An illicit nighttime harvest this week stripped Montgomery County’s Firefly Hill Vineyards of almost its entire crop of grapes, co-owner Allison Dunkenberger said Wednesday.
“We still can’t wrap our heads around this … We’re just in the grieving process,” Dunkenberger said about the loss of her family’s grapes mere hours before she, her husband, and friends and relatives were to begin trimming the fruit from carefully tended vines.
Whoever took the grapes had to have been someone who knew something about the winery’s operations — the grapes are not visible from nearby North Fork Road, she noted. But who? “It’s not a cutthroat industry,” Dunkenberger insisted.
Her husband, Black Dog Salvage operations director and former Montgomery County School Board member David Dunkenberger, was more forceful in a Facebook post: “To the pieces of cowardly, human scum that came in the night and stole the grapes from my vines,” he wrote. “I want to thank you for proving our society has hit rock bottom. May you die a slow and agonizingly painful death so that when you are writhing in pain someone will be kind enough to offer you a drink of wine so you know for what you suffer.”
Investigator Don Link of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office asked that anyone with information about the theft call him at 540-382-6915, ext. 44421.
According to the Dunkenbergers, someone — or rather, a knowledgeable team of someones — entered Firefly Hill’s vineyard in the Ironto section of Montgomery County on Monday night and removed 2 to 2½ tons of grapes from 2,500 vines growing on 3½ acres.
The thieves cut them carefully and quickly, Allison Dunkenberger said. While the Dunkenbergers planned to take several days to harvest, working with friends and family and pausing for processing, the thieves accomplished the job between sundown and dawn.
The Dunkenbergers live in Salem, but Allison Dunkenberger said she was at the winery during the day Monday and the grapes definitely were on the vines. When David Dunkenberger arrived early Tuesday morning ahead of the planned harvest, the fruit was nearly all gone, she said.
The bandits would have needed one large truck or a number of smaller ones to carry the grapes away, she said.
On the Firefly Hill’s Facebook page, a photo of six lugs — the plastic totes used to haul grapes — showed all that the winery said was left of its crop, less than 200 pounds of grapes.
Allison Dunkenberger said the value of the stolen fruit was about $20,000 or $25,000, but if the time and materials used in caring for them was included, the loss was closer to $50,000. Firefly Hill’s insurance does not cover theft of the crop, she said.
Dunkenberger said that the family planted the vines 12 years ago and gathered the grapes each year.
“We’ll keep taking care of the vines,” she said, and likely will resume operations sometime in the future.
But for now, she said, Firefly Hill is closed.