Friday, January 22, 2010

The Penfolds Grange Robbery 2002 - Top of the pops in the Naughties

On October 6th 2002 at about 10.30pm I accepted death – all in the name of Penfolds Grange and some poor bastard’s heroin addiction; that’s not a bad way to get your attention hey!

This is my second instalment in to the top 10 moments I had in the naughties. For one year, March 2002 to March 2003, I worked at Como Wine & Spirits selling wine and the occasional Bacardi Breezer. At the time I reakon it was the best job for me; I was too angry for restaurants and bars and too inexperienced to work at a winey or a vineyard, but I loved wine and this was what I needed.

I very quickly learnt how to sell wine, but not just sell any old wine to any old punter. I was working at one of Australia’s best ‘fine wine’ outlets and working with people who know how to sell wine, like Frank Gonzalez, someone who has been involved in selling wine for quite a while and calls people like Chris Ringland and Ben Glaetzer close friends. Very quickly I learnt to not only sell wine, but I was also good at it.

On October 6th I was rostered on for the lone Sunday gig. This was a day that could go any way; it could be frightfully quiet or frightfully busy. On this particular day it was neither here nor there. At around 9pm I decided to wind it all down and get my sweeping under way – it got pretty dusty on those floors and Paul Martini wanted clean floors and till’s full of cash! I was half an hour away from locking up at 10pm when a young, well dressed Asian fellow walked in and started tyre kicking. After about a minute he called me over to ask what would be the best Chardonnay to have with a steak; I thought this strange cos you don’t eat steak with chardonnay, but it was late and I wanted a quick sale. I recommended the Lakes Folly 1996 and that was the last I recall of peace before I was smacked over the head by the bloke. Before I could defend myself I was set upon by two more Asian blokes who were all fists and boots. Before I knew it I was being dragged out the back all the while still copping blows to all parts of my body. We had lost cabin pressure!

In a blink of an eye I was dragged out back, layed down on the floor face down and bound and gagged with a hanky stuffed in to my mouth and taped up; there is no way someone at this stage can comprehend the senseless act that was taking place, all you can do is go along with it.

It was at this point someone asked me where the Grange was. I couldn’t help but laugh cos they were standing right in front of it; about 40 six packs with varying vintages staring right back at them. I copped a smack across the head for that one.

Robbers choose their tipple in vintage manner
October 08 2002
By Larissa Dubecki

Police are warning restaurant staff and wine dealers to be on the lookout for stolen premium wine worth more than $30,000, after a hold-up at an exclusive South Yarra liquor store.

Officers expect the robbers will try to sell the wine, which includes Henschke's Hill of Grace and a dozen cases of Penfolds Grange.

Como Wine and Spirits on Toorak Road was held up by two well-dressed men posing as customers about 9.30pm on Sunday. They were dressed in shirts and ties and threatened the lone male sales attendant with a knife, before binding and gagging him in a rear storeroom


Over the next hour or so, these three guys emptied the store of pretty much all the Grange and Henshke Hill of Grace, with smatterings of Burgundy and a $1500 bottle of Louis XIV Cognac. But the most brazen act during this time was that the store was still open, with the two boys out the front politely telling punters that the store was closed. There were on a couple of occasions people asking about me directly, with one of the boys telling them that I had to get home urgently. As I said, there were two boys out the front; the third had his knee firmly planted between my shoulder blades with his knife sitting clumsily on my neck. With each new person coming in the door, the knife would get tighter on my neck. By the end of the ordeal I had about a dozen little knicks on my neck with a few blood trickles stained on my shirt.

I don’t know when it was, but all of the sudden I felt as light as a feather and totally numb. It was then that I accepted I was going to die. There was no weeping or thrashing about, all I felt was helpless and ultimately at peace with my fate. I would never see my mum again or have a beer with Snowy at 4am talking bullshit about footy; I would never get the opportunity to be a Dad and ward off pre-pubescent boys from my daughter. This would all be left for somebody else. This was my lot and I was ready for whatever they were going to do. But I wasn’t ready.

Right near the end of the ordeal, someone got a plastic bag and started ruffling it in front of me. I freaked. I did not want to die like this. I did not want to be suffocated; I was not ready to go like this!

Right then someone spoke to me. They said that they were going now and that they would call the cops in 10 minutes and I was not to move. I didn’t argue and I remained laying face down a still as I could. About five minutes passed when the same bloke returned and said, ‘good you haven’t moved’. With that, they were gone.

Ten minutes must have passed without a peep. They were never going to call the cops. It was up to me to get out myself. With my best MacGyver impersonation, I kicked off my right shoe so I could wriggle my feet free and sit up. The next thing was the blind-fold. I motioned to what was a corner of a wine box and nudged the blind-fold enough for me to see out of. I stood up, still with hands tied behind my back and made for the front door. All the lights had been turned off and I made my way awkwardly to the front door, gingerly stepping through smashed bottles of grange along the way. I couldn’t open the doors properly so I decided the only way to get out would be for someone to open the door for me; I screamed as loud as I could yet people walked on by. Who would do that! With MacGyver channelling me again, I managed to get the door open and leg it up Toorak Road 50 metres to “The Venetian’ restaurant. It was a warm night and there were still people enjoying a drink or two on the sidewalk tables. I will never forget the look on one bloke’s face that first giggled then jumped out of his seat the very instance he knew I was in trouble. I leapt the few stairs inside where I was once again greeted by a smile, this time from ‘Bluey’ behind the bar, with the smile quickly turning to shock when he saw I was tied up. I lunged behind the bar and stayed there until the cops came. It was over.

Over the next few weeks, several actually, I had a lot of time to myself thanks to forced leave paid for by the state government. It was during this time I met Erin, drank my first bottle of Krug and had a nervous breakdown. And it was the day that I met Erin I received a phone call from the police saying they got them; I cried and cried.

My time was pretty much up at Como. When I returned to work I refused to wear a neck tie for fear that someone would use it to choke me. The new guy didn’t like this saying, ’if it was good enough for me to wear a tie, it was good enough for you as well.’ He was a prick, probably still is. The real problem however was the store owner, Martini. He made my life a living hell at Como, again. It wasn’t until March the following year when he decided it was time for me to leave; after all, he was helping me!

Along time has passed since October 2002. I finished my Wine/Viticulture degree, fathered two beautiful children and remained in the wine industry. I still think about what happened to me, everyday – something like that is pretty hard to blot out of your memory. The funny thing is that I never really like Grange; always thought, and still do, that it is over-rated. You will be happy to know there is no Grange, and never will be any Grange in my cellar, besides, life is too short to drink bad wine!

And do you know what, that photo at the top is actually from Como Wine & Spirits; funky shit hey?


  1. Tim,

    What an extraordinary story, no wonder you think about it often, but hopefully now without some of the fear that I can only imagine.

    Chardonnay and steak huh. . . I came home from work and found the missus had cooked me a steak and I ate it with left over riesling. . . no telling what you will put up with after a hard days slog!

    1. You're right about Martini. Money hungry and a real cunt!

  2. You're here now, with us. And you'll get to fight off those pre (and post) pubescent boys all you want. We love you!!

  3. A lump in my throat and a tear down my cheek, I had to take a deep breath to keep reading. I am so proud of you Tim, all my love Mum xxxx

  4. Hi Tim,
    A harrowing account of a truly horrible experience. I too worked for Como W&S from 1999 to 2001 before moving on having had enough of Martini's antics. I thought it best to leave before he wound me up so much that I would have hit him. Good on you mate and all the best for the future. Alan

  5. That's a hell of a story Tim! Good on you for telling it.

  6. I can't even begin to imagine what that must have been like for you and then to be followed by some pretty shoddy treatment. Hope writing about it helped, some things are better out than in.

    No fan of Grange either, Hill of Grace for me.

  7. You are right Neil, some things are better out than in.

    Writing has always been a good foil for me. When this all went to court I was asked to write a ten line impact statemant. This turned in to a 5000 word open letter to Martini, with the magistrate commentting that I should turn my energy to writing - at the time I turned my energy to single malt whisky, but thats another story entirely!

    And yes, Hill of Grace over Grange any day!


  8. Is Paul Martini still the owner of Como Wine & Spirits? I usually just see the Oriental man behind the counter most of the time (Simon?), who is the most aloof and arrogant person I have ever seen in the wine business.

  9. I think Martini still owns the place, but not sure; Haven't been in the store for years. Cannot argue with last bit also