THE latest instalment of the now infamous $5 million unsolved wine heist has left investors scratching their heads baffled as to what will happen next.
After more than three years investigating how 30,000 bottles of Australia's best wines vanished without trace amid the wreckage of a Hunter wine empire, NSW Police officially gave up the hunt in January.
The brazen but lucky theives outlived a task force of Financial Crime Squad detectives set up in 2016 to catch them.
Now in a further twist to the mystery of the missing Granges, Henschkes and Torbrecks, questions have emerged about the value and ownership of the 2395 bottles recovered by Strike Force Farrington.
In April, NSW Police issued a statement revealing that "cellaring experts" had deemed the expensive wine worthless.
"When the wine was located, it was inspected by cellaring experts, who deemed the conditions were sub-standard and the wine would no longer be of value," it said.
But when the Herald requested a copy of the cellaring experts' report under freedom of information laws, police conceded this month that "there was no cellaring expert engaged and no reports exist".
Retiree Eric Schick who lost 1394 bottles of wine, worth more than $110,000, said it was a "bizarre" turn in the case that offered no answers for more than 300 victims.
Like many of the wine owners, Mr Schick planned to use his collection as part of superannuation to help fund his retirement.
The wine collections were held under agreement for owners by Wine Investment Services Pty Ltd, one of a number of companies that was part of the failed empire of former James Estate Wines boss David James.
"I would think that you can't tell until you open it if the wine is no good," Mr Schick said.
"It doesn't make any sense to me that the police would claim that it had no value.
"This investigation, for some unknown reason, has just been written off as a bad cause but I have no idea how they thought they could write the wine off as well."
James Estate companies went belly-up in 2013 leaving debts of more than $25 million.
Another wine owner, who asked not to be identified, said it appeared that people wanting to recover wine would have to do so through the liquidator of Wine Investment Services.
"If that is the outcome then we will be charged another fee for the service of returning what we own," he said.
"I've got no idea how so much wine can go missing and no one gets caught."
In response to the freedom of information request, police said Strike Force Farrington recovered 2395 bottles of wine from a storage facility in Waterloo Rd, Chullora, on July 4, 2016. It remained there until March 2017 and was then moved by police to an undisclosed location.
"The wine has been stored in the optimum recommended climate-controlled conditions," the report states.
"The cost for storing the seized wine is calculated to date at $36,951.25."
According to the May report, Strike Force Farrington began on February 1, 2016, and was disbanded on January 31.
It began with seven staff and at times throughout the investigation grew to 14.
"Due to the staff number fluctuating between seven and 14 staff, the varied hours of investigation and duties conducted throughout the investigation a cost for the investigation is unable to be determined," it states.
Mr Schick said the only winners were the thieves and the insolvency firms who worked on the case due to the fees charged.
"Police have put it in too hard basket and there is still a lot of wine missing," he said.
"After putting in so much work I thought the police would have followed it through, but they have dropped it and whoever did this has somehow managed to get away with it."
A police spokeswoman said in April that officers were seeking advice from "industry and legal experts" about the disposal of the seized wine.
James Estate Wines was sold in December 2014, 16 months after it was placed in receivership. It comprised of a vineyard, winery and cellar door operation on 575 hectares near Baerami and a winery and cellar door on 43.6 hectares in Pokolbin.
The collapse was a far cry from 2002 when James Estate Wines was named winner of the Sneddon McKeown Fastest 100 Growing Hunter Companies following growth of 1525 per cent over three years.