Is Stealing Wine the Right Choice for a Life of Crime?

One of the fundamental principles of thievery (as it has been explained to me) is the value per pound of the item to be stolen. The greater this ratio, the more complex the thriving operation: heavy things are hard to move while lighter things are more easily spirited away. This explains why identity theft is so attractive. The object of the theft is without weight.

This calculation, however, has always called into question for me the reasonableness of stealing wine, even very, very expensive wine. Wine is relatively heavy. The average bottle of wine weighs just over 2.5 Lb, but can also be much more depending upon the bottle that is used. That wine better be pretty valuable to justify the effort and risk for the wine thief.

This calculation came back to me upon reading about “operation magnum”. This particular “operation” involved numerous French gendarmes and detectives raiding locations in three French departments in an effort to recover loads of stolen wine. Operation Magnum reportedly recovered 900 bottles of stolen wine said to be valued at $6 million. The math on that is roughly $6,600 per bottle recovered.

Among the wines recovered were Romanee Conti, Petrus, Cheval Blanc and d’Yquem. Apparently, Operation Magnum was a year-long investigation focusing on robberies of warehouses, wine shops and restaurants in France.

Of course, the second calculation that must go into any proper robbery is how the stolen goods will be laundered or fenced…or, simply, exchanged for a useful form of currency. What’s interesting about Operation Magnum is that the thieves STILL obviously had possession of the stolen goods, which violates another tenet of good thievery: dispose of the stolen goods as soon as possible. If Operation Magnum had been an ongoing investigation for a year it suggests that the investigation was looking into wine thefts that had occurred at least 18 months ago, if not longer. Why did these thieves still have so much wine in their possession so long after having stolen the bottles? It suggests they were stealing on spec, rather than thieving with a buyer in mind. That’s just incompetent thievery that is.

In the end, French police arrested 25 people in connection with the various raids across the country, including “a 55-year-old man of Asian heritage based in Bordeaux, who previously worked in the on-trade and is reportedly known to the police.” Twenty-five people?? That’s a business. A going concern. A ring of thieves, and folks who are thief-adjacent. But, it also goes back to an earlier point I made about the calculation of value per pound of stolen goods. When you are talking about stealing wine, it’s at least a 2-man job, unless you are only stealing a very few number of bottles like the recent robbery in San Jose, California where a thief broke into a wine shop and only took a 9-magnum vertical of Harlan Estate worth about $40,000.

There will be lots of restaurant owners (including Georges Blanc) who are relieved they will likely be getting their wine back if they have not already gathered an insurance payout. 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.

I’m not suggesting the thieves, in this case, are idiots in addition to being deeply flawed asshats of little social value. I guess I’m suggesting that despite the continued rise in the value of a small group of wines, this brand of robbery is probably not the most efficient.


2 Responses

  1. Keith+Wollenberg - December 15, 2020

    The thing we do not know from press accounts is how much the thieves may have already disposed of. It is possible that this ongoing theft ring had a business model involving a lag between theft and sale, in order fir the goods to cool off, as it were.

    We also know there are some less than brilliant thieves in this world…

  2. Tom Wark - December 15, 2020

    Keith….So true. There is a great deal we don’t know about this caper and the arrests. And no doubt there are a great number of thieves who are far less brilliant. This is an understatement.

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