French Laundry burglary: 'It's only wine,' owner says

Russ Parsons
The California Cook
French Laundry chef Thomas Keller keeps burglary in perspective

Thomas Keller, chef and owner of the French Laundry, says the loss of more than $300,000 worth of wine in a Christmas Day burglary hurts, but things could have been worse.

“Listen, nobody was there, nobody got hurt, it’s only wine,” he told The Times. “At the end of the day, what are you going to do? You can’t put too much emotion into a bottle of wine. [Former French Laundry executive chef Rory Herrmann’s] dad passed away this morning. Now that hurts.

RELATED: Edward Herrmann dies at 71

“The thing that pisses me off is more the fact that somebody broke in.”

Thieves broke into the wine room at the storied Napa Valley restaurant on Christmas Day, jimmied a door and stole 76 bottles of rare wine, worth up to $15,000 a bottle.

The French Laundry, located in Yountville, is acknowledged as one of the greatest restaurants in the world. It has earned a coveted three stars from the Michelin restaurant guide every year since Michelin began reviewing American restaurants in 2006.

The burglary, which was discovered at 7:45 a.m. the day after Christmas, occurred after the restaurant had served its last meal before closing for the winter for extensive kitchen renovations. Normally, someone would have been on the property nearly around the clock, but because it was Christmas and the restaurant was closed, the grounds were empty.

Keller, who lives in a house on the property, said he first heard about the break-in from a gardener who found the damage when he came to work that morning.

“It’s a little bit uncomfortable, because we live there and all,” Keller said. “But they knew what they wanted, they knew where it was and they got in and got out very quickly.”

Authorities said the burglary may have been carried out by someone close to the restaurant.

“We suspect it was deliberately targeted due to the quality of the wines,” Capt. Doug Pike with the Napa County Sheriff’s Office told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Whoever was responsible seemed to be selective. There was a small window of time when employees weren’t there, so obviously someone took advantage.”

The thief or thieves was “either extremely lucky, or had some knowledge” of when the restaurant would be untended, Pike told the Chronicle, adding that detectives are interviewing staff members at the French Laundry as well as contacting other restaurants and wine stores in the area.

Keller said that a lot of people could have known where the wine was.

“We have 130 employees, we have dozens of delivery people every day, we have hundreds of guests,” he said. “Someone close to the restaurant? Yes. Somebody who knew where the wine cellar was? Certainly.

“But that could have been the linen delivery guys, the wine delivery guys and any of the people who service the restaurant, as well as everybody who ever worked at one of our restaurants over the years. That’s a lot of people.”

The important thing, Keller said, is that no one was hurt.

“I don’t want to downplay it," he said. "It’s very expensive wine and it will be very difficult to replace it. But nobody was hurt. I’m just grateful that nothing happened, like one of the young servers coming in on their day off because they forgot something in their locker and stumbling across it. That would have been terrible.”

Are you a food geek? Follow me on Twitter @russ_parsons1

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
57°