Two successful break-ins, plus another attempt, show a pattern where the perpetrator is interested in stealing Italian wine — while leaving cash and other valuables untouched.
Wine heists have captured our collective imagination since the infamous Christmas Day 2014 French Laundry wine theft caper, a job that robbed the Yountville prix fixe destination of $550,000 worth of big-name Burgundies. That haul of wine was found a month later 3,000 miles away in North Carolina (with just four bottles missing) but the suspects remained at large for nearly a year and a half until their April 2016 arrest exposed a web of similar high-end thefts. The story exposed us to a secret, underground world of secondary criminal wine markets and rumored "inside jobs."
It’s all happening again, though this time closer to home (and at shops more within our affordability range). The Chronicle reports on a number of recent Russian Hill wine thefts whose patterns and geographic concentration indicates we may have the same thief or thieves with a taste for premier Italian wines.
Security video provided to the Chronicle shows a break-in attempt at the top-rated Green Street wine shop Biondivino, in an incident at about 5 a.m. on March 18. The perp was unsuccessful at breaking in, first trying a crowbar, and then a blowtorch. But two others nearby break-ins showed a pattern.
Hyde Street’s Habibi Bar (a pop-up within Bacchus) suffered a break-in on Wednesday, March 25 or early the next morning, and the Chron reports “65 bottles of wine worth a total of $2,253.43 were stolen — mostly Barolo and Barbaresco, two types of high-end wine from northern Italy.”
Just four blocks away, William Cross Wine suffered a break-in and burglary last May that specifically cleaned out the supply of those same two Italian wines, though other champagnes and cabs were stolen there as well.
The William Cross burglary reportedly involved two suspects. Video from Biondivino shows only one suspect. It’s unclear how many people broke into Habibi Bar.
But there are other similarities, notably, that cash, iPads, and laptops were all left sitting untouched as the thieves absconded only with premium bottles of booze. Some of the wines were from 'allocated' vintages, making them rare and irreplaceable. “Some of those Barolos we’ll never get again,” Habibi co-owner Essam Kardosh told the Chronicle.
That the prowler(s) knew exactly what they wanted and where to find it certainly raises the possibility of an inside job, one that could involve a third-party vendor or regular customer. There’s also a possibility of a double inside job — that is, the thief also having connections with restaurants that would knowingly or unknowingly buy hot bottles of Italian wine. “If they had an inside link to restaurants, that would make it possible to sell the wine,” William Cross owner Steve Sherman told the Chronicle. “It would be easy for a restaurant to put the wines on their list.”
Kardosh said he’d watch the online wine sales sites to see if they pop up, but also wonders if the thieves have simpler motivations. “Maybe they’ll just sell them out of the trunk of their car for pennies on the dollar,” he told the Chron.
Anyone with information on the above incidents, is encouraged to call the SFPD tipline at 415-575-4444, ot text TIP411 (847411) to send an anonymous text.
Image: Courtesy Biondivino