SAN JOSE — The decades-old magnum bottles of Harlan Estate cabernet, a personal gift from the vintner, were so precious to Bert George that he didn’t even offer them for sale, instead proudly displaying them like Renaissance masterpieces in a museum at his San Jose wine shop.

Saturday morning, they were gone — vanishing in an apparent overnight smash-and-grab that left George heartsick.

“This is one of the rarest cabernets in the United States,” George said Saturday. “The significance of the wine is so rare that you can’t find it anywhere… it’s our Mona Lisa.”

Police said they are investigating the incident, offering few details Saturday but confirming that nine bottles of wine were taken.

George said the burglary took place some time around 2:30 a.m. Saturday. But he emphasized that this is no ordinary crime: The bottles of Harlan Estate from the mid-1990s were some of the first bottles that the winery ever produced.

Rare bottles of Harlan Estate red wine on display at Joseph George Wines in San Jose, Calif. The store was burglarized on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. (Bert George contributed)

The combination of brand, age and type of bottle — gifted by the western Oakville hills estate owner Bill Harlan himself — are so unique, George said, that they were not for sale, but simply on display in a glass cabinet.

George, whose family has owned the Joseph George Wines store on Meridian Avenue for generations, said he is convinced that whoever took the bottles knew what they were stealing. He estimated they would be worth thousands of dollars to a knowledgeable buyer.

“If I were going to break in, this is what I would steal,” he said. “With wines like this, you don’t go home and drink them or sell them at a liquor store.”

Police declined to say if they had identified a suspect in the incident. They also declined to confirm details of how the burglary occurred.

A smashed front door at Joseph George Wines in San Jose, Calif., which was burglarized on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. (Bert George contributed)

“We are aware of the burglary and that expensive bottles of wine were taken,” said Sgt. Christian Camarillo of the San Jose Police Department. “It’s an ongoing investigation.”

George said he will be covered by insurance for the costs of damage to his store, including a smashed front door and shattered display cabinet. But while Harlan Estate has reached out to offer him help, George said there’s little chance of replacing “my rarest, most beautiful wines, without a doubt.”

“I called them my ‘birthday wines,’” he said. “I would only treat myself to them once a year.”


By Richard Moran

Richard Moran loves to write about sports with the Golden State Online. Before that, he worked as a senior writer at ESPN. Richard grew up in San Diego and graduated from the University of San Diego in 2004, after which he worked as an editor for five years.

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