Tips from a Dog Rescue Volunteer and Professional Wine Writer
A day spent wine tasting in Sonoma and Napa counties is terrific all on its own. But there’s something extra special when you share the adventure with your best, furry friend.
I’m the proud parent of four wonderful dogs, and I always look forward to spending some one-on-one time with each of them on individual outings (they love feeling like they are an “only dog,” too, while we explore the beautiful scenery that makes up so many of our spectacular wineries). And of course, my dogs are so spectacular, I love getting the extra attention from other wine tasters when I parade them out-and-about (insert grin here).
Many of our Northern California wineries are dog friendly, and some even support local dog rescue programs. Balletto Vineyards, for example, is launching a new partnership with Santa Rosa’s Compassion Without Borders animal shelter for 2023, a project that is near and dear to my heart, since I foster many of their dogs and puppies at my home.
Here are five of my top picks for wineries that not only welcome canine companions, but go the extra mile to treat my “babies” like VIPs – Very Important Puppies.
Balletto Vineyards in Santa Rosa, Sonoma County
Founder and owner John Balletto established Balletto Ranch at the age of just 17, after the untimely death of his father in 1977. It began as a 5-acre vegetable farm with his mother, Hazel.
Today, the Ballettos own more than 700 acres of estate vineyards. Guests and their furry, four-legged companions and invited to explore the beautiful Russian River Valley gardens and self-guided vineyard walks. Then, everyone can relax for al fresco tastings with optional (and highly recommended) cheese plates for nibbling.
The pups are guaranteed to enjoy the day – the winery team offers a water bowl, yummy treats, and notes that the tasting room is just across from the Laguna de Santa Rosa’s expansive walking trails. Mark your and Fido’s calendars, too, for the winery’s Annual Dog Walk in the Vineyards event on August 26, 2023, to celebrate International Dog Day.
Kivelstadt Cellars Wine Garden & Eatery in Sonoma
This elegant hideaway on Highway 12/121 is perfect for humans, with its hip roadhouse setting, tasty wines on tap, craft cocktails, and a creative, expertly crafted menu that rivals a restaurant (yum, a mouthwatering mushroom cubano of house made focaccia piled high with smoked cremini mushrooms, house-made spicy pickles, cabbage, jack cheese, mustard aioli, and crunchy bread and butter pickles).
Fido will be wagging in delight, too, for the sniffable gardens, and his very own selection of chef-made food choices, like basmati rice with seasonal veggies and optional toppings like Skuna Bay salmon or Petaluma chicken.
Ok, and technically, the mortadella corn dogs are on the human menu, but no one will blink if you order a few of those mouthwatering goodies for your pup, too.
Horse and Plow in Sebastopol, Sonoma County
Sebastopol is one of the only places in the world where the sweetly tart heritage Gravenstein apples grow, first planted here in 1811 by Russian settlers. And so this artisanal cidery showcases them in its quaffable art – along with some 35 other apple varieties sourced mainly from within 10 miles of its facility.
Owners Suzanne Hagins and Chris Condos make lovely wine, too – Carignane, Grenache, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir.
Guests can chill on the 2-acre rural property, with its old barn converted into a stylish tasting room featuring a redwood bar and art gallery, chickens roaming outside, and a secret picnic area in a redwood grove. Dogs are welcome – no chasing the chickens – and you can all enjoy an artisanal cheese and charcuterie board, accompanied by live music.
Migration Winery in Napa
How cool is this – the Carneros destination pampers pooches with Barkuterie boards.
Yep, just like it sounds. While mom and dad are sipping Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and sparkling wines, Fifi can be snacking on Migration logo peanut butter biscuits, duck sausages, chicken apple sausage coins, and chicken wrapped sweet potatoes.
It’s really a deal at $10, and you may be tempted to order a board for yourself (though hold out for the available “human” accoutrements including cheese, charcuterie, chocolate and more).
Pine Ridge Vineyards
The Stags Leap winery was founded in 1978, and boasts the more-rare-today hillside, terraced vineyards that produce such exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon. Dogs and their people will enjoy views of the 160-acre property from the pretty terrace, and while the humans sip, the pups can relax noshing treats on a dog cushy bed. Other amenities include expansive caves to wander in, and elaborate charcuterie boards (for people) to indulge in.
When bringing your pup to a winery, please remember to always keep them on a leash, and on the lookout for any canine-worthy attractions. Many estates have their own winery dogs (or cats or chickens or wildlife), and it’s easy for even the best-trained Fido to get overly excited.