SAN JOSE – The decade-old magnums from Harlan Estate Cabernet, a personal gift from the winemaker, were so valuable to Bert George that he didn’t even put them up for sale, but proudly displayed them like masterpieces of the Renaissance in a museum in his wine shop in San Jose.
On Saturday morning they were gone – they disappeared in what appeared to be a nightly blast that made George heart disease.
“This is one of the rarest cabernets in the United States,” said George on Saturday. “The meaning of wine is so rare that it can’t be found anywhere … it’s our Mona Lisa.”
Police said they are investigating the incident and provided few details on Saturday but confirmed that nine bottles of wine were withdrawn.
George said the break-in occurred sometime around 2:30 a.m. on Saturday. However, he stressed that this was not a common crime: Harlan Estate’s bottles from the mid-1990s were some of the first bottles the winery ever produced.
Rare bottles of Harlan Estate red wine are on display at Joseph George Wines in San Jose, California. The store was broken into on Saturday December 12th, 2020. (Bert George contributed)
The combination of brand, age and type of bottle that real estate owner Bill Harlan from the western Oakville Hills gave himself as a gift is so unique that it is not for sale, but simply displayed in a glass cabinet.
George, whose family has owned the Joseph George Wines store on Meridian Avenue for generations, believes that whoever took the bottles knew what they were stealing. He figured they would be worth thousands of dollars to a knowledgeable buyer.
“If I broke in, I would steal this,” he said. “You don’t go home with wines like that and drink them or sell them in a liquor store.”
The police declined to say whether they had identified a suspect in the incident. They also declined to confirm details of the break-in.
A broken front door at Joseph George Wines in San Jose, California that was broken into on Saturday, December 12, 2020. (Bert George contributed)
“We are aware of the break-in and know 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 would be covered by insurance for the cost of damage to his business, including a broken front door and a broken display case. But while Harlan Estate has tried to offer him help, there is little chance, according to George, of “undoubtedly replacing my rarest and most beautiful wines.”
“I called them my ‘birthday wines,” “he said. “I would only treat myself to them once a year.”