U of M grapevines stolen, officials suspect possible inside job


University of Minnesota officials are puzzled and concerned over the recent theft of some valuable, specially-developed grapevines from Chaska's Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. The Strib reports that officials believe the thief or thieves likely have detailed knowledge about grapes.

[Carver County Sheriff Bud] Olson said his department's investigation is looking at current and former arboretum employees and anyone else who had access to the field work. Olson is treating the incident as a felony theft of valuable intellectual property. "It's a trade secret type of crime,'' he said.

In research, "you do hundreds and hundreds of crosses and evaluate the vines," [Arborteum Operations Manater Peter] Moe said. "It is illegal and damaging to us to have someone steal that material.''

The Minnesota Daily reports that the thief knew not only which of the 10,000 or so plants to target -- those that had been recently identified as having great potential -- but also exactly where and how to take a viable clipping.

It's a story whose details somewhat recalls Susan Orlean's terrific 1995 article "The Orchid Thief," -- later turned into the movie "Adaptation" -- about a plant dealer who steals a rare breed of orchids from the Florida Everglades in order to clone them.

The theft is suspected of having gone on for several years now, but was only reported to authorities in recent weeks based on a plant breeder's detailed recordkeeping. Strib describes the vines as having the potential to eventually provide the state's wine equivalent of the Honeycrisp apple.