OAKLEY -- Vineyard owner Stan Planchon saw flashlights bobbing in the dark among rows of his zinfandel vines early Monday and knew right away that a grape heist was underway.
His property, six acres of old vines planted near the intersection of Empire Avenue and Laurel Road, was being pillaged. Before police arrived, thieves made off with more than 1,200 pounds of prime grapes grown for California zinfandel giant Rosenblum Cellars, he said.
It was about 1:30 a.m. and his wife had called him to the kitchen to see what was happening, Planchon said.
"I decided to go down and confront these guys, but first of all, I had her call the police," said Planchon, 90, whose family has owned the vineyard since 1902.
Planchon said he drove down and found two vehicles apparently being used by the grape thieves and was able to park his truck to block one of them.
At least two thieves made off in the other getaway vehicle, a truck, Planchon said.
Oakley police said they recovered at the scene a vehicle reported stolen out of Antioch, covered in gas and bullet holes, but released no suspect information Wednesday.
What made the caper particularly unusual, Planchon said, was that his vineyard is surrounded by a six-foot fence he built himself. It's the only vineyard in the area with such a fence, so why would thieves trouble themselves with the added obstacle?
Planchon speculated it was because they knew his grapes were more
"That particular vineyard is about 180 years old," Planchon said, and wines made from its grapes have been featured in Wine Spectator magazine. They're mostly zinfandel grapes, he said, with a field blending that includes the French varietals Alicante Bouschet, which adds rich color to the wine, and Mourvedre, which adds spicy flavor.
Eighty-one plants had been stripped of their grapes, he said. At about 15 pounds of fruit per plant, which sell for $1.25 per pound, he lost roughly $1,500 worth of old-vine, specially tailored grapes.
The vineyard's fruit is featured in wine made by Rosenblum Cellars, an Alameda-based winemaker known for inexpensive, high-quality zinfandel.
Quoted on the Rosenblum website, winemaker John Kane said, "To me, the Planchon vineyard is very historical. It's a really nice wine from the old head prune vineyards, showing great signs of smoked bacon. I'm glad we were able to save it from the development out in Contra Costa County."
Police had no one in custody and named no suspects Wednesday. Anyone with information on the crime can call county dispatchers at 925-646-2441.
Contact Sean Maher at 925-943-8013. Follow him at Twitter.com/OneSeanMaher.