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Vandals destroy 400,000 bottles of Italian sparkling wine in historic estate 'sabotage'

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An act of sparkling wine skullduggery in northern Italy has left Europe with 400,000 fewer bottles of bubbly.

Vandals broke into the centuries-old grounds of the Conte Vistarino winery in the middle of the night and drained refrigerated steel tanks where Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and other white varieties from the 2016 harvest were maturing.

“It was a tremendous shock,” said Ottavia Giorgi di Vistarino, the 40-year-old countess who manages the family-owned winery.

The saboteurs did not other damage to the estate and did not steal anything from the property, suggesting it was a deliberate act of spite.

A regional investigation is currently underway after reports some producers were "cutting" their wines with inferior grape varieties.

Some 300 people are under investigation for crimes ranging from bribery to falsifying documents in a €20 million fraud inquiry launched last year.

Prosecutors allege some wineries were selling certified Pinot Grigio, but the wine had been cut with other grape varieties to increase the volume of production. The Conte Vistarino estate is not suspected of any wrongdoing.

Ms Giorgi di Vistarino said the family had received no threats or warnings and had no idea who might be behind the sabotage.“If you have no idea why, you don’t sleep at night,” she said. “The team is shaken, but we won’t let it stop us. We’ll just have to roll up our sleeves and get back to work.”

Employees arrived at work at the winery in the Lombardy hills south of Pavia last week to find the grounds soaked in grape juice and skins.  

 

The raid,  first reported in the Corriere della Sera on Saturday, wiped out an estimated €500,000 (£420,000) worth of wine at the 1000-hectare estate, where the family has hosted the Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Margaret.

The company paid local farmers in full for the grapes at the end of November. Less than a week later, the saboteurs drained approximately 10 per cent of the wine that was maturing to be sold to third-party sparkling wine producers.

Michele Rossetti, the president of the local wine consortium, expressed solidarity with the family and urged authorities to "find the guilty parties and bring them to justice as swiftly as possible". 

Last week's break in was the latest case of wine vandalism in Italy, where a recent export boom, particularly for sparkling wines, has sparked fierce market competition and concerns that organised crime is trying to infiltrate the lucrative sector.

In 2012, saboteurs drained 62,000 litres of prized Brunello di Montalcino from casks at the Case Basse winery in Tuscany, worth an estimated €13 million.

There was a similar investigation into wine "cutting" being conducted at the time.

 

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