Whenever I've traveled to wine country I've noticed a plethora of dogs hanging out in/around the winery. I didn't think too much about it, figuring pets/animals and rural areas go hand in hand. It always seemed like a great opportunity to ensure a 'friend' was always nearby and an astute property "scout" was happy to help keep an eye on things. I've also been noticing how many pooches appear on labels. A great marketing ploy, I always thought, but it never occurred to me that there might be something more to it. This weekend I was preparing for a private wine tasting party I have coming up. I always like to find out interesting little "fun facts" about the wines I'm introducing; this supplements the more traditional wine information I impart on my clients' guests, too, and helps make a particular wine memorable in another way. I soon discovered that there is a specific reason they use a dog on the Yalumba Y-Series Shiraz/Viognier label. It symbolizes the necessary and fabulous "mateship" between winemakers and growers. Without the other, they wouldn't have anything to cheers to, if you know what I mean.

That one piece of information prompted me to make a more meaningful connection between vineyards and their pooches. I did a little digging to see if there was something more to having dogs around the property and couldn't resist sharing today what I learned.

In California they recently started training golden retrievers to sniff out a troublesome little bug: vine mealy bugs. The bug is new-ish to California and is creating quite a stir. Perhaps not of the same destruction caliber as phylloxera, this little guy is still no fun. When he eats he excretes a sugary, "honeydew" substance that becomes a happy stomping ground for sooty mold. Imagine a grape cluster infested with the honeydew, mold, egg sacs and more mealy bugs and - yep - you're pretty grossed out, not to mention the grapes are completely unusable in wine production and the vines are seriously compromised.

An article on Land of Pure Gold describes just how helpful trained retrievers can be in reducing the impact of these pests. Tim Tesconi writes, if a dog identifies a vine as being infested it can be removed or treated with insecticides. Pinpointing infested vines allows growers to spray specific sites rather than the whole vineyard, which is not only less costly but better for the environment. Cheers to environmentally friendly! Cheers to on-going wine production!

There's plenty more out there on dogs in the vineyards, too. Take a look at some of the cute faces captured at Winery Dogs. As for me, I know what my next toast will be: to the pooches!

What other vineyard dog fun facts have you come across or experienced first hand?