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How Secure is YOUR Wine Cellar?

I've written about the generosity of wine lovers before. I'm continually amazed at the large sums of money that people are willing to pour into glasses for sometimes complete strangers who profess a love or an interest in wine. What's even more remarkable, is how many of these folks have literally thousands upon thousands of dollars of wine in their cellars behind unlocked doors. Of course, it's a pretty big hassle to figure out some security system just for your wine cellar, but in the last few years there seem to be an increasing number of wine thefts.

The latest of these happened just yesterday in Atherton, a wealthy community that's about 40 minutes down the road from me. Apparently thieves broke into a private home and went straight for the good stuff: 177 bottles of wine worth over $500,000. While the news report doesn't contain much information about the wines themselves, they do mention that on average these bottles were worth $3000 apiece.

These thieves certainly knew what they were after. The police are telling folks to be on the lookout for great bottles at much lower than expected prices, but if these thieves knew enough to target this collection, they probably know how to unload them for top dollar, as well.

It's a real shame. Wine theft is somehow worse than stealing a bicycle or a digital camera. I hope they catch the bastards, and I hope you are a little more careful about your fancy wine cellar if you've got one.

Thanks to reader Andy for the tip.

Comments (22)

Sonadora wrote:
01.10.07 at 3:46 AM

Wine theft is worse. You can walk into any electronics or sports store to replace a camera or a bike. You certainly can't walk into any wine shop to replace a $3,000 bottle of wine, even if there are still other bottles in existence. And an interesting concept, thieves that are well versed in the value of fine wine.

Cru Master wrote:
01.10.07 at 5:58 AM

This is article is particularly relevant in a (and i hate to say it) crime riddled South Africa.

another issue might be this: how on earth do you evacuate your wine cellar in the event of fire?

And which would you secure first? Your Photographs or your wine - because just as many memories locked in those bottles!!

jeepers i hate to even picture it!

Anonymous wrote:
01.10.07 at 7:11 AM

With all respect- and I'm in complete agreement that the bastards who stole this wine deserve the very worst- I have to take serious umbrage with the comparison of wine to bikes. As someone who loves both, I know that you simply can't "just replace" a beautiful, handmade racing bike, and you certainly can't replace the relationship you've developed with the bike over thousands of hours of sweating through early season training rides, grinding up hills, etc. The bikes you can replace easily are like the bottles you can replace easily: probably technically competent, but lacking in depth, spirit, profundity, grace. I would personally have a very, very tough time choosing between the 78 DRC La Tache in my cellar and my favorite road bike, and hope I never have to.



Alder wrote:
01.10.07 at 8:51 AM


I guess we all form strong emotional bonds with our stuff differently. Point taken.

Kalyn wrote:
01.10.07 at 9:09 AM

Congratulations on the food blog award. Great blog!

Nicole wrote:
01.10.07 at 9:18 AM

Congratulations on the Food Blog Award!!

Jay wrote:
01.10.07 at 10:32 AM

Cellar security in another form:
This is a timely post for me because after building a place to store wines in the cellar a few weeks ago, I've recently begun to worry about the effects of an earthquake on the fragile nature of wine bottles. Does anyone have any earthquake advice they'd like to impart?

Arthur wrote:
01.10.07 at 12:14 PM

Aren't pricier, limited release bottles from some highly reputed producers stamped with serial numbers?
It's a marketing gimmick, but if Byron in Santa Maria Valley can stamp their 1999 Reserve Chardonnay they just sent to club members with individual numbers on the label, I think that high-end producers (whose wines are bound to sell/resell for these incredible prices) should do the same and (while it may jack up the price becuase of the perceived 'prestige'and 'exclusivity'), it will provide a way of securing one's investment and act as a deterrent to 'fencing' high end wines.

Sarah wrote:
01.10.07 at 1:07 PM

My grandmother (in Australia) has a wine cellar in the cellar of her house. Behind two locked, solid doors, it always seemed pretty secure, especially after the security on the main door was improved when the last break-in occurred some 30 years ago. Unfortunately, recently she's had two break-ins specifically targetting the wine cellar (although they seem to rummage about the main cellar for good measure, they've never taken anything). I guess I'm lucky in that my mum hadn't put my latest purchases down there before this last one. :(
I hope they catch your local thieves.

Arthur wrote:
01.10.07 at 2:15 PM

Incidentally, I like how the articles gives the "STREET VALUE" of the wines.

Is there a guy in a trenchcoat by a dark alley somewhere going: "Pssst! My Man! You need a bottle of Chateau la Fite? Cheval Blanc? Staglin, I got Staglin, Man!"

john_m wrote:
01.10.07 at 3:00 PM

Those bloody bastards!! The same thing happened to me and my good drinking buddy Curtis Somoza. They broke in and stole just the wine and a few personal belongings on their way out the door. Curtis Somoza then decided to install some new double doors leading into the wine cellar. We hope that this will stop the thieves in the future.

Alder wrote:
01.10.07 at 10:48 PM


Regarding the serial numbers, while some bottles are numbered, the tracking of those numbers by outlets willing to buy and sell wines is pretty different than say, the banks keeping track of numbered bills. Many high-end producers have special features on their bottles or labels, but they are more focused on preventing fake bottles than helping to keep track of individual bottles.

Alder wrote:
01.10.07 at 11:42 PM


I've not found any earthquake specific advice out there (other than to make the floor of your cellar very soft!). I was thinking about having some sort of netting in front of the bottles on my shelves to avoid them flying out in the event of a shaker, but I haven't found the right stuff.

Arthur wrote:
01.11.07 at 12:00 AM

Jay, Alder

I would look to custom cellar builders/designers for those solutions. You may not need to pay them to get ideas from their sites. I would think that a secured, hinged door of some sort (frame and wire or something rigid and secured) mounted on the front of your shelves would keep the bottles from flying out, off the shelves and maintain some sort of esthetics.

Paul Wyatt wrote:
01.11.07 at 7:34 AM

Hi: I have a bit of experience in this area including two major tests applied to my cellars in San Francisco and Los Angeles. The wine will move in an earthquake and the rack either moves with it, breaks, or stays home while the wine takes a trip. Blocking the front of the rack does not look good and will probably not survive in certain situations. I saw an ad for special $3.00 per bottle rubber bands a while ago...
See http://imekon.wordpress.com

mixme1 wrote:
01.12.07 at 12:58 AM

Reality Check: I manage a Bay Area restaurant with a wine list that we're proud of. This evening someone stole my 55 year old dishwashers bicycle as he was doing his job. Now he walks. Sure it's a shame that those folks in Atherton lost their collection, but are they walking home at 11pm in this current cold weather? C'mon, it's still just wine people. (and for those who are wondering why I didn't give him a ride; because he refused it. Tomorrow I go to Costco to buy him a new bike with the money my staff put together.)

Arthur wrote:
01.12.07 at 6:30 AM

That really does put things in perspective. Thanks.

Alder wrote:
01.12.07 at 7:16 AM


That's an unfortunate story to be sure, and very cool of the folks at the restaurant to buy him a new bike. But what does that have to do with this topic? No matter what unfortunate situation I might have written about here, someone could find a more dire and desperate personal situations in the world.

When I write about a farmer in Napa who loses half of his grape crop to frost this weekend are you going to say "well, there are starving farmers in Somalia who are lucky to get a pound of rice from their fields for a year of work?"

No one is suggesting that the victims of this crime in atherton are anything other than they are: wealthy folks who had a lot of valueable wine stolen from them. Notice that we're not passing around a donation hat to help alleviate their suffering.

Notice also that this is a wine blog and it deals with a world that is totally irrelevant and unreachable for 80% of the world's population.

mixme1 wrote:
01.12.07 at 12:41 PM

Just responding to the line in the original post that wine theft is worse than bicycle theft.

I agree that this is a world unreachable to most, and as such we owe it to that 80% to keep our good fortune in perspective. If we are so lucky as to be in that 20%, let's not disrespect the other 80% by making statements about our woe being worse than the rest. More people in this world rely on bicyles as their only mode of transportation than get to enjoy $3000 wines, so let's not pretend we're worse off for having lost some of it.

Alder wrote:
01.12.07 at 4:43 PM

OK, but wine theft is still worse than bicycle theft in a wholly pragmatic sense -- bicycles (yes even custom racing bikes) are much more likely to be easy to replace than wine, especially wines that one has personally cellared for decades. Assuming that its the same person we're talking about here.

It's not relevant to compare the "pain" of replacing wine for a wealthy person to the "pain" of replacing a bicycle that is some poor person's only means of transport.

wine guy wrote:
01.13.07 at 6:14 AM

Yeah wine theft is rampant. Buying a security system is always a good investment

Paul Wyatt wrote:
10.21.07 at 5:54 PM

The widely reported theft of wine from the cellar in Atherton was apparently an inside job and the poeple were caught when they went back for more. I expect that they lost their jobs. Thefts of wine from private cellars are rare because selling the wine is the problem. Thieves will usually be trying to fill an order and will not know what you have in stock.

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