Wine thief drills hole in store’s roof, steals hundreds of bottles

Over $600,000 of rare wine and liquor stolen from California store in brazen nighttime heist

Today's expression: Make off with
Explore more: Lesson #599
August 17, 2023:

A thief drilled a hole into the roof of a California wine store and robbed hundreds of bottles of rare wines and liquors, in one of the biggest wine robberies in state history. The perpetrator, who was caught on camera but not identified, spent four hours in the shop before fleeing after an alarm went off. Plus, learn the English expression "make off with."

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Hollywood movie writers are on strike. But there are still thrilling crime plots being written in Los Angeles…today, you’ll hear how a thief pulled off one of the biggest wine robberies in California history

Lesson summary

Hi there, I’m Jeff and this is Plain English, where we help you upgrade your English with current events and trending topics. You know how this goes: we start with a story and then we pivot to talking about an English expression.

The story today is a jaw-dropper: a thief broke into a high-end wine shop in Los Angeles and stole over six hundred bottles of wine and liquor, valued in total at about $600,000. This sounds like something out of a movie, but it’s real.

And in the second half of the lesson, I’ll show how to use the English expression “make off with.” And we have a song of the week, selected—I swear—by JR.

JR—you know him, he’s the producer. He’s working hard behind the scenes each week to bring you these lessons. This is our five hundred ninety-ninth lesson together, so that means JR has posted all the great content to PlainEnglish.com/599.

I think we’re ready—let’s get going.

Wine thief swipes hundreds of bottles in a single night

Lincoln Fine Wines is a wine store in Venice, a neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. It’s a quick five-minute drive or bike ride from the famous Venice Beach. It’s an unassuming, one-story white building with dark red trim and flower boxes along the sidewalk.

You can absolutely stop off at Lincoln Fine Wines and get a bottle for dinner later that same night. The cheapest bottle on its web site is $12.99, but there are a lot in the $20 to $50 range. But that’s not all Lincoln Fine Wines carries. You can also find some very high-value bottles, with quite a few priced over $1,000 per bottle, and even some as high as $3,000 per bottle or more.

The shop’s web site offers private concierge services for those who are stocking a new wine cellar—or those who are looking to add to their collection.

Someone in the Los Angeles area was looking to add to his collection in late June. But he skipped the concierge service. Instead , he pulled off one of the biggest wine robberies in California history.

Here’s how it went down : At about 12:30 a.m. on June 30, a man wearing a mask, a black hoodie sweatshirt, and a red baseball hat arrived in a white pickup truck without license plates. He climbed up on the roof of the building. He drilled a hole in the roof; the hole measured about 1 meter by 1.5 meters . And then he used a rope to lower himself into the building. Once inside, he spent four hours carefully examining the inventory and selecting the bottles to steal.

He specifically targeted the highest-value bottles of wine and liquor. The store layout showed more accessible bottles on shelves. But in the cellar, in drawers, were the rarest and most valuable bottles. The thief went directly there.

In the end , he made off with about 600 bottles. The store’s entire collection of Bordeaux and Burgundy wine was stolen. The store had a 1971 bottle of The Last Drop, a rare scotch whiskey valued at $6,000. Gone. Also gone: a $4,500 bottle of Chateau Petrus from 2016 and a 1975 Glenfiddich “Rare Collection” single-malt whiskey valued at $9,000.

The most striking item missing was a fifteen-liter bottle of champagne. Think about that for a second: a fifteen-liter bottle is the equivalent of twenty standard bottles. That’s a rare format, and the bottle would have sold for thousands of dollars.

The owner of the store is devastated. About sixty percent of his high-end inventory was stolen. It was a lot of money—he probably has insurance, I don’t know. But insurance only covers the financial loss. There’s an emotional impact, as well. The owner, Nazmul Haque, spent ten or fifteen years building up the store’s reputation and inventory.

It’s like building up an art gallery: you can’t just replace these bottles overnight. He spent his career selecting, curating, sourcing, finding, and selling these bottles. And now, so much of what was in his store is gone. We put a dollar value on these bottles, but like fine works of art, a lot of the stolen bottles are irreplaceable.

Not only that, but the person who did this knew about the store’s vulnerabilities, knew where the security cameras were, knew exactly where the most expensive bottles were, knew exactly what bottles were even there, and what to take. Who could know that? A customer? I doubt it. Maybe his best customer. A former employee? A contractor? Someone who did construction? We don’t know. But someone with inside knowledge had to have betrayed him. The owner says he hasn’t been able to sleep since .

The store had a security system. Earlier in that same week, someone had disabled some of the security cameras. When the thief arrived, he went to some cameras and pointed them toward the wall. He covered another with a sticker. Still, some of his movements were captured on video, though his face was not visible.

The alarm system was designed to discover people breaking through the windows and doors and moving around the main floor. The system was not designed to detect someone coming in through the roof. And there were no motion detectors in the cellar—where all the most expensive bottles were.

At about 4:00 a.m., the thief moved onto the main floor of the building. That’s when the store’s security alarm went off. The thief, hearing the alarm, fled. The owner got an alert and went straight there. He arrived at 4:50 to find a devastating scene: shattered glass and empty drawers.

The store is still compiling an inventory of stolen bottles. Wine dealers, re-sellers, and auction houses have been put on notice about the stolen bottles in case they show up in the resale market.


Here’s what I couldn’t find out. A case of wine is 12 bottles. I could carry maybe two cases at a time. Someone better at this than I am could maybe carry four cases at a time, I don’t know. That’s still twelve trips in and out of the store! And one of the bottles was the size of twenty normal bottles put together!

I have no idea how he got them out. I looked in every article I could find. There’s no way he lifted them—I don’t know? Could he have?—but I would think he couldn’t have lifted them up onto the roof and then down again outside. He must have used a back door or something. There must have been other people involved.

Just simply getting this amount of wine out of the store and into a truck—what an effort. Would it even fit in one pickup truck? I guess it did.

JR’s song of the week

I didn’t pick this song. JR must have heard me mention it before. There’s no way this is a coincidence.

“More Than a Feeling” by Boston is the song of the week. This was the first song on the first CD I ever bought in my life. How old was I? Twelve, maybe, thirteen? I got a CD player for Christmas, but I had nothing to play in it. So I went to the store, with my parents or grandparents, I forget. And I forget if I used my own money or not. But I got two CDs, and one of them was the first album by the band Boston. And this was the CD I first put into the CD player, so the first song I ever heard on my own CD player, with my first-ever album, was this one, “More Than a Feeling” by Boston.

It was a good song then, it’s a good song now. Listen to the whole album if you want, it was a self-titled album, so the band and the album are both called “Boston.”

Thank you JR for that. So now, let’s talk about the English expression “make off with.” There’s almost no other day we could talk about it, so we have to do it today. Here we go.

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Expression: Make off with