JUST WINE TALK: THE CHATEAU MOUTON LOCKDOWN

Friday, 5/4, Little Rock, AR
A very interesting article in the Wall Street Journal that I wanted to share with everyone. I could have summarized it but felt that I couldn't have done it justice. Cheers to Christina S.N. Lewis, the reporter!

The Château Mouton Lockdown
Wine-Theft Fears TurnCellars into Fortresses;Home Retina Scanners
By CHRISTINA S.N. LEWISMay 4, 2007; Page W1
When the wine bandits come, David Dorman will be ready for them. The former chairman and chief executive of AT&T has equipped the three-room wine cellar in his home outside San Francisco with video surveillance, infrared alarms and motion sensors. He keeps his most valuable bottles in a separate vault with its own five-number combination door.
"I wanted to be able to both ward off the professional who's looking for some kind of a score as well as the amateur who's trying to make a quick buck," he says.
Knock Knock: Gil Shapiro's wine collection is secured with alarms, a hidden camera, body-heat sensor, and an antique wrought-iron door.
A little paranoia is seeping into the wine world. At a time when a single bottle of new French Bordeaux can cost as much as $750 and some rare vintages sell at auction for more than $125,000, serious oenophiles aren't taking any chances. While insurers say thefts are still very rare and are most often committed by opportunistic housekeepers or even the resident teenagers, some wealthy collectors are spending as much as $50,000 to install locks that open only at the sound of the owner's voice and affix radio tags that trigger silent alarms when a bottle is removed. One cellar-maker now offers a $5,000 door that's disguised as a fireplace.
The gadgetry is getting so advanced that some collectors say the security bubble around the cellar provides just as much ego gratification as the wine. During tours of his 1,400-bottle wine collection in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., Gregg Marks, a 54-year-old executive for Jones Apparel Group, says he always makes a point to show off the biometric fingerprint-scanner he had installed on the cellar door. "You could have a million dollars worth of wine in there," Mr. Marks says, "but the lock is what guests remember."

Security peddlers are doing a brisk business. Los Angeles-based Cellar Masters, which builds about 100 new cellars a year (average cost: $26,000) says a quarter of its recent projects include video surveillance, alarmed doors or motion sensors. Manhattan-based cellar-designer Lee Zinser says more than half of his new clients now ask for alarm systems, compared with almost none three years ago. Wine Enthusiast, an online retailer, says sales of its eSommelier product -- an inventory system that allows collectors to place bar codes on their wines and link them to their home alarm systems -- rose 30% last year.
These measures are a reflection of the booming wine market and the growing number of serious collectors, many of whom view wine more as an investment than a comestible. According to an estimate by Fireman's Fund, an insurer, as many as 10% of the nation's most affluent households have wine collections worth at least $100,000. Chubb Group, an insurer that focuses on wealthy clients, says the number of new policies covering wine collections doubled last year, according to Laura Clark, a vice president. Most collectors "think of wine as an asset on par with their homes, art collections, jewelry and cars," she says.
Veteran collector Gil Shapiro started his collection about 25 years ago when he began buying "cult" California Cabernets from vineyards such as Abreu and Dunn. After years of steady buying, Mr. Shapiro, 63, the owner of Urban Archaeology, a New York architectural salvage and reproduction company, had amassed some 8,000 bottles of rare California wines, many of them in the basement of his weekend home in Sagaponack, N.Y. When he built his first cellar in the mid-1990s for $125,000, he invested in the best security he could find: a wrought-iron door with a motion-sensitive alarm and reinforced concrete walls with sensors that would trip an alarm if someone hit them with a sledgehammer.
But as his collection grew in size and value in recent years, and as more delivery people set eyes on it, Mr. Shapiro says he started to get "more and more paranoid." He added a body-heat sensor to the basement entrance and a hidden camera inside the wine room that sends a live feed to a monitor in his New York apartment. "I'm from Brooklyn," Mr. Shapiro says, "I'm always looking over my shoulder."
W. Taylor Franklin's 450-bottle collection is only four years old, and at about $50,000 in value, not quite large enough to put him in collecting's big leagues. But the 25-year-old real-estate developer isn't taking security lightly. The 3,000-bottle cellar he's building at his new home in Norfolk, Va., will have a keypad lock for his wine-tasting room and a fingerprint scanner for his cellar, which will be encased in shatterproof glass. When it's finished, the $40,000 cellar will be worth nearly as much as the wine inside. "We looked into doing a retina scanner, but that got a little pricey," Mr. Franklin says.
Online Oenophiles
There is some evidence that wine collections are becoming a more popular burglary target. In California, the Napa County Sheriff's Department says it has investigated about seven wine thefts from private homes in the past year -- crimes that Capt. John Robertson says were "pretty rare" five years ago. Earlier this year in Atherton, Calif., police arrested a house cleaner and her boyfriend and charged them with stealing $140,000 in wine from a collector.
Police say the growing popularity of collecting has made it easier for crooks to operate. Free wine-valuation sites like WineSearcher and WineZap allow thieves to check labels or bone up on the going rate for a 1982 Pichon-Lalande, for instance. And sites like eBay and Craigslist make it easier for them to unload bottles anonymously.
The secret door to a wine cellar looks like a built-in wine rack.
But by most accounts, the security measures collectors are using are more intense than the threat. According to Fireman's Fund, only about 7% of all insurance claims involving wine are related to theft -- a number that's remained flat over the last decade. The biggest threats to wine collections, insurers say, are fires, floods, improper handling and any power failure or cooling-system glitch that causes cellar temperatures to fluctuate. Stephen Bachmann, chief executive of Vinfolio, a collector services firm, says "the best thing anyone can do to protect their wine is store it at the right temperature." (Many collectors spend thousands of dollars on anti-mold insulation, alarms that ring if a cellar door is left open too long and underground "wine caves" that don't require electricity to stay cool.)
When wine is stolen, experts say the thefts usually take place outside the owner's home while the wine is being moved or delivered -- or are perpetrated by insiders rather than organized professional thieves. Two of the recent heists in Napa, like the recent Atherton job, were pulled off by household workers. Chris McGoey, a Los Angeles-based security consultant who works for celebrities and corporations, says the average home invader wouldn't know a rare Burgundy from a bottle of mouthwash. "They're not sophisticated enough to know what a good label is," he says.
High School Capers
All of the security in the world might not have helped Susanna Kelham. When the vintner from Oakville, Calif., discovered that 47 cases of George de Latour private reserve, now worth about $175,000, had been removed from her cellar more than 10 years earlier, there wasn't much she could do. The culprits were her two teenage sons, Ronald, now 33, and Hamilton, now 30, who confessed to smuggling bottles out of the house throughout high school. "My father almost disinherited me," says Ronald, who claims it was only 20 cases.
As values soar, wine merchants and police are setting up informal networks to recover stolen bottles. Collectors are not only keeping better track of their inventory, they will notify auction houses and major sellers when unique wine goes missing. Some wineries are exploring the idea of embedding microtransmitters in corks. And police in Napa have organized a vintner email alert system to notify vineyards of burglaries and to catalogue the pilfered goods, Capt. Robertson says.
Despite all this commotion, some collectors say they're not ready to turn their homes into the Imperial Fortress of Leipzig. Three years ago, burglars broke into the home of Adam Belsky, a 44-year-old San Francisco lawyer, and stole his $15,000 collection -- 250 bottles of mainly French Bordeaux and Italian Tuscan. He later installed a house alarm and a better lock, but hasn't bothered to take it any further.
"It's a little bit silly to get attached to expensive wine," Mr. Belsky says. "Especially when you think about the fact that you drink it and it's gone."
Write to Christina S.N. Lewis at christina.lewis@wsj.com

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