Elliston winery loses grape harvest in nighttime heist

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ELLISTON, Va. (WDBJ) — Before Tuesday, it had been a challenging, but normal, year for the grapes at Elliston's Firefly Hill Vineyards.

But when owner David Dunkenberger went to check on them Tuesday morning, his grapes were gone.

"I stopped and I started walking through the vineyard and just noticed that it's not there," he said.

Nearly 2.5 tons of grapes vanished overnight.

Dunkenberger says the proficiency with which they were cut indicated it was the doing of no animal, and that whoever did this knew exactly what they were doing.

He estimated the loss, when labor and equipment costs are factored in, to be around $50,000.

"But to grape growers, it's priceless," Dunkenberger said. "The financial loss, it is what it is. You're farming, you know that there's a good chance you're not going to get anything that year. But to make it to this point, and you're going to pick and then somebody beats you to the punch? It's just unforgivable."

Dunkenberger said the grapes are resilient and they will grow back eventually. But until then, there isn't much to do.

"So now we'll just...there's always mowing to be done," he said. "But the vineyard's finished."