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Bandits Who Stole $300K In Wine From French Laundry Likely From Organized Ring Of Professionals

WALNUT CREEK (CBS SF) -- Bottle bandits are targeting high-end wine around the Bay Area may be busier than originally thought.

The thieves, who have acquired a taste for some of the rarest and most expensive wines, are planning heists focused on fine wines from France.

At Prima Restaurant and Vino in Walnut Creek, they keep the expensive stuff under lock and key.

Restaurant owner John Rittmaster of Prima Restaurant said they have a similar selection to the famed French Laundry.

Someone kicked open the door to the wine cellar at the Yountville restaurant on Christmas Day and got away with dozens of bottle worth $300,000. But that's not the only similarity Prima has with the Napa Valley Michelin three-star.

They were both burglarized in the past year, and another attempt at Prima was made the night before the French Laundry was hit.

One of the times, thieves entered through a skylight. They dropped down a ladder and broke into a room with a crow bar.

Rittmaster says they're not the only other victim. He knows of half a dozen high-priced heists around the Bay Area in the past two years.

"(It's a) pretty well organized ring of professionals," he said. Rittmaster thinks there might be what's called a "steal to order" group of thieves.

Think of it like the movie "Gone In 60 Seconds" with thieves honing in on specific targets. Instead of exotic cars, big spenders here pay thieves a finders' fee for getting specific fine wines.

Rittmaster says that's because there's quite a market for these French burgundies.

"And it's more than 20 years old," Rittmaster said. "You could just make up a number because there's just not much of that wine."

Rittmaster knows selling these high-end bottles made his store a target, so he wanted to warn others who stock them, too.

"If you're a wine destination restaurant or store in the Bay Area, you should know these guys are out there," he said.

In all, Prima has faced four attempted thefts. The one time the thieves were able to take wine. Their loot was estimated in the tens of thousands.

Prima says it has increased its security measures since the restaurant was hit.

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