Wine Theft Still Unsolved

Tractor/trailer recovered; 1,100 mixed cases remain at large

by Jane Firstenfeld
Layer Cake Wine Theft
Have you seen this wine? It may be among the 1,100 cases stolen from a Benicia, Calif., freight consolidator last month.
Benicia, Calif. -- A semi-trailer loaded with 1,100 cases of wine ready for shipment was reported stolen from a Benicia freight consolidator March 15; that same morning, a tractor cab was reported stolen from a trucking business about two miles away in this North Bay city. Benicia police consider it likely that the two thefts are related.

One week later, the tractor truck was found abandoned in San Leandro, in the East Bay; shortly thereafter, the trailer was recovered -- empty -- in Menlo Park, on the San Francisco Peninsula. The tractor/trailer would have had to cross at least one major bridge to reach those destinations from Benicia.

Early reports estimated the value of the missing wine at $50,000. Benicia detective Kenny Hart told Wines & Vines this week that the value is now thought to be in the $90,000 range. The loaded trailer was taken from Fastbreak Consolidators, he said, and had been ready to ship to an out-of-state distributor.

Hart said the trailer contained a variety of wines, including saké, Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon and at least one Napa brand, Layer Cake. “There was a lot of Petite Syrah, Cabernet and mixed cases,” he recalled. The detective, himself a wine collector, noted, “There was no Screaming Eagle.”

Benicia police are working with the California Highway Patrol Cargo Task Force to investigate the case. “The task force tracks a lot of thefts of food and wine,” Hart said. He said this theft was not likely to be a local crime of opportunity. “Like with high-end cars, you’ve got to have a buyer lined up,” he pointed out. “We’re running some leads. Given the size of the shipment, you’d need a forklift to unload it.” And, he suggested, a warehouse would be necessary for unloading and storing the loot. Hart speculated the wines might wind up in Bay Area restaurants or on the shelves of “mom and pop stores.”

Wines & Vines spoke yesterday with David Biggar, who handles Layer Cake sales and distribution through Vintage Point. Returning from extended travels, he phoned from San Francisco International Airport. He had not been aware of the theft, and although the wines were no longer property of the winery after the shipper took possession, Biggar was concerned about losing any Layer Cake wine. The 10,000 cases of the brand’s 2008 Argentine Malbec, which earned 91 Parker points, are fully allocated throughout the U.S. At $15 retail, it’s featured as a value special on the wine list of the Ruby Tuesday restaurant chain.

Mike Taylor at Fastbreak Consolidators declined to comment for this report, although he mentioned that the stolen trailer is “railroad property” and does not belong to Fastbreak. The ultimate victim, according to Detective Hart, is an insurance company. “We’re still processing evidence. It’s not a closed case,” he said.
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