Tasting room customers at risk for auto burglary in Sonoma Valley

More than one visitor to wineries along Arnold Drive experienced a burglary from their vehicle, parked in the tasting room lots, on Nov. 24. And it wasn’t the first time.

Several reports came in to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office on that Sunday afternoon alone. In all three cases – two in one winery’s lot, and one at another – the car windows were smashed and personal items including electronic equipment such as laptops were stolen. All thefts took place from rental cars, said Sgt. Juan Valencia of the Sheriff’s Office.

“It’s happening everywhere,” said Valencia, “it’s not just here. Make sure you hide all your valuables – but even though you hide things, people may still break in. They’re experts at it.”

He said surveillance videos elsewhere have revealed that teams of up to four people may operate together – driving into a lot, smashing windows and passing items to accomplices. No surveillance videos were available in these incidents, however, and the deputies had no other clues to follow.

Two calls were received about one of the Nov. 24 incidents, just after 3 p.m. at Meadowlark Lane and Arnold Drive, which involved two cars in the same lot. The other incident occurred 20 minutes later at a winery not far away.

Calls were made to several wineries in the area, but none would confirm the thefts had taken place there. One tasting room manager told the Index-Tribune that wineries that have been struck by vehicle burglary will call other wineries in the area to warn them.

Though Gloria Ferrer was not victimized by the Nov. 24 thefts, they have suffered similar thefts at their Arnold Drive tasting room this summer, said Geraldine Flatt, the winery’s VP of retail operations. It happened in August, she said, when three cars were hit in the same manner, with broken windshields and stolen goods. In that case, all of the cars belonged to employees of the tasting rooms. “It’s very unfortunate however you look at it,” said Flatt.

Although the winery warns tasting room customers – and employees – to hide their valuables or bring them with them, Flatt said in one case the burglars broke a back window despite not seeing anything visible, pulled the back seat down, reached in and took out a carry-on bag that included an iPad and a laptop, among other items.

Flatt said they located the theives when someone tried to use a credit card from the carry-on bag that afternoon in Novato, and an arrest was made.

Unless such burglary can be shown to involve over $950 in valuables, it is treated as a “petty theft” misdemeanor. A higher value of stolen goods is felony “grand theft.”

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