Wine Theft – Why it Happens and the Value of the Wine Trade

There is a lot of money in the Italian wine industry.

Scratch that…

There’s a lot of money in the global wine industry. After all, this is an industry that has many full-time investors. People are able to make their livings from investing in certain types of wine, waiting for them to increase in value, and then selling them for enormous profits.

And that’s without considering the billions of dollars in revenue that the more general wine industry generates. The consumer industry is even more valuable than the investor industry, with millions of bottles of wine sold every single month.

All of that makes for good news for the global wine industry, which is a constantly growing economic powerhouse.

But a lot of money brings with it a few problems.

We have spoken before about how there are organisations out there that create counterfeit wines. By selling bootleg versions of valuable wines, these “businesses” hope to make a quick buck without anybody realising that they’re not selling the real thing.

But counterfeiting may not be the biggest problem the wine industry faces.

The biggest problem may be theft.

There are many stories of thieves stealing wines because of their value. And in this article, we’re going to share one of them before giving you a little insight into why so many thieves have made wine their target of choice.

 The $6 Million Wine Heist

Towards the end of 2020, a long-running investigation by French police resulted in a raid that recovered 900 bottles of stolen wine. The haul contained many desirable and investable vintages, including entire classes of the famed Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.

All told, the stolen collection was valued at $6 million.

For context, this means that the average value of each of the 900 bottles recovered was over $6,600.

The media dubbed it the wine seizure of the century.

And the scale of the operation reveals just how big the issue of wine thievery is.

The operation to recover the bottles was dubbed “Magnum”, likely as a little inside reference to Champagne. But the operation itself was no joke. It called for authorities in three locations, Franc—Gironde, Dordogne, and Loire, to coordinate and take down a ring of criminals responsible for several wine thefts.

When the dust had cleared and the 900 bottles of wine were recovered, 25 people had been arrested. And as authorities dug deeper, they found that the thieves had stolen the wines from anywhere they could reach. Warehouses and shops were their main targets. However, some of the thieves were so brazen that they even broke into restaurants to get their hands on prized vintages.

This was a coordinated effort by a group of thieves, rather than a collection of individual thefts that added up. And the fact that groups of people are coordinating to steal wine, and that their hauls could be worth millions of dollars, tells us exactly what we said at the beginning of the article.

There is a lot of money in the wine industry.

Thieves know it and they will take advantage of that fact.

Just How Much Money Does the Wine Industry Generate?

To answer that question, we need to split the wine industry into two segments:

  • Wine investment
  • The consumer market

Let’s tackle the consumer market first, as it is the one that we have the most reliable figures for.

In 2020, the value of the global consumer wine market was $417.85 billion

That’s right…

The global wine industry is worth nearly half a trillion dollars. However, the key point to make here is that this figure encompasses all of the hundreds of millions of bottles of wine that are sold the world over. While many of these consumer wines have value in the hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars, the bulk of that money is made up of everyday wine sales, such as your purchases from Xtrawine.

Why is that important?

Consumer wines are generally not the targets of theft.

And when they are, it’s usually the case that somebody steals a few bottles to consume themselves, rather than to sell on for a profit.

Then, we come to the wine investment area of the industry.

And it’s here where the numbers get a lot fuzzier.

We know for a fact that some individuals maintain wine collections that are valued at millions of dollars. For example, March 2019 saw the sale of a 17,000-bottle collection for the staggering price of $29.8 million. We’ve seen collections sell for similar multi-million-dollar figures elsewhere. And there are many collectors who hold bottles of wine that are worth several thousands of dollars individually.

It’s here where we see more coordinated thievery occurring.

When a bottle of wine is worth several thousand dollars, a thief is much more likely to take the risk of stealing it when compared to stealing a regular consumer bottle that’s worth less than a tenth as much.


The more expensive bottles that investors own can be fenced, which means they’re sold on the black market to people who are not especially inclined to ask where the bottle came from. There is money to be made from selling a single bottle of a valuable wine. There is far less to be made from selling many bottles of a regular consumer wine.

The Final Word

Wine theft exists because there is a lot of money to make from certain types of wine.

The fact that a private collection could sell for almost $30 million shows us that much. When there is that much money at stake, there will always be people around who attempt to circumvent the system to get their hands on wines solely so they can make a profit from them.

It’s an ongoing problem, and one that does not seem to have a ready solution.

Still, it’s also a problem that indicates the health of the wine industry in general. Yes, thievery is a terrible thing and should be eradicated wherever possible. But the fact that people would go out of their way to steal wine shows that there is value in the industry.



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