Last October, Spanish authorities announced in a statement that 45 bottles of wine — valued at approximately $1.7 million — had been stolen from the cellars of world-famous hotel and restaurant El Atrio in Caceres. After a nine-month chase across Europe, the suspects, a 29-year-old Mexican woman and a 47-year-old Romanian-Dutch man, were at last arrested in Croatia on July 20.
The couple, who checked into the hotel using false Swiss identifications, had visited the hotel three times prior to their heist, likely laying the groundwork for their future operation. Like many other guests of the hotel, they had been granted a tour of the grand wine cellar. According to Reuters, police investigators believe the female suspect, whose name has yet to be released publicly, preoccupied servers of the El Atrio restaurant by placing a room service order around 1:30 A.M., after the kitchen had already closed. While occupied, her accomplice was clear to enter the cellar with a master key stolen during a prior visit and nab the precious bottles.
In total, three backpacks of wine were stolen, containing numerous priceless bottles including a Château d’Yquem from 1806, which has “priceless” value, according to co-owner of El Atrio and sommelier José Polo. In numerical terms, the wine is worth approximately $310,000.
“More than the bottles of wine, they robbed our dreams,” he stated last November, following the robbery. Polo pleaded with the robbers, explaining that he would even go as far as to repurchase the wine from them, especially the 1806 vintage. “That bottle was a part of my personal history, almost a part of me, of the history of Atrio, but also of Caceres, of its citizens, of wine lovers all over the world.”
In addition to the early-19th century vintage, other vintages from Château D’Yquem were stolen including bottles from 1883, 1884, 1891, 1899, 1900, and 1901. A bottle of 1990 La Tâche was stolen as well as 24 bottles of Romanée Conti Burgundy vintages from over 12 different years.
The two suspects were caught on CCTV checking out of the hotel at 5:30 a.m. the following day. Departing by foot, they left no trace of their presence at the hotel. “This was a very clean, professional job,” explained Polo. “I think the couple had been hired to do the robbery.” The police force is inclined to agree with him, due to the nature of the crime and the highly skilled exit, and initially believed an organized gang was behind the theft.
What followed was a nine-month chase across Europe, with Spanish police working hand-in-hand with forces from the Netherlands, Romania, Croatia, and Interpol to track down the perpetrators. Finally, the couple was caught by Croatian border patrol guards as they attempted to cross into Montenegro.
While the couple has been caught, the wines have unfortunately yet to be recovered. However, as stated by an official of Christie’s auction house, “Due to the rarity of these wines, some of which are very old vintages, it would be extremely difficult for these wines to be sold.” It’s possible that these wines were never meant to see the public market though. Wine thefts, like art thefts, are often carried out to obtain priceless bottles for a private collection and not for monetary gains. According to Spanish media outlets, the investigation is ongoing.