Dog Run

Vineyards benefit from four-legged guardians.

Virginia vineyards face a serious threat: Nature’s predators lurk, waiting to pluck profits from the vine just as tender buds emerge. Technology has failed to stop them, but there is one creature that can drive away the beasts. His friends call him Jughead.

An ebullient, brown, short-haired Walker hound who can instantly tell which visitors have treats in their pockets, Jughead defends Irvington’s Dog and Oyster Vineyard from hungry deer, which can doom a year’s harvest by eating buds and new spring growth.

“Deer like wine because they have a sweet tooth,” says Dudley Patteson, who with his wife, Peggy, owns the vineyard and the adjoining Hope & Glory Inn.

Jughead is one of seven dogs that the vineyard fosters or has adopted through the Animal Welfare League. Inspired by a 2005 Cornell University study showing that the presence of dogs kept deer out of orchards, the vineyard began using the dogs to protect the grapes from deer and other pests.

Does it work? “Oh, gosh yes,” says Patteson. “They do a very effective job.”

Most vineyards use deer fences, but Paul and Katie Krop of Good Luck Cellars in Kilmarnock once lost a third of their grapes to deer that jumped over their fence. Now their pack of 13 dogs, mainly Walker hounds, keeps deer far away.

“They’re also great with the raccoons, turkeys, skunks and possums. They’re not so hot at keeping the songbirds away,” says Katie. As a result, the vineyard has to net once the grapes begin to change color—“when the reds turn from green to red and the whites turn from hard white-green to yellowish,” she says. 

Jughead, an American Walker Hound, patrols the Dog and Oyster Vineyard in Irvington.

Photo courtesy of Dudley Patteson

The dogs roam freely within their invisible fence, lounge in the shade, and race out of their deluxe doghouses to greet customers holding treats from the tasting room jar.

Magnum, the senior dog of the bunch, and quite a character according to Katie, takes a more leisurely approach to his duties. While the young hounds tear off after deer, Magnum “is more plompf plompf.” 

Vineyard dogs serve another purpose–public relations. Noble, the current resident black lab at Chateau Morrisette in Floyd (who is “a love,” says the winery’s director of marketing Keith Toler), keeps alive the memory of Hans, the black lab that owner David Morrisette claims helped him start the winery and whose picture is featured on its labels.

Noble is joined by the owner’s other dogs, Barnabus, a Newfoundland, and Caesar, a Great Pyrenees. “They come to all the parties,” says Toler. “Noble wore a Santa hat to the Christmas party.”

Many employees bring their dogs to work—including a stylish Shih Tzu who wears a different outfit each day.

Says Toler, “Dogs and vineyards just seem to go together.”,

Enjoy these upcoming vineyard events:

Feb. 5 at 1 p.m.: Crowd favorite David DaVol performs on the dog-friendly patio at Barrel Oak Winery, Delaplane. Free.

Feb. 11-12: Enjoy chocolate desserts and Gray Ghost’s gold-medal winning red wines at the 23rd annual “Irresistible Chocolates and Cabernet” event. Admission: $25, includes limited edition Valentine’s Day glass. Amissville.

Feb. 14: And they call it, “Puppy Love Valentine’s Dinner”—a three-course, prix fixe menu prepared by Chef Mitchell Sheppard and his team. Chateau Morrisette, Floyd.

Feb. 18-20: Cherry tree chopper or not, celebrate Presidents Day weekend on the “Wine and Cherries Trail.” Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula vineyards pair wines and cherry treats.

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