winery - Yaron Kaminsky - Sept 3 2010
An employee yesterday in the warehouse at Dalton Winery following the break-in. Photo by Yaron Kaminsky
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When Armond Maman decided 15 years ago to fulfill his dream of making wine from the grapes of his own vineyards, little did he know his winery would grow to such fame that Israel's thieves would view it as a worthy target.

Yesterday, for the second time in five years, the Dalton Winery in the Upper Galilee was broken into and thousands of bottles were stolen.

What began in the courtyard of Maman's parents' home, Dalton moved to the nearby industrial zone and now produces about a million bottles a year.

Sometime between Wednesday night and Thursday morning, thieves made off with about 10,000 bottles of wine, whose total estimated value is NIS 1 million. The bottles had already been ordered by suppliers and were ready to be sent out.

The timing of the heist is not coincidental, according to the head of investigations and intelligence at the Safed police department, Chief Inspector Yehiel Edri. The approaching holidays and increased demand for wine make the product easy to sell right now, he said.

Dalton Winery was also robbed five years ago during the same time of year, when thieves walked away with 37,500 bottles.

The wines stolen this time included Alma, Zinfandel, Shiraz and Cabernet Reserve, from grapes grown on the Dalton plateau, considered one of the finest wine regions in the country.

Some 30 percent of Dalton's merchandise is marketed abroad.

Dalton CEO Moshe Haviv believes the burglars were hired to do the job, noting that they stole a certain amount of each wine in high demand.

"This is a harsh blow. I still can't process what happened," he said.

After the last burglary, Dalton offered a prize of NIS 25,000 for information leading to the whereabouts of the stolen wine. No prize has yet been offered this time around.

About two months after the winery's previous break-in, Khaled Salah, 35, from Jerusalem's Silwan neighborhood, was arrested after trying to sell 18,000 bottles of Dalton wines to undercover police detectives. The rest of the bottles were never recovered and are assumed to have been sold below their market value.

A large contingent of police officers descended on Dalton today to collect evidence, while a team searched via helicopter for traces in the vicinity.

"This is a large crime scene with a great deal of evidence. I believe we'll discover how the thieves operated and will find answers to our questions," Edri said.