Guilford County may become known as the hot wine capital of the country, if by hot you mean stolen.
Once again Guilford County wine dealer Wine Liquidators in High Point, run by Ryan Chaland, has, according to sources with knowledge of the case, been found to have purchased bottles of stolen wine worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
With this wine it doesn’t take long to get to the hundreds of thousands mark because one bottle may be worth $25,000.
In the latest case, David Solomon, co-president of Goldman Sachs, discovered that about $1.2 million worth of wine was missing from his wine cellar. No one had broken in and stolen it; the wine was missing because it had never reached the wine cellar. According to a federal court indictment, Solomon’s assistant Nicolas De-Meyer, instead of hauling Solomon’s pricey bottles of wine to the cellar, was selling them.
The indictment only identifies the buyer of this wine as a “North Carolina-based wine dealer” who De-Meyer says he found on the internet, but sources with knowledge of the case have identified that North Carolina-based wine dealer as Wine Liquidators, which also does business as Wine-Buyers.com.
It makes you wonder why someone stealing wine in New York would be selling extremely expensive bottles of wine to a dealer in North Carolina. There must be other wine brokers on the internet that are closer who deal in high-end wines.
The answer could be in the dealer – because the same dealer, Chaland, also bought the wine stolen from the French Laundry in 2014 and a series of other thefts of high-end wine from restaurants in California around the same time.
The wine thieves in that case were also caught and prosecuted and Wine Liquidators was revealed as the purchaser in court documents. Both of the thieves in the French Laundry case accepted plea deals rather than face trial, so the full extent of how these wine thieves found wine liquidators in High Point was not revealed.
One of the thieves in the French Laundry case, Alfred Georgis, was described in court documents as essentially homeless. Evidently he did not choose to put the money he was paid for stolen wine into housing. But it does make the whole situation a little more intriguing, since the idea of a homeless man in California stealing wine worth as much as $25,000 a bottle and then shipping it to a dealer in North Carolina seems unusual.
Stealing a bottle of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti (DRC) worth as much as $25,000 a bottle is usually tough since people don’t leave bottles of wine like that out on the counter at night. In the case of the French Laundry theft, the restaurant – which has at times been rated as the best restaurant in the world – was undergoing renovations and the security system was turned off.
It was reported that the thieves knew what they were doing because they selected the most expensive bottles of wine to steal and left the more moderately priced bottles behind.
Once the wine is stolen, the thief has a new problem – what to do with it. It’s a little like stealing a well-known piece of art; the market is limited, and not just because of the price.
These wines not only have a serial number and strictly regulated sales, but many also have a chip, much like the ones used to identify lost dogs. With the chip the bottle of wine can be positively identified. So you can’t pass the stolen wine off as wine that was bought from a dealer. However, if someone plans to put the wine in their wine cellar and only bring it out to pop the cork, then they don’t have to worry about the chip or the wine being identified as stolen.
The French Laundry case in 2014 became a big story here when a Greensboro attorney called the French Laundry telling them that he had the stolen wine and wanted to return it. All but four of the stolen bottles were returned.
Chaland, when interviewed about the French Laundry case, said that after he bought that wine someone sent him a newspaper article about the French Laundry wine heist and he realized the wine that had been delivered to him was the stolen wine. He said he then hired Greensboro attorney Brian Walker to have it returned.
Chaland also said that although he paid for the wine, he was buying it for a someone he described as “one of the most amazing retailers in the country.” Chaland declined to identify the retailer. He also said that he was purchasing the wine for the retailer as a broker but that he, not the retailer, had to take the financial loss, which he estimated at about $100,000. Chaland said that despite the financial loss, “It was a no-brainer decision. You find out something is stolen, you return it.”
Wine Liquidators is an unusual business even when stolen wine is not being delivered to the door. Chaland said that Wine Liquidators is not licensed to sell wine because it is simply a broker. He said the company buys wines as a broker for retailers and it doesn’t have a license to sell wine. Chaland described it as “a very grey area.”
It appears that Chaland has once again found himself in possession of stolen wine in a high profile case. In this case involving the wine owned by Solomon, according to the indictment, De-Meyers had been stealing wine and selling it at least from 2014 and through October 2016.
Over that time, De-Meyers, according to the indictment, stole $1.2 million worth of wine and the only buyer of that wine mentioned in the indictment is the North Carolina based wine dealer who would come to New York to pick up the wine or send an employee.
In October 2016, De-Meyer stole seven bottles of DRC wine that Solomon had purchased for $133,650 and sold them to the North Carolina wine dealer. The wine was then transported to New Jersey and some shipped to California.
Because the stolen wine was shipped across state lines it is a federal case and the indictment is in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. De-Meyer has been charged with one count of interstate commerce of stolen property.