by Debra Williams

For me, the avid dog lover, one of the greatest joys I have had over the years in our many vineyard visits and tours are the wine dogs. Typically large, lovable, and burly, they have provided me endless sessions of ear and belly rubbing moments, ball chasing games, and wine row romping entertainment. I’ve enjoyed it all. I’ve even been known to become overly distracted with canine frivolities that I’ve forgotten the purpose of the day is to taste and learn about wine.

This, of course, made me wonder, “Why do so many winemakers have wine dogs?” Besides their great companionship and soothing personalities, what other attributes do they add in making a wine operation successful?

A dog’s keen sense of smell serves many a winemaker quite well. Not only do some winemakers rely on their trusty companions to help them determine a grape’s readiness for harvest, but in conjunction with Bergin University of Canine Studies in Rohnert Park, California, winemakers have been working with researchers to train dogs to sniff out the grapevine mealybug. The pesky creatures feed on the bases of the shoots, thus preventing the plant from producing fruit.

As sustainable, organic wine production grows in favorability with both farmers and buyers of the end product, the program at Rohnert Park has been gaining steam over the last few years.

Dogs also serve to keep the local grape loving deer at bay. With an ever hardworking wine dog patrolling the fields, deer are typically deterred from stripping entire vines bare of their succulent fruit. They also do well at catching any gophers or squirrels or chasing away hungry birds, all of which are destructive enemies of vineyard.

Dogs look great on a calendar, a collector’s book, or on a wine label. I have visited many a winery where the dog was as critical a part of the history as was the vineyards, the grapes, and the winemaker his or herself. Who could turn down a bottle of Syrah with the lovable face of a big, beautiful Golden Retriever on the label? Oftentimes, the winery’s dog is as famous as the wine itself.

They make you feel welcome. When visiting a new winery, nothing says “Welcome” better than the greeting you receive from the winery’s most loyal mascot. It’s my favorite part.