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Wine,Winery

Spike’s First Wine Tasting Was Enjoyed in Napa Valley Style

Okay, let’s just say flat out that Spike – although he went wine tasting – didn’t have one drop of wine.

Spike’s my daughter Lyla’s terrier/Chihuahua mix, whom she adopted after he had been hit by a car, put back together again like Humpty Dumpty, and then lived with his foster mom Dawn Justice, while waiting for Lyla to find him. Spike doesn’t know that he and Lyla met on-line, but the rest of us do. He’s a pretty constant companion for Lyla, and when he’s not with her, I play Nana and entertain him – most especially on weekends. This image of spike was taken by Dawn. Besides being an animal lover, she’s also a Sonoma County photographer (Dawn Justice Photography), and Spike’s one of her willing doggie models. This image is one that Dawn has taken of Spike.

When Lyla’s traveling, if I can’t have Spike for the weekend, Dawn is still willing to care for him… And poses him when he’s with her. Spike’s more than willing to oblige.

So, when I invited Lyla to come wine tasting with her cousins Sara and Andrew Helman, who were visiting from Maine, Spike was just part of the package. I didn’t know how it would play out, because I’ve never brought a dog wine tasting before, but we were all up for the adventure.

I had recently made a decision that it was time to step out of my usual comfort zone for visiting wineries that I knew a lot about; either because they are clients, members of PS I Love You, past employment places, or just in my immediate neighborhood. I simply got this yearning to explore a whole lot more.

I really enjoy the members of PSILY that I see on a consistent basis, and will find time to return to them, too; but I also want to really get to know all the people within the PSILY group by visiting with them, and taking that membership to a much deeper understanding of what makes their companies so special.

In Girl Scouts, we used to sing, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold.”

Great! I had my direction… The Silverado Trail, for starters.

Stags’ Leap and Judd’s Hill are both on the Silverado Trail, but I’d just visited with them, and didn’t want to become a bother. I needed something brand new to expand my knowledge base, so I began to investigate who – over that hill in my back yard (Mt. Saint Helena) is a member of PSILY and on the Silverado Trail. Easy… August Briggs and Vincent Arroyo. Although not on the Silverado trail (it’s on route 128), Rutherford Grove Winery would top off my three for the day, because it’s not really that far away from the other two in Rutherford, CA.

Three wineries are a perfect day trip for me,  because it’s not a rushed experience and we would actually “visit.” Little did I know that I had picked three very “dog friendly” wineries, in that process.

I’ll be writing about this adventure through my own eyes, too, but this is the best way to start this series, for all the dog lovers out there, because you’re going to be seeing Spike in the pictures that go with each visit.

One winery at a time, through Spike’s eyes.

Little did I know how dog friendly August Briggs was going to be. When Lyla and I arrived, we had to wait for Sara and Andrew to arrive. They were driving up from San Francisco, so Spike, Lyla, and I got out of the car to wait, and exercise our legs a bit. As we walked toward the long driveway that stretched the length of the winery, we could see someone (August “Joe” Briggs) who had just come out of the mid section (the production area) with a small white dog (Sophie). Joe and his dog were headed toward their pickup truck, and he then loaded his dog into the truck. Spike, Lyla, and I headed toward the shade of the picnic area. Joe drove up the driveway, got out of his truck, and came over to where we were. I introduced all of us, as we’d never met; although, I had called to say that we’d be dropping by on this day.

Joe Briggs was extremely hospitable. He completely blew my mind when he said how dog friendly they are, and that Spike was even welcome to go into the tasting room with us. It’s been years since I’ve had my own dog, and when I did I never even thought to bring my dog wine tasting.

This was a great revelation. I now know that one of my PSILY members is “Dog Friendly,” and that’s news that I can pass along to a lot of people, including you.

[Pictured left to right: Lyla and Spike, Sara, Andrew, and Aaron Inman.)

This just proved how much I’ve got to get out more. My friend and writer colleague Lynn Alley is currently writing a book about traveling with dogs, and all the dog friendly places for them. She’s asked me to tell her about any wineries that I find that accommodate dogs. Well… there you go. Once this is published, I’ll just send her a link.

You might recognize the name Lynn Alley, who’s most known for her cookbooks. While we continued to wait, Spike explored this working grape farm, pictured at the beginning of this story, while he and Lyla were walking down the August Briggs driveway toward the vineyards.

Vincent Arroyo Winery has two labs that live right there on the property; a black named JJ (whose initials stand for “Joy Junior” due to her being the successor to Vincent’s first Black Lab, Joy), and chocolate lab named Bodega. While Bodega loves doggie visitors, JJ isn’t as happy to have other dogs visiting. (I can understand that. A dog’s a sentinel faithfully doing a job.) so, if you’re traveling with a dog, you might want to ask – before your dog gets out of your car – if it’s safe to bring your dog out to meet Bodega.

Vincent Arroyo Winery is so into their dogs that they have a “Dog Blog” on their Website.

When we arrived,  Stefanie Gernert came right to us to say that the chocolate lab loves small dogs, but the black lab doesn’t – at all. She gave us a quick, guarded moment to make sure that the black lab was put into the house, which it was, and we all breathed a sigh of relief.  This was very gracious hospitality, because Vincent Arroyo is the black lab’s home, after all, and we were invading the dog’s space.

The entire Arroyo family, however, was fine with letting Spike have his time in the sun on a their wine farm, with the entire family in the garden enjoying the warm, gorgeous day.

Spike was allowed to tour the entire winery with us, including the tasting room, going into the barrel room, and walking around the winery. Bodega and Spike completely enjoyed each other’s company, as did the human population.

From this tail wagging image, you can see that Spike was pretty happy with Rutherford Grove.

The visit completely floored me. Rutherford Grove isn’t on the rural Silverado backroads. It’s smack dab in Rutherford, one of the more polished parts of Napa Valley. This area doesn’t project “farmland” in the same way that the Silverado Trail does. I honestly didn’t expect the warm welcome that we got.

As we approached, I as a bit nervous. Spike had been given free reign where there was room for more down home moments, but Route 128? We walked slowly toward the door. Sara and Andrew entered without even thinking. They didn’t have to, but I held back. Lyla and Spike were close to the door, and if they couldn’t enter (which I thought they wouldn’t be able to do), I’d toggle back and forth between Lyla and Spike, and Sara and Andrew. I cautiously entered, introduced myself and who we were, so Sara and Andrew could enjoy their visit and taste wine, and was about to go back outside to be with Lyla and Spike. To my utter amazement, our tasting room educator Ross Workman invited us to all come in, including Spike.

Spike was given a moment to run, before he was packed up in Lyla’s car and headed toward home. He had had a great day, as we all did.

He’s a small dog, and perhaps that’s part of the charm and success of the day. The bottom line is that I not only got to meet more members of PSILY, their staff, and taste their wines at their own locations, but I also discovered a lot more than I would have imagined. All of this will now enrich Lynn Alley’s book, too.  These new experiences becomes part and parcel of what I understand and recommend to lots of other people in the future, who will ask where to go in wine country. August Briggs, Vincent Arroyo, and Rutherford Grove are four paws up (imagine that!) on the recommendation scale.

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