Above: I took this photo of Paolo Cantele when we first met in Austin, Texas, back in 2009.
“It’s very strange,” said Paolo Cantele, when he and I spoke by phone yesterday. “I’ve never seen anything like this. There have been cases where thieves steal bulk wine: it’s easy to bottle and sell without being traceable. But I’d never heard of anyone stealing bottled wine” at a winery like Cantele.
I asked Paolo why the wine wasn’t insured, as his brother Umberto wrote in a letter published on their English-language blog (translated by me).
“Wineries that sell high-end wines regularly insure their wines in storage,” he told me. “But at wineries like ours, where the wines are relatively inexpensive, it doesn’t make sense since no one would ever steal [our] bottled wine.”
The 30,000 bottles were worth Euro 160,000, he said.
Where are they destined?
“They could be heading to the Balkans,” he speculated. Remember: on a clear day in Lecce, you can see Albania across the Adriatic.
“But the thieves could also sell them to an unscrupulous distributor here in Europe.”
Cantele’s wines earmarked for the U.S. market are stored in a warehouse in Genoa, he told me. Thus, it’s unlikely that the wines could make it to the U.S. “They were all labeled for sale in Europe and so you wouldn’t be able to bring them to the U.S. anyway.”
Will the Cantele winery be alright?
“We make 2 million bottles of wine every year. This was a huge setback for us but we won’t have any problems fulfilling orders. We’re about to bottle our red wines and they will ship in September.”
On his English-language blog, Paolo posted a message (translated by me): “I’m happy to inform you,” he wrote, “that Cantele’s soul is intact and perfectly healthy. The thieves gave us something that money can’t buy: the will to work harder and better.”