Vail Wine Ink column: Wines, vines and dogs just go together like corks and bottles
UNDER THE INFLUENCE
Dunham Cellars 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon XIX — This month, the 19th release of this flagship wine from Dunham Cellars took a Best of Show (yes, I like the dog show phrase) at the Great Northwest Invitational in Hood River, Oregon, a tasting that is judged by many of the region’s top tasters. It is noted that this wine will cellar well and will drink great in 10 to 15 years, or about the time my next pup reaches his or her zenith.
For 482 consecutive weeks, this column has closed with a notation stating that the author — that would be me — “lives in the soon-to-be designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife Linda and a black Lab named Vino.”
Well, with sadness, that is no more.
While Old Snowmass still awaits its designation as an appellation and, fortunately, my wife remains by my side, this past week our wine dog, Vino, moved along to what we hope is his eternity in a forever-fertile vineyard. Though he never set paw in the dirt of an actual vineyard during his time on this earth, he was a wine dog all the same. Many a night he sat near me as I tasted wines from around the world, and many a morn he dropped his large head on crossed paws and snoozed beneath the table where I pecked out those 482 stories on my computer keyboard.
It is sad, of course, but that is just how it is with dogs. Like the changing seasons, their lives are fleeting. It got me to thinking about all the wineries I have visited and how, nearly always, there is a wine dog in residence. Wines, vines and dogs just go together like corks and bottles.
So I sent out a missive and asked some folks who have wineries to send me photos of their dogs. And I got a bunch. In fact, a whole pack of wine dogs from all over the world came charging in via jpgs and pdfs. And for me, the images, but more importantly the sentiment behind the images, were as comforting as a glass of fortified Port.
Which, of course, reminded me of my favorite wine dog story. One that I first learned of back in 2007, the first year of this column.
THREE LEGGED RED
I was in Seattle staying at the W Hotel for a football game. As Wine Ink was in its infancy, just 44 columns in, anything that had to do with wine grabbed my attention. One morning, as I stood at the front desk of the hotel, a man came in carrying a box of wine with a leash-less, three-legged border collie by his side. I had to ask …
The man was Eric Dunham, and he generously took the time to explain that he made wine in Walla-Walla in eastern Washington. He was there to pour for a number of sommeliers and wine-shop owners. The box had a photo of the aforementioned dog and a label that identified the wine as “Dunham Cellars Three Legged Red.” It seems during the summer of ’94, he was awakened in the wee hours by the sounds of a dogfight. Or more accurately, a dog mugging. A pit bull had attacked a border collie pup and mauled him to within an inch of his life, even taking a leg from the dog’s starboard side. Dunham scooped up the pup and rushed him to the vet, where he was saved from certain death.
He named the dog Port, because he had two good legs on his left side. Dunham and Port became constant companions and best friends. But there was, as they say, the rest of the story. Dunham made a decision to make an affordable red wine from, you guessed it, three grapes (cabernet sauvignon, merlot and Syrah) and name it after Port. “Three Legged Red,” with its picture of Port, became an iconic Washington wine. The current release received a 90-point rating from Wine Enthusiast.
Both Port and Dunham are gone now, but their collaboration lives on and Dunham Cellars celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. They make exceptional single-vineyard and single-varietal wines but still produce the fabled “Three Legged Red.” And, appropriately, they also make a limited release Riesling under the moniker “Four Legged White,” named for the current wine dog, Maysy.
Not all of the wine dogs who came through my limited bandwidth have gone on to become great brands. But for all of the winemakers who sent photos, there is a bond, a strong connection with their wine dogs that is priceless.
They are up early during harvest, greet guests as they come to the tasting rooms, bark at the birds as they pick at the grapes and just lie on the cool floors of the wineries during the hot days in the growing season. But most importantly, from puppyhood to old age, they simply bring good energy.
Like a great bottle of wine, a good dog may come into your life, provide exquisite pleasure and then, like that, be gone. Savor the memories.
And please raise a toast to my wine dog, Vino. Sante.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda. He can be reached at email@example.com.