Dog Days in Wine Country - Press Democrat

09/26/10

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From the Press Democrat
Author Peg Melnik peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com.

In Paris, where owners and their four-legged companions are inseparable, you expect to see a poodle in a café. But it appears that the social life of man’s best friend is just as busy on this side of the pond.

In Wine Country, vintners are stepping up their efforts to court “dog travelers,” people who wouldn’t dream of excluding their dogs from their travel exploits.

“Welcoming dog travelers is one of our main aims, those who drink and enjoy wine, of course,” said Chris Lynch of Healdsburg’s Mutt Lynch Winery. “There is a huge audience of folks who travel with their dogs. We get calls each week with folks who have sought us out.”

Just when did dogs become a target population for wineries? What’s more, when did they get upgraded to VIP status?

People who vacation with their pooches are a growing segment in the travel industry. Sixty-five percent of American households own a pet, and roughly 78 percent of the people in those households are traveling with their furry friends, according to Road and Travel Magazine. With this in mind, it’s not surprising that a small empire is being built for these bi-species travelers. The DogFriendly.com online store sells travel guides to different parts of the country and Fidofactor.com, which rates dog-friendly businesses, offers apps for smart phones.

Lambert Bridge Winery in Healdsburg hosts “Pizza and Yappy Hours” and “Dog Days of Summer Yappy Hours,” events with dog-appeal that make good business sense.

“I would bet we get at least five to seven calls per week asking if guests can bring their dogs for a picnic in the gardens,” said Greg Wilcox, managing partner.

Mutt Lynch’s brands include Mutt Zinfandel, Unleashed Chardonnay and Merlot Over and Play Dead. It also hosts events that support local animal rescue groups and national Adoptapet.com, including a once-a-month “Yappy Hour” and a spring release party called “BARKUS.”

The most popular event to date was a Dog Days of Summer gathering, attended by 125 dogs and 250 humans. Everyone reportedly behaved.

Sheri Cardo of Petaluma and her mutt “Peaddy” have gone to two Yappy Hours there. “People like to socialize with their dogs,” she said.

“People are social, and dogs are social, so it’s a natural combination … And drinking wine is all about being social.”

Wilson Winery in West Dry Creek Valley is a dog-friendly winery, but hasn’t planned any dog-oriented events yet.

“I think it has some great potential,” said co-owner Diane Wilson. “I think we should give some serious thought to it.”

Events allow wineries to show their goodwill by supporting animal organizations.

Said Wilcox of Lambert Bridge, “At our last (Yappy Hour), our local Healdsburg animal shelter brought a few small dogs, and we were able to secure an adoptive parent from one of our wine club members.”

While there’s clearly an uptick in events, wineries have long tapped into the cultural current with designated winery dogs who serve as furry, yappy, enthusiastic tasting-room greeters.

Many have even been featured in “Winery Dogs of Sonoma” (Winery Dog Publishing, 2006). The $36 book pairs 71 Sonoma pooches with their signature labels.

Lambert Bridge’s winery dogs Gus, a yellow Labrador, and Bernie, a St.Bernard, provide “family appeal,” Wilcox said.

“We are a family-run winery, and nothing speaks more of family than our four-legged friends.

“Gus loves his mornings patrolling the vineyards, keeping a keen eye out for those wild turkey intruders. And Bernadette (Bernie) is our tasting-room ambassador.”

At Wilson Winery, the official greeter is a five-year-old border collie named Molly. “I am surprised how many people seem to melt when they see Molly,” Wilson said. “There are people who come into the tasting room and ask for her.”

At Mutt Lynch, the winery dog is Patch, an 11-year-old rescued greyhound. “Patch is most often asleep in his dog bed in our tasting room, underneath the tasting table. This is his routine both at home and at the winery, asleep and comfortable, but he does wake up and wag his tail for visitors.”

Asked why dogs are man’s best friends, Lynch said it’s simple.

“Unconditional love.”

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Lambert Bridge 4085 West Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, CA 95448 (800) 975-0555