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Originally published December 6, 2013 at 6:27 PM | Page modified December 11, 2013 at 10:33 AM

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Wine thieves might have ruined valuable vintages in cold snap

The owners of a temperature-controlled storage facility from which $650,000 of wine was stolen warn that the missing wine could be ruined by the cold snap.


Seattle Times staff reporter

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The management at Sodo’s Esquin Wine Merchants has a message for the people who made off with more than $600,000 worth of high-end wine last week: There’s a good reason wine lovers pay for temperature-controlled storage lockers.

“What the thieves may not know,” Esquin spokesman Dan Miller said in a statement Friday, “is that with these cold temperatures we’re seeing in the region, if they haven’t properly stored the wine they stole, it could quickly become worthless, particularly if the wine freezes, making their whole criminal operation all for naught.”

Wine experts say wine should be stored in the dark, at around 55 degrees. Just as high temperatures are harmful to wine, subfreezing temperatures — like the ones the Seattle area has seen all week — are also damaging.

While the effect of temperature on wine depends on a number of factors, Wine Enthusiast magazine’s managing editor Joe Czerwinski said in an email that, typically, “Wine freezes around 23 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the alcohol content. Once frozen, the wine will expand and often push the cork out therefore breaking the seal and spoiling the wine.”

Police have arrested one suspect and are seeking a second. The stolen wine — more than 200 cases valued at $648,000 — remains missing, police said Friday.

The company is offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to the safe return of the pilfered vino. Anyone with information is asked to call the Seattle Police Department.

According to police, the sophisticated heist was carried out by two men who went to great — though not hugely successful — lengths to cover their tracks. They rented a storage locker at Esquin’s facility several months ago, then cased the joint a few weeks later, police said.

On the day before the break-in, the thieves covered surveillance cameras by spray painting over the lenses and disabled motion detectors by wrapping them in plastic bags, police said.

According to charging documents, the thieves stole the wine over a 13-hour period on Nov. 28, making nine separate trips in an SUV. Before they left the wine retail and storage facility on Fourth Avenue, the men allegedly tampered with two gas lines and created a makeshift pilot light in an attempt to cause an explosion and fire, police said.

Police said there were 25 to 30 people inside the building when the gas leaks were discovered and an explosion could have been catastrophic.

The thieves, however, missed one camera, and employees were able to find old surveillance video that allegedly showed one of the suspects renting the storage locker in October, police said. That suspect, Samuel Arby Harris, 34, of Seattle, was arrested on Monday at the address he used in the rental application, police said.

Harris has been charged with first-degree burglary, second-degree theft and first-degree attempted arson in King County Superior Court. He is being held in the King County Jail in lieu of $500,000 bail.

Christine Clarridge can be reached at cclarridge@seattletimes.com or 206-464-8983.



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