Saturday, September 19, 2020

ADVERTISING: Advertorial — GEORGE BALLING: Wine dogs

| August 5, 2020 1:00 AM

When you visit wineries and wine shops, many times you will find the owners there with their dogs. It makes sense, wine, after all, is a social drink. We have long said that when you sit down to have a glass of wine with friends or family, the conversation livens up. Many times you talk about the wine, and still others, you have the opportunity to catch up on all that is going on with your “bottle partners.” Dogs, by their nature, are social characters too. They love to greet people when they come into the room, wagging their tales and in their own way, welcoming visitors and saying hello.

From visiting so many wineries over our careers we have gotten to meet many great dogs, In some cases they are integral parts of the “sales team.” A dog is tough to say no to. Here are the stories of some of the great dogs we have been fortunate to meet.

The late Eric Dunham had a great dog- a three-legged Australian shepherd mix that he rescued. The dog had lost one of his front legs in a dog attack. My first time visiting the winery I got to meet Eric’s pal who did a great job of getting around the winery and in and out of Eric’s truck. To this day, the Dunham red blend is called “Three Legged Red,” with the image of this great wine dog on the label. The dog passed before Eric did, but there was never a greater brand ambassador who continues to sell wine, albeit posthumously.

We got to know the winemaker from the Domaine Drouhin property in Oregon. In addition to the Drouhin Oregon wines, they also produce a line called Cloudline. The Drouhin family produces lovely wines, both here in the U.S. and from the “mother ship” in France. While we never met the winemaker’s pooch, he told us one of the great wine dog and winemaker stories. Apparently, his dog had developed a taste for wine, but as only a discriminating French wine dog could do, his taste had become very refined. He only liked white Burgundy! If the winemaker left a glass of white Burgundy at dog height, sure enough, the dog would be in there enjoying it. The most interesting part though, was that the dog could tell the difference between domestic Chardonnay and true white Burgundy. That is an amazing sense of smell!

This next story is about a wine goat (or goats as the case may be), rather than a wine dog. When we lived in Kenwood there was a winery down the road from us called Kaz. It was a very small operation — under 1,000 cases at the time. The owner/winemaker is also an accomplished photographer and many of his vintage photos adorn the labels of his wine bottles. When you pulled up to his yard to taste at the picnic table you would see his pet pigmy goats. At times they would be standing on top of the dog house that was in their pen. When folks arrived though, they would frequently treat you to a show of head butting! They were hilarious animals and never tired of being the stars of the show. Folks would sit for hours tasting wine and watching the goats head butt. They were also a big part of the sales team!

While I was working at Balletto Vineyards in the Russian River Valley, I got to know the Balletto’s dog, who was frequently around the winery. This wine dog had a very serious job though. As the grapes ripen and approach harvest, flocks of birds, from turkeys to ravens, will descend on the vineyards and start to eat the grapes. Growers will frequently deploy netting, fire off a non-weaponized gun called a “whiz bang,” or set off other loud noises to clear the vineyards. Nothing did quite the job of their dog, who would spend his day running through vineyards chasing birds away from the vines. While most wine dogs are involved in “sales,” this pooch was very clearly employed in security.

During your next trip to wine country, take some time to get to know the winery dog, or goats, as the case may be. It will certainly make your winery visit more fun and entertaining.

• • •

George Balling is co-owner with his wife, Mary Lancaster, of the dinner party, a wine and gift shop in Coeur d’Alene by Costco. The dinner party has won the award for best wine shop in North Idaho twice, including for 2018. George is also published in several other publications around the country.

After working in wineries in California and judging many wine competitions, he moved to Coeur d’Alene with Mary more than 10 years ago to open the shop. You can also follow us on Facebook at!/dinnerpartyshop.