Police in southern Germany are looking for thieves who stole an entire vineyard of grapes from under their noses.
The criminals made off with the field full of grapes by "running a professional harvesting machine over the entire vineyard", the police said, according to the local Rheinpfalz newspaper.
Most galling of all for the police is the fact that the vineyard does not lie on some remote hillside, but is to be found right next to the car park of a major supermarket on the outskirts of the village of Deidesheim.
The resourceful thieves struck at some point between teatime last Wednesday and sunset the following day, netting 1,600 kg (3,527 lb) of the white grapes used to make Riesling wine. The haul is estimated to be worth 8,000 euros (£7,110; $9,272).
The police are keen for any information on the theft, as it is not the first in their part of Rhineland-Palatinate Region. Last year alone 600-800 kg of grapes were stolen in the surrounding Bad Duerkheim district.
Rhineland-Palatinate is home to six of Germany's 13 wine-producing regions, and is famous for Riesling and sparkling wine. Its 13,000 vineyards account for 90% of Germany's wine exports.
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Local vintners have long suspected that rival wine-growers may be responsible. They note how the thieves unerringly select the choicest grapes, steal them just as they ripen, and have access to specialised harvesting equipment.
"The motive is jealousy," Stephan Altmann told Die Welt newspaper when his Winning Vineyard was plundered two years ago. A local policeman added that harvesting machines heading into fields at dusk are a common sight in the area, and so not necessarily bound to arouse suspicion.
The Deisdesheim winemakers could take the advice of their neighbours in France's Soultz-Haut-Rhin district, where local farmers swear that grape theft has been cut drastically by environmental officers on horseback patrol, France 3 TV reports.
Reporting by Martin Morgan
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