Vineyard vandal poured €6m worth of fine wine down drain

The great mystery of what may go down in wine annals as the crime of the century - the destruction of the equivalent of 80,000 bottles of choice Brunello di Montalcino - may have been solved. Italian police have named a disgruntled former employee of the exclusive Soldera label at the Case Basse vineyard and estate in Tuscany as the suspected cantina culprit who dumped tens of thousands of litres of fine wine down the drain. Police in the small Tuscan town which lends its name to the wine said 39-year old Andrea di Gisi broke into the Soldera family estate in the night between December 2nd and 3rd.

He is accused of opening the taps of 10 huge barrels containing of the produce of the last six years and literally letting the wine pour down the drain. The total amount lost, according to a Soldera family statement, was 62,600 litres (16,400 gallons), or the equivalent of some 80,000 bottles. A bottle of Soldera starts at about €110 and the bottles are numbered as if they were gold bars. The damage done to the 23-hectare estate that uses Sangiovese Grosso vines to produce the famous wine, was estimated to be more than €6 million.

Police say Mr di Gisi, who had worked at the Soldera estate for five years, had several tiffs with the family patriarch, Gianfranco Soldera (75) a former insurance broker from Milan who started the vineyard in 1972. Mr Soldera had chastised Mr di Gisi for allegedly not taking care of the wine machinery properly and then last September, Mr di Gisi felt slighted when the family gave an apartment on the estate to another employee, according to an investigating magistrate.

Investigators said that after Mr di Gisi came under suspicion, they tapped his cell phone and heard him speaking about washing wine out of his clothes. A pair of washed jeans have been sent to a police lab in Rome to check for traces of polyphenols, which are found in red wines. When the cantina was vandalised, the ruthlessness of the crime made local officials fear the Mafia had moved into the idyllic area of rolling hills topped by centuries-old towns to start an extortion racket. Fabrizio Bindocci, president of the trade consortium that groups some 250 Brunello producers, welcomed the end of the investigation, saying it had "restored serenity" to the area.