Poison Threat Against France's Top Vineyard

Blackmailer allegedly threatened to poison world's most expensive wine harvest.

ByABC News
May 7, 2010, 12:53 PM

PARIS, May 7, 2010 — -- A French blackmail suspect has been sleeping in a French jail for the past few weeks after he allegedly threatened to poison one of the world's most expensive wine vineyards, the Romanee-Conti, located in Vosne-Romanee, the heart of the prestigious wine region of Burgundy, southwest of Paris.

The 57-year-old man, whose name has not been released, is accused of trying to extort one million euros ($1.27 million) from the estate of Romanee-Conti by threatening to poison the vines.

"We received a first letter in January saying that we would be getting a second letter with some bad news in it," Aubert de Villaine, co-manager of the estate, told ABC News.

Two weeks later, the second letter arrived in the mail.

"The letter was saying that our vine stocks would be poisoned if we did not pay a ransom of 1 million euros," Villaine said.

With the second letter came a very precise map of the 4.5 acres vineyard showing two marked vines that the blackmailer claimed already had been poisoned.

"In order to show how serious he was, he had made a hole in each of the two vines and injected a liquid into them, some sort of weed-killer, like Roundup," Villaine said.

"We immediately alerted French police," he said. "At the time, we did not know if we were dealing with an individual or an organized group of people."

One of the vines was pulled out and handed over to French investigators. The second vine was growing normally but remains under surveillance.

"We replied to the blackmailer that for such a large sum, which we did not have, we needed to get the approval from the board to take a loan out," he said. "Curiously, the man considered our reply as if we had more or less agreed to pay the ransom."

The blackmailer allegedly asked for the ransom to be dropped a week later in the cemetery of Chambolle-Musigny, not far from the vineyard.

Meanwhile, French police placed a night-vision video camera in an attic overlooking the vineyard to watch it.