Friday, 5/4, Little Rock, AR
A very interesting
article in the Wall Street Journal that I wanted to share with everyone.
I could have summarized it but felt that I couldn't have done it
justice. Cheers to Christina S.N. Lewis, the reporter!
The Château Mouton Lockdown
Wine-Theft Fears TurnCellars into Fortresses;Home Retina Scanners
By CHRISTINA S.N. LEWISMay 4, 2007; Page W1
the wine bandits come, David Dorman will be ready for them. The former
chairman and chief executive of AT&T has equipped the three-room
wine cellar in his home outside San Francisco with video surveillance,
infrared alarms and motion sensors. He keeps his most valuable bottles
in a separate vault with its own five-number combination door.
wanted to be able to both ward off the professional who's looking for
some kind of a score as well as the amateur who's trying to make a quick
buck," he says.
Knock Knock: Gil Shapiro's wine collection is
secured with alarms, a hidden camera, body-heat sensor, and an antique
A little paranoia is seeping into the wine world.
At a time when a single bottle of new French Bordeaux can cost as much
as $750 and some rare vintages sell at auction for more than $125,000,
serious oenophiles aren't taking any chances. While insurers say thefts
are still very rare and are most often committed by opportunistic
housekeepers or even the resident teenagers, some wealthy collectors are
spending as much as $50,000 to install locks that open only at the
sound of the owner's voice and affix radio tags that trigger silent
alarms when a bottle is removed. One cellar-maker now offers a $5,000
door that's disguised as a fireplace.
The gadgetry is getting so
advanced that some collectors say the security bubble around the cellar
provides just as much ego gratification as the wine. During tours of his
1,400-bottle wine collection in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., Gregg Marks, a
54-year-old executive for Jones Apparel Group, says he always makes a
point to show off the biometric fingerprint-scanner he had installed on
the cellar door. "You could have a million dollars worth of wine in
there," Mr. Marks says, "but the lock is what guests remember."
peddlers are doing a brisk business. Los Angeles-based Cellar Masters,
which builds about 100 new cellars a year (average cost: $26,000) says a
quarter of its recent projects include video surveillance, alarmed
doors or motion sensors. Manhattan-based cellar-designer Lee Zinser says
more than half of his new clients now ask for alarm systems, compared
with almost none three years ago. Wine Enthusiast, an online retailer,
says sales of its eSommelier product -- an inventory system that allows
collectors to place bar codes on their wines and link them to their home
alarm systems -- rose 30% last year.
These measures are a reflection
of the booming wine market and the growing number of serious
collectors, many of whom view wine more as an investment than a
comestible. According to an estimate by Fireman's Fund, an insurer, as
many as 10% of the nation's most affluent households have wine
collections worth at least $100,000. Chubb Group, an insurer that
focuses on wealthy clients, says the number of new policies covering
wine collections doubled last year, according to Laura Clark, a vice
president. Most collectors "think of wine as an asset on par with their
homes, art collections, jewelry and cars," she says.
collector Gil Shapiro started his collection about 25 years ago when he
began buying "cult" California Cabernets from vineyards such as Abreu
and Dunn. After years of steady buying, Mr. Shapiro, 63, the owner of
Urban Archaeology, a New York architectural salvage and reproduction
company, had amassed some 8,000 bottles of rare California wines, many
of them in the basement of his weekend home in Sagaponack, N.Y. When he
built his first cellar in the mid-1990s for $125,000, he invested in the
best security he could find: a wrought-iron door with a
motion-sensitive alarm and reinforced concrete walls with sensors that
would trip an alarm if someone hit them with a sledgehammer.
his collection grew in size and value in recent years, and as more
delivery people set eyes on it, Mr. Shapiro says he started to get "more
and more paranoid." He added a body-heat sensor to the basement
entrance and a hidden camera inside the wine room that sends a live feed
to a monitor in his New York apartment. "I'm from Brooklyn," Mr.
Shapiro says, "I'm always looking over my shoulder."
Franklin's 450-bottle collection is only four years old, and at about
$50,000 in value, not quite large enough to put him in collecting's big
leagues. But the 25-year-old real-estate developer isn't taking security
lightly. The 3,000-bottle cellar he's building at his new home in
Norfolk, Va., will have a keypad lock for his wine-tasting room and a
fingerprint scanner for his cellar, which will be encased in
shatterproof glass. When it's finished, the $40,000 cellar will be worth
nearly as much as the wine inside. "We looked into doing a retina
scanner, but that got a little pricey," Mr. Franklin says.
is some evidence that wine collections are becoming a more popular
burglary target. In California, the Napa County Sheriff's Department
says it has investigated about seven wine thefts from private homes in
the past year -- crimes that Capt. John Robertson says were "pretty
rare" five years ago. Earlier this year in Atherton, Calif., police
arrested a house cleaner and her boyfriend and charged them with
stealing $140,000 in wine from a collector.
Police say the growing
popularity of collecting has made it easier for crooks to operate. Free
wine-valuation sites like WineSearcher and WineZap allow thieves to
check labels or bone up on the going rate for a 1982 Pichon-Lalande, for
instance. And sites like eBay and Craigslist make it easier for them to
unload bottles anonymously.
The secret door to a wine cellar looks like a built-in wine rack.
by most accounts, the security measures collectors are using are more
intense than the threat. According to Fireman's Fund, only about 7% of
all insurance claims involving wine are related to theft -- a number
that's remained flat over the last decade. The biggest threats to wine
collections, insurers say, are fires, floods, improper handling and any
power failure or cooling-system glitch that causes cellar temperatures
to fluctuate. Stephen Bachmann, chief executive of Vinfolio, a collector
services firm, says "the best thing anyone can do to protect their wine
is store it at the right temperature." (Many collectors spend thousands
of dollars on anti-mold insulation, alarms that ring if a cellar door
is left open too long and underground "wine caves" that don't require
electricity to stay cool.)
When wine is stolen, experts say the
thefts usually take place outside the owner's home while the wine is
being moved or delivered -- or are perpetrated by insiders rather than
organized professional thieves. Two of the recent heists in Napa, like
the recent Atherton job, were pulled off by household workers. Chris
McGoey, a Los Angeles-based security consultant who works for
celebrities and corporations, says the average home invader wouldn't
know a rare Burgundy from a bottle of mouthwash. "They're not
sophisticated enough to know what a good label is," he says.
High School Capers
of the security in the world might not have helped Susanna Kelham. When
the vintner from Oakville, Calif., discovered that 47 cases of George
de Latour private reserve, now worth about $175,000, had been removed
from her cellar more than 10 years earlier, there wasn't much she could
do. The culprits were her two teenage sons, Ronald, now 33, and
Hamilton, now 30, who confessed to smuggling bottles out of the house
throughout high school. "My father almost disinherited me," says Ronald,
who claims it was only 20 cases.
As values soar, wine merchants and
police are setting up informal networks to recover stolen bottles.
Collectors are not only keeping better track of their inventory, they
will notify auction houses and major sellers when unique wine goes
missing. Some wineries are exploring the idea of embedding
microtransmitters in corks. And police in Napa have organized a vintner
email alert system to notify vineyards of burglaries and to catalogue
the pilfered goods, Capt. Robertson says.
Despite all this commotion,
some collectors say they're not ready to turn their homes into the
Imperial Fortress of Leipzig. Three years ago, burglars broke into the
home of Adam Belsky, a 44-year-old San Francisco lawyer, and stole his
$15,000 collection -- 250 bottles of mainly French Bordeaux and Italian
Tuscan. He later installed a house alarm and a better lock, but hasn't
bothered to take it any further.
"It's a little bit silly to get
attached to expensive wine," Mr. Belsky says. "Especially when you think
about the fact that you drink it and it's gone."
Write to Christina S.N. Lewis at email@example.com