Thursday, March 13, 2014

Virginia Wineries Proudly Going to the Dogs

Dogs and vineyards are made for each other. Just look at the number of coffee table photograph books devoted to winery dogs - especially Virginia wine dogs. Dogs serve a function both inside the tasting room, and in the vineyards. In the tasting room, they greet guests with tails wagging and affection, and then of course show up when any guest takes a seat and pops open a bottle, and brings out the baguette and cheese or meat, or crackers, or cupcakes (we suspect the resident canines are not very interested in the vino....)

Most breeds of dogs are people pleasers, and love to be in the center of the action, which makes a busy tasting room a happy home. In the vineyards, they keep deer, foxes, crows and even bears away from the grapes. You would be hard pressed to find a winery in the Commonwealth that isn't ruled by a dog or two (or three, or four). And many locations also welcome guests to bring their dogs along - leashed, or even unleashed.

The Notebook has many favorite dog day wineries. Because dogs are such a mainstay at so many wineries, we'll narrow our favorites to five. These locations not only have memorable dogs, they actively encourage folks to bring their favorite pets along. And some have built the dog theme into the promotion of their wines.

5. Reynard Florence Vineyard (north of Charlottesville)

One of the newer wineries in the Monticello AVA, Reynard Florence is home to several surprising twists on the usually too sweet (for our palates) Petit Manseng. Another unusual (for Virginia) red found here is Grenache, a hearty bold varietal popular in Argentina and Chile. Most likely visitors will be welcomed by Ray, the corgi. Ray will hang around your feet during the entire tasting process, hoping for a taste of the wine, or better yet, a palate cleansing biscuit you may drop (by accident, or on purpose).

We were completely knocked out by our tasting experience here late last year; the wines are beautiful and the views of the foothills are what you come to expect in this area of the state. We can't wait to return in warmer weather and hang out with the owners, and Ray of course, again.

4. Unicorn Winery (west of Warrenton)

The resident dog at Unicorn is Franc, named after one of Virginia's most popular varietals. A standard schnauzer, Franc is mellow and quiet; unusual for one of the blogmasters used to the more hyperactive behavior of the terriers. Franc has been won best in breed in local dog shows and it's easy to see why. He exudes class, like the wines at Unicorn.

If you bring your own dog to Unicorn, there is ample room to let him run free. Walk down the hill and experience the narrowest sections of the Rappahannock River. Your dog will love jumping around in the river while you toast the day with a bottle of Unicorn Meritage, our favorite wine here.

3. Sharp Rock Vineyards (near Sperryville)

Another winery with lots of open space, perfect for dogs (leashed or unleashed), is another one of our favorites in the state: Sharp Rock, on the edge of Skyline Drive (you can see Old Rag Mountain from the property). Like Unicorn, the winery borders a river (the Hughes River in this case, which flows into the Shenandoah), and some visitors have taken to fly fishing while imbibing in Jimm and Kathy's wonderful creations (our current favorite is their Rosé Noir).

An entire page of their website is dedicated to their dogs, some sadly having passed. But there are always four legged friends to be found romping around the fields here.

2. Chateau Morrisette Winery (off Blue Ridge Parkway near Floyd)

If you've picked up a bottle of Chateau Morrisette wine at Whole Foods or Harris Teeter (they are mass producer; one of the biggest wineries in the state), you will be familiar with the dog motif on the bottle. This is the original dog winery in Virginia; they have been crafting their canine-themed wines since 1982. Being situated a few steps away from the Blue Ridge Parkway guarantees a great view. And despite the vastness of the property and tasting room, every guest is treated like a member of the family here.

The owners call the location "The Winery that Dogs Built." Proceeds from the sales of certain bottles of their mass produced wine goes to animal rescue foundations. So you're imbibing in a good cause here. Their dog history is outlined on a dedicated page of their website:

1. Barrel Oak Winery (Delaplane)

Those who've been to Barrel Oak Winery (or as they like to be called, BOW) will agree: There is no bigger dog fanatical winery in the state. Chateau Morrisette paved the way for the dog theme and BOW takes it to the hilt. Three of their resident dogs (Birch, Justice, and Peanut) actually serve as "avatar tourguides" of their website. And since our last visit, two new four legged buddies have entered the scene: Shell and Simba. Apparently none of the resident pups have issues with sharing their lair with the hundreds of dogs that visit BOW every week (sometimes all during the weekend).


Regardless of season, every weekend is a party here, and owner Brian Roeder is usually in the tasting room, making a point to say hi to every visitor, regardless of how busy they are. Our favorite season has to be summer - they are one of the few wineries open until 9 PM on Friday and Saturday night during the summer. Imagine being at a mini Wolf Trap, with emphasis on wine over music (although music is always in the air, audibly and visually confined to the property, whether an excellent local band or an iPod with a great mix of classic), and you have the general idea. And dogs, dogs, dogs.....everywhere.


A responsible dog owner will know whether her dog is fit for a social environment at BOW, or any of the canine-friendly wineries in Virginia. So most likely, the dogs (whether heeling or running free) at a winery will be friendly. It's damn near impossible to leave BOW without a big smile on your face. And the wine isn't too shabby either, our favorites being their Norton and the table Bowhaus Red.

We hope you take a cue from these animal loving locations and visit Reynard Florence, Unicorn, Sharp Rock, Chateau Morrisette or Barrel Oak this weekend.

And be sure to check out the top Virginia winery cats! Click here for the cats.

What's your favorite dog day winery?

Friday, March 7, 2014

Vino Movies: Take II

Time to put the bottle down for a few moments and put on our critics hats again. Last November we unveiled #5 in our list of Top Five Wine Movies. On to #4...


As the case with selection #5, this is not a movie most people think of when they ponder great wine flicks. But since the action during one the most suspenseful moments in the film is set in a wine cellar, we had to include it. Long considered to be one of Hitchcock's greatest films, the 1946 Ingrid Bergman/Cary Grant post WWII set thriller has aged beautifully. We're not sure how one of the villain's 1934 bottles of wine would taste now, but in 2014 a slow-paced romantic thriller where the sexual tension is implied, not explicit, is most welcome.

Grant turns in a fairly uncharacteristic performance, but his humorless take on the American agent in charge of protecting the daughter of a Nazi sympathizer in Rio proved he was one of the finest actors of the classic era of Hollywood. If you're most familiar with Bergman in Casablanca, you will be surprised with her role as a wealthy, drunken, initially unappealing party girl. But with Grant in the picture, you know what will ultimately happen between these two. He may be stone-faced serious in this film, but he's still Cary Grant. Claude Rains plays the main villain of the piece, treading a fine line between despicable and somewhat sympathetic as his feelings for Bergman's Alicia are genuine.

The aforementioned wine cellar sequence makes this a great wine movie, although you don't see a bottle come out until 30 minutes into the story (Alicia's drink of choice is scotch and soda). Without giving too much away of the sequence, the wine bottle of interest contains something curious that is not exactly wine, and some have argued that it's the famous Hitchcock MacGuffin of the movie.

Notorious does not have the slick Hollywood gloss of Hitchcock's '50s classics, like Rear Window and Vertigo; being a product of RKO Studios, the Hollywood studio known more for its gritty film noirs than pure Hollywood color slickness, gives the film its edge. It is the quintessential Hitchcock thriller for a cold winter night. Pop a bottle of VAVINO (or Korbel), and enjoy.

Clip from Notorious:

And if you missed our #5 choice in our Top 5 Vino Movie list, click here for a recap.