Grand Theft Laundry

Until recently, the worst thing about being famous was that people followed you around and took unauthorized, candid photos of you. Now they steal your wine.

Thomas Keller is easily America’s most celebrated chef. He is the proprietor of two restaurants that have received the ultimate Thomas Keller of The French Laundry in Napaaccolade of three Michelin stars: Per Se in Manhattan, and the Napa Valley’s iconic French Laundry. Both are expensive, with dinner for two costing upwards of $1,000, and both are difficult venues in which to secure a reservation; The French Laundry is the smaller of the two, with a seating capacity of only 60, and thus much harder to get into.

It wasn’t that hard on Christmas Day, apparently, when thieves broke into the restaurant and raided the wine cellar. There have been a number of high-profile wine thefts in recent years—in 2013, 300 cases were stolen from Champagne Jacques Selosse, at an estimated value of a half-million dollars—but this one was exceptional. Only 76 bottles were taken, but they were worth $300,000.

If you do the math, you’ll immediately realize that the thieves had excellent taste. Among the missing treasures were bottles from Burgundy’s Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, worth between $10,000-15,000 each, and numerous vintages of Napa’s famed Cabernet, Screaming Eagle (the 1992, one of the bottles taken, currently sells for $8,500). Only the best and most valuable vintages were targeted.

In all, the robbery resembled a high-end art theft, one which had likely been commissioned in advance. It would be difficult to sell these wines on the black market, just as it would be impossible to peddle the Mona Lisa without getting caught. This theory was confirmed last week when most of the bottles were recovered in a private cellar in Greensboro, N.C., nearly 3,000 miles away. No arrests have yet been made, although the serial numbers on the Romanée-Conti bottles matched the ones that were stolen.

Current and recent employees of The French Laundry are likely to be scrutinized closely, since whoever engineered the theft had knowledge of both wine and restaurant operations. And one more thing, as Columbo used to say: the wine cellar alarm had not been set.

Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 20120 and Moonshine Nation (Lyons press, 2014); for more information, go to

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