you on the street and offers you a bottle of Jacques Selosse Champagne at a bargain price, walk the other way.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, published by Lyons Press (Globe Pequot); for more information, click here.