29/05/2019

Poison Plot: Domaine de la Romanée-Conti

Domaine Romanee-Conti, DRC, is widely considered one of the best wine producers in the world. With the price of a single bottle of their most expensive wine setting you back over £420,000… It’s no wonder that there was a time when someone, unfortunately, wanted to sabotage their success for money.

Tales like this usually date back to the 16th century but we only need to rewind to 2010 to reveal the disturbing story behind a mysterious note, a ransom, and a poison plot.

In January 2010 Aubert de Villaine, co-owner of DRC, received an unsigned note and package telling him that DRC must be prepared to pay a ransom otherwise their prized vineyard Romanee-Conti would be destroyed by poison. 

Inside the cylindrical package was a detailed drawing that documented then entire 4.46 acre vineyard including every single one of its (roughly) 20,000 vine stocks, with a small circle placed in the centre of the vineyard. Further instructions were to be expected in the next two weeks. 

Initially, de Villaine viewed the letter as a hoax until 2 weeks later, as promised, another package arrived. The contents were almost identical however there were more, smaller circles drawn onto the vineyard. 

De Villaine was instructed to leave one million euros in a suitcase in one of the circled corners. To prove that the perpetrator meant business, the other circles on the drawing were markings to show the 2 vines that had already been poisoned and another 80 that could still be spared with an antidote if de Villaine coughed up. 

Due to the nature of this issue, de Villaine contacted the authorities but not local police... The world could not learn that the vineyard had potentially been compromised. The 2 poisoned vines were removed, and the other 80 checked; they had been drilled into, but thankfully not poisoned. 

De Villaine’s next step was to respond, leaving a note to say that it would take time, and approval, to muster up this large sum of money. The culprit responded very politely giving a new delivery time, date and location – the cemetery gates of the neighbouring town, Chambolle-Musigny. 

When the night came, they were prepared with about a dozen armed police officers in the surrounding area, a tracker in the suitcase, and one million fake euros ready for the drop. The suitcase was left in the desired location and pick up not long after by a man “casually” strolling through. Needless to say, Jacques Soltys was caught… very quickly and easily. 

Soltys had been a troubled child, and continued to face social issues in later life. It was whilst serving time for a string of armed robberies and attempted kidnapping that he concocted the plan to extort wine-makers. DRC were not the only producers to be targeted by him but fortunately, none of them had to face the full wrath of an entire vineyard poisoning. 

Jacques Soltys died in July 2010 whilst in prison. 

Despite this attempt and the concern for copycat crimes, the DRC vineyard along with all vineyards in France remain open, un-fenced and un-poisoned, restoring faith in humanity and a gentle reminder at the astounding respect people have for these vineyards and producers

Enjoyed this?