Winery Vandals Strike Again

Wine

An intruder spilled $2.7 million worth of wine in the cellars of Spain’s Cepa 21, opening the valves on three tanks full of wine from the 2023 vintage. It’s another disturbing example of winery vandalism.

Meanwhile, in Washington state, police arrested a suspect accused of striking Sparkman Cellars. Who is believed to be behind the crime?

$2.7 Million Down the Drain in Ribera del Duero

An intruder broke into Bodegas Cepa 21, a leading winery located in Spain’s Ribera del Duero appellation, during the early morning hours of Feb. 18. The suspect destroyed wine valued at approximately $2.7 million—more than 6,600 cases.

Security cameras recorded the entry of the unidentified individual to the winery’s tank room early Sunday morning, bypassing Cepa 21’s security system. The intruder then opened valves on three tanks, spilling more than 60,000 liters of wine from the 2023 vintage. This included the entire 2023 production of the winery’s top bottling, Horcajo, as well as portions of other cuvées.

“I consider what happened to be not only an attack against Cepa 21, but also against the wine sector and a way of life, regardless of the economic value,” José Moro, president of the winery, told Wine Spectator. “I am sure that we will overcome any obstacle and continue to reap success. We are backed by the quality of all our wines.”

Spanish authorities are currently investigating. Although the winery cannot comment on the details of the ongoing investigation, a winery representative says that they have “100 percent confidence in the work [of these officials]” and believe that the culprit will be identified soon. They will also look at ways to improve the already robust security at the winery. While the incident is a significant loss of wine and revenue, the winery is already pivoting to meet market demands.

Bodega Cepa 21 lies in the heart of Ribera del Duero, not far from Peñafiel. (Courtesy Cepa 21)

Masked Wine Vandal Arrested in Washington State

The footage at Cepas 21 shows someone who knew how to enter the winery and open the valves, despite sophisticated security systems on both, suggesting this was someone familiar with the winery. That was also the case at Sparkman Cellars in Washington state on Nov. 22, 2023. An intruder was able to enter using a keypad on one of the entrances and opened several tanks, spilling 4,800 gallons—or 1,800 cases—of Sauvignon Blanc.

On Feb. 21, local police arrested a former employee of Sparkman for the break-in. The suspect, a male in his 60s, faces second-degree burglary charges. “As formal charges have not been filed by the King County prosecutor’s office, I am not able to name the suspect in the case,” said Eric White, a spokesman for the county sheriff.

Surveillance cameras at the winery recorded the masked intruder entering the building at about 10:30 p.m. the night before Thanksgiving. The trespasser entered through a locked side door, then moved into the room where fermentation vats are housed before disappearing from view. Moments later, a gush of wine could be seen spilling all over the floor. Two full fermenters with wine, worth an estimated $600,000, were emptied.

Chris Sparkman, who owns the winery with wife, Kelly, declined to comment, referring all queries to the King County Sheriff’s Department. “Woodinville is wine country; I’m glad that [the] Woodinville Police Department was able to help Sparkman Cellars after this incredible loss,” said police chief B.J. Myers in a statement. “Our investigators took this seriously and turned over every bit of evidence possible in order to identify and apprehend this person.”


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