The time someone tried to poison DRC’s legendary vines

Growers in Burgundy are at tight knit bunch. They stick together, steadfast in their desire to preserve the land which serves as a foundation for their vineyards. Of all the producers, Domaine Romanee-Conti remains the figurehead, the big dog so to speak, of the area. Their world famous Pinot Noir fetches insanely high prices on the secondary market and continues to be the pinnacle for wine collectors around the world.

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So in Vosne-Romanée, the historic and sleepy little town, where a long history of growing wine springs from, it was a surprise when someone declared they might poison or steal the sacred vines of DRC. At first, they thought it was a joke. Who in their right mind would make such a threat?

Then they got the note. Aubert de Villaine realized it was no joke. They were asking for $1 million dollars ransom. The Romanee-Conti vineyard is the most sacred vineyard in the entire world, one that yields a tiny 500 cases of wine each year. That’s just 1/50th the total production of mammoth producer Lafite in Bordeaux for comparison.

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It’s no wonder their wines fetch insanely high prices. If you can penetrate the world of futures and collectible wines, you will likely pay at least $5,000 for a bottle. And in some cases, much more. Some magnums have fetched 30,000+ at auctions in Hong Kong.

MANY PEOPLE COME TO VISIT THIS SITE AND WE UNDERSTAND. WE ASK YOU NEVERTHELESS TO REMAIN ON THE ROAD AND REQUEST THAT UNDER NO CONDITION YOU ENTER THE VINEYARD. THANK YOU FOR YOUR COMPREHENSION.

The Cote d’Or, or “Gold Slope” as it’s known has been home to the world’s most revered vines for centuries, since the monks planted them and made wine in the same parcel of land.  So on that morning, when Aubert received a package on his home doorstep and opened it, he found an incredibly detailed map of the 4+ acres of vineyards. It was remarkably accurate, even describing the placement of some 20,000 rootstocks. Whoever sent the threat knew their stuff.

The note went on to suggest that 82 vines had already been poisoned, with X’s marking their graves. It also hinted that far more would be poisoned, and that an antidote existed. When he called the police to investigate, they found a syringe had been used to poison the vines. A curious thing, since that same tool was used by many winemakers to inject liquid carbon disulfide into the vineyards to prevent disease.

So whoever made this threat apparently knew a great deal about his vineyards, and about winemaking itself. The final note demanded the total ransom be dropped off discretely inside a certain cemetary in Chambolle-Musigny. On one fateful night, an employee of DRC walked there with a suitcase of fake euros and left it.

Not long after leaving the money, the police noticed a man walking into the cemetary to retrieve the money. They arrested him promptly. His name was Jacques Soltys. Turns out this wasn’t his first scam. A lifelong delinquent from Épernay, near Champagne, this man had turned to extortion to make his ends meet. Before he could stand trial, Jacques was found dead in his cell, hanging from a noose.

This story originally appeared in Vanity Fair.

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