County wineries are embracing the dog friendly atmosphere
The one thing that many Sonoma County residents might love as much as their pooches is sipping a crisp glass of pinot after a long day, and several local county wineries are embracing that love with dog friendly atmospheres.
While different wineries may focus on certain varietals or different growing regions, Mutt Lynch Winery in Windsor, Kokomo Winery in Dry Creek Valley and Horse & Plow wines in Sebastopol all connect with dogs one way or another.
Mutt Lynch — Wide treat palates
At the Mutt Lynch tasting room in Windsor off the Town Green, Chris Lynch and his wife Brenda not only cater to humans in the tasting room, but also to their furry friends.
“We offer a complimentary gourmet dog treat platter for every canine visitor. We probably cater to canines more than humans,” Chris Lynch said.
The names for their wine labels even feature dog-related word play such as “Unleashed,” or “Merlot over and play dead.”
“Our most successful (label) program is the ‘Leader of the Pack,’ people can send us a beautiful photo of their dog and then we create a label for the wine,” Lynch explained.
One of their first wine labels was called “Domaine DuBone,” and much of the label art itself features lighthearted cartoons of dogs or photographed portraits of dogs such as their own pooch Patch.
“We believe the Mutt Lynch tasting experience is meant for folks that are looking for a fun, engaging thing to do especially if they love dogs,” Lynch said. “For us it is about kindred spirits. There are a lot of great wineries, a lot of great tasting rooms, some of them more serious, some of them focused on food and wine and for us, our name, our wine, we know we appeal to folks that see our labels or go online searching for dog friendly places.”
Lynch said on a normal busy day they get 10 to 12 people and three or four dogs in their tasting room.
In addition to being fido friendly, the husband and wife duo also run several charitable donation programs through their winery for rescue projects and organizations.
“My wife and I had always supported animal causes and we realized early on that our love of dogs, putting that on the labels, naming it Mutt Lynch Winery, we just started to get calls from folks working in animal rescue groups all around the country loving our wines and looking for support,” Lynch said.
The two support animal rescue groups here locally and around the country.
Their Wine That Gives Back program, which started in 2017, has become the winery’s signature charitable program.
“Winemaker Brenda (Lynch) works with each nonprofit animal rescue group to design a unique label using artwork that is personal to that organization. In turn, Mutt Lynch donates 25% of the purchase price back to each organization. To date, Mutt Lynch has partnered with five very worthy organizations to create their own Wines That Give Back label — Sonoma Humane Society, Greyhound Friends for Life, Paws for Love, Compassion Without Borders and Canine Companions for Independence,” according to Lynch and the Mutt Lynch website.
Most recently they did a “Yappy Hour” in support of the Grey Muzzle Organization to provide senior dogs with dental work.
“We do monthly Yappy Hours that benefit rescue groups. We probably support in any given year three to four dozen different organizations and we often donate our Leader of the Pack to group’s auctions,” Lynch said. “Our love affair with all things dog truly sets us apart.”
Mutt Lynch focuses on making unoaked chardonnay, a rose called “Rosie Rose,” merlot and pinot noir.
“We make three different wines that celebrate dog art (labels),” Lynch said.
The art is sourced from Northern California artists whose work is featured on the label. One is a Rouissan from Dry Creek Valley called “Pure Joy.”
Another wine in the celebrate dog art series is a cabernet sauvignon reserve wine and a Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley.
In terms of harvest, Lynch said this year looks like it will be a good vintage.
“The first wine we harvest is our rose zinfandel grapes from Alexander Valley. Brenda will be harvesting and making wine for about six weeks. It is all very small lot since we are relatively small in the grand scheme of things,” Lynch said. “Brenda is very pleased with the quality of the fruit in the vineyards right now. We’ve had fewer heat spikes than certain vintages and the spring rains were perfectly timed not to impact the fruit. So for us it is looking comfortable. 2019 is going to be a really good year.”
Kokomo — Lending a paw
Ross James, the director of hospitality at Kokomo Winery and his 3-year-old yellow Labrador Westdale, are the leader of the pack at their Dry Creek tasting room in dog hospitality and rescue event opportunities and benefits.
The smiley Westdale is also the official winery greeter, saying “Hi” to guests as they walk in, leading them to the bar.
“He’s a career change from the Guide Dogs of the Bling … he had a hard first eight months. When I got him he was pretty unsocial, but I introduced him to the winery and got him socialized with greeting people,” James said, noting that he trained Westdale all on his own with commands he learned on YouTube.
“He comes to the door when people come in, he’ll greet you and he’ll walk you over to the bar. On a busy Saturday we see 100 people. To him that’s 200 hands on him petting him. He’s really loving it being a winery dog,” James said.
Sonoma West Publishers tried confirming that with Westdale, however, he was too busy making the rounds and socializing.
Westdale is also going to be in the new Sonoma Winery Dog book.
The new edition comes out in May 2020 and James said they will probably donate all of the proceeds to rescued and abused dogs in Sonoma County.
They also plan on having an event for Westdale’s appearance in the book.
“We’ll have a paw book signing party. If they come in and buy the book he will stamp the book with his paw,” James said.
Their main benefit is “Artsy Dogs of Kokomo,” an event that James started eight years ago.
“We started an event with Paws for Love for the adoption of dogs in Sonoma County. They set their pens out here with about 15 or 20 dogs and we get them rescued and it is a dog-friendly event,” he said.
This past year the Green Dog Rescue Project, Sonoma County Animal Services and Rohnert Park Animal Services provided adoptions.
The benefit also includes an opportunity for dogs to create some of their own art for $25.
“They paint with their paws and create their own paintings. It is a really fun event and a nice way to get dogs rescued here in Sonoma County. It is pretty rewarding for us to do that.” James said. “Each year it gets bigger.”
In terms of harvest, James said this year looks to be a great one.
“Harvest is fantastic, it is really looking good … They are very excited about the fruit coming in this year,” James said.
He said the late heat spikes will bring out the sugars in the grapes.
Kokomo makes 24 to 26 different varietals from muscat blanc to pinot, zinfandels, chardonnay, cabernet, malbec, rose and more.
Horse & Plow — Relaxing for pets and owners
Suzanne Hagins of Horse & Plow Winery in Sebastopol didn’t only want to change up the scene by making cider, but also by creating a nontraditional tasting experience and an atmosphere that’s relaxing for both dogs and humans.
Hagins, who started the winery in 2008, has a dog-friendly tasting room.
“Our tasting room is very nontraditional. It is a barn in west county. We wanted it to be very approachable and friendly. We want people to come and enjoy bringing their dogs or kids, hang out and enjoy it,” she said.
Hagins herself has three rat terriers and chickens who roam around the property.
“We have three rat terriers known for rodent hunting. We have the mom and her daughters. They are really sweet,” she said.
Of the animal atmosphere Hagins said, “We wanted to create a comfortable atmosphere. We have two-acres, oak trees and an orchard and kids can feed the chickens. It is a lot of fun.”
Hagins isn’t only passionate about animals though. She also has an eye for promoting agricultural diversity, which she does through her cider making.
“We’ve really been into supporting agricultural diversity in Sonoma County and it is a nice way to support more than just grape vines,” Hagins said.
They have several different kinds of cider, a farmhouse blend that has 12 varieties of apples, an heirloom cider that Hagins described as more elegant and refined. They also have one that has more of a hops and honey flavor.
According to Hagins, all of them are bottled and conditioned so carbonation occurs naturally like champagne.
On the wine front, they make red wine as well as sauvignon blanc and lot of pinot gris, grenache and cabernet franc.
“We also do a red and white blend. It is aromatic and has a nice acidity,” she said.
Along with Mutt Lynch and Kokomo, Hagins reported that this year seems to be a good harvest.
“Harvest is going really well. We’re getting beautiful chardonnay. We had a few heat spikes on Labor Day and this past weekend, it can stress them out, but compared to Oregon or France we can deal with a little heat,” Hagins said.
At the time of this writing, she said they have 30% of the fruit in so they still have a ways to go. So far have pinot gris and pinot blanc in and will make their wine at a custom crush site in Santa Rosa.