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Dry Creek Valley burglaries alarm wineries

Winery owners in the Dry Creek Valley are on edge after an unusual outbreak of burglaries at tasting rooms this fall.

“It appears to be people who are not interested in the wine that's there,” said Beth Costa, executive director of the Wine Road, a winery and lodging trade group that warned its members about the thefts this week. “But they're looking for credit card information, cash, things they can get easily.”

Sonoma County Sheriff's Sgt. Mike Raasch said there have been eight such break-ins since September, three in the last week alone. One winery has been targeted four times.

The thieves had taken cash, computer equipment and paper records, suggesting they are most interested in personal details of customers and employees. Raasch did not have an estimate of the value of material taken or the damage done in the break-ins.

Raasch declined to identify the affected wineries, saying the investigation is ongoing. Deputies in the area have been advised of the crimes, he said, and are trying to be more visible in the rural winemaking region.

Raasch said the burglars seem sophisticated and determined. They know how to find isolated tasting rooms and locate the materials they want. In one case, the burglars spotted a surveillance camera and skirted it, leaving police with little visual evidence of what happened.

“We think it is probably someone who's worked at a winery before,” he said, though investigators have not yet identified any suspects.

And the burglars are fast. In at least one case, he said, an alarm was tripped, but the thieves were gone by the time deputies arrived.

While it is not uncommon for equipment or metal fixtures to be taken from outside of vineyards and wineries, Raasch and winery owners say this is the first time they can recall anyone breaking into the tasting rooms in Sonoma County.

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