The Masked Wine Vandal—Intruder Empties Tanks at Washington’s Sparkman Cellars, Destroying 4,800 Gallons of Wine

The surveillance cameras at Sparkman Cellars in Washington State recorded the masked intruder entering the winery at approximately 10:30 pm on the night before Thanksgiving. The trespasser entered through a side door, then moved into the room where fermentation vats are housed before disappearing from view. Moments later, a gush of wine could be seen spilling all over the floor.

The damage? Two tanks holding 4,800 gallons of a white blend from the 2023 vintage. All the wine–approximately 1,800 cases worth–was ruined, costing Sparkman an approximate $600,000 in revenue.

“What we were most focused on is that no one was hurt,” said Chris “Sparky” Sparkman, owner and founder of Sparkman Cellars, located in Woodinville. Since nothing like this has happened to him or his family before, there is an “added fear” of the unknown.

An external camera captured footage of the culprit walking into the wooded area behind the winery, holding an umbrella, and escaping on foot. No other locations were vandalized. Sparkman had no comment on the possible identity of the trespasser. He is optimistic about “finding a silver lining” in improving the security of the winery and “getting better at what [we] do.”

And while the winery lost close to 5,000 gallons of wine, Sparky’s friends and community of winemakers have already made sure that Sparkman Cellars will receive replacement wine to be able to bottle by the start of the new year. He is already thinking of his label name–Silver Lining. “Washington state is a great place [for winemaking] and the support [of the community] has been overwhelming,” said Sparkman.

Has Anyone Targeted Wine Vats Before?

Fermentation vats don’t come with padlocks or alarms, and there have been several similar wine attacks around the world in the past decade. In 2016, Conte Vistarino in Oltrepo Pavese, Italy, lost 14,000 gallons of wine in a tank to vandals, a loss of $519,000 for the winery. Employees found wine glistening on the floor when they returned to the winery. “This is a war,” remarked Countess Ottavia Giorgi di Vistarino to local media when she discovered the crime.

In 2015, in the Barossa Valley, Kellermeister Winery lost over 6,600 gallons of wine when four of its tanks were opened in an act of vandalism, eradicating approximately $300,000 in revenue. The culprit? A former winemaker whose father had once owned the winery.

In 2012, Montalcino’s famed Azienda Agricola Case Basse was hit one night when a disgruntled former employee opened multiple oak casks of winemaker Gianfranco Soldera’s aging Brunello di Montalcino. More than 16,500 gallons of wine from six different vintages were lost. The culprit was sentenced to four years in prison. No matter what the motives, one thing is for certain. There is no excuse for spilled wine.

Two New Wine Companies

In addition to the estates in Tuscany, the Villa della Torre property includes 40 acres of vineyards. Marilisa also owns 25 acres in Veneto’s white wine-producing Lugana appellation. “So my family company–me with [my daughters] Carlotta and Caterina, we will have plenty of things to do,” she said.

“Marilisa and the Allegrini family have championed Valpolicella and the larger Veneto region for six generations,” said Lon Gallagher of E.&J. Gallo. “We look forward to working with the next generation of Allegrini family members in building upon the legacy of Allegrini. At the same time, we’re excited to continue our partnership with Marilisa on the prestigious wines from Poggio al Tesoro in Bolgheri.”

Both parties are well aware of the future work necessary to find continued success on separate paths. “The precious legacy passed down to us is a commitment we face with awareness of the importance of Allegrini’s role in representing Italian wine worldwide and promoting the territory of Valpolicella, to which we are deeply connected,” said Francesco.

“[It’s] a time where the experience and passion of ‘the builders’ [will] now unfold,” said Marilisa. “Where the spirit of freedom, autonomy and creativity will accompany the next generation towards the challenges that the world of wine will have to face.”

 

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