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Who is stealing Germany's lucrative wine grapes?

Summary: It's a ripening mystery: Who's stealing Germany's wine grapes? Thieves raiding lucrative southern German vineyards have made off with a minor fortune in fruit over more than a dozen forays under the cover of darkness.

BERLIN: It's a ripening mystery: Who's stealing Germany's wine grapes? Thieves raiding lucrative southern German vineyards have made off with a minor fortune in fruit over more than a dozen forays under the cover of darkness.

Vintners have increased their vigilance, posted guards and sought help from the police, but so far, the thieves have made off without a trace.

"They picked off more than 2,500 kilograms of my best red grapes," said Stephan Attmann, who runs a vineyard near Deidesheim in southwestern Germany. "It hurts, not just financially, but also emotionally C* We had spent weeks preparing the vines, getting rid of all the sour grapes, and then they came one night and stole everything."

Attmann estimates his losses so far this season at some $137,700 -- more than 3,000 bottles of high-class Pinot Noir selling for 32 euros a bottle.

Hundreds of thousands of euros worth of grapes have been stolen across the wine region -- and winemakers fear the worst may not be over.

While most of this year's grapes have been picked, vintners are still waiting for the first autumn frost to bring the deep chill needed before they can reap their lucrative ice wine grapes.

Sweet high-class ice wines are even more expensive than regular wines, making the remaining grapes especially valuable -- and a likely prime target for the thieves.

"The vintners don't have a large amount of those grapes, but you can be sure that they are watching the ice wine grapes like hawks until they can harvest them," said Rainer Koeller, a Heilbronn police officer who has been involved in the investigation of the thefts.

The region was already suffering this year after a late frost in May wiped out a lot of grapes -- and there's speculation the thieves could be other vintners, seeking to make up for those losses.

Attmann, whose wine estate Weingut von Winning is known to produce some of the best wines in the Pfalz region, is convinced that professional winemakers are at work.

Attmann notes that the thieves who stole his grapes used a harvesting machine at night, taking them just a few days before he was going to pick them himself.

"Often vintners pick their grapes at night, so it doesn't raise particular attention if people are working in the wine hills in the dark," he said.

"But if they come with a harvesting machine, they definitely know what they're doing."

Ernst Buescher, a spokesman for the German Wine Institute, said many vineyards may face bankruptcy this year after losing all of their fruit to the May frost. What makes it worse -- the grapes that survived have been particularly good, producing some of the best wine in years.

The combination might have turned some to theft "out of desperation," he said. "Not that those motives would justify anything."

"It's a great harvest this year, a precious wine, very harmonic due to the long maturing time and the golden autumn weather," Buescher said, adding that whoever made off with the grapes will be able to sell good wines for a good price.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Nov 11, 2011
Words:567
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