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  • A winemaker’s best friends: six dogs and a cat
  • A winemaker’s best friends: six dogs and a cat
  • A winemaker’s best friends: six dogs and a cat
  • A winemaker’s best friends: six dogs and a cat
  • A winemaker’s best friends: six dogs and a cat
  • A winemaker’s best friends: six dogs and a cat
  • A winemaker’s best friends: six dogs and a cat
1. Bárbara Palacios and Merlot 2. Curro and Jesús with their dogs 3. David and Melanie with Shrek and Fiona 4. Juan C. Sancha and Kinga 5. Isolina Florido and Willy 6. Oxer and Ohiu 7. Nini, Fredi Torres‘s cat Photos by Y.O.A., A.C. and producers

Wine & Food

A winemaker’s best friends: six dogs and a cat

Yolanda Ortiz de Arri | August 18th, 2019

This is the second piece of a series devoted this month to the favourite pets of Spanish wine producers. It's mostly about dogs with the exception of Fredi Torres's little feline friend.

Bárbara Palacios and Merlot (Barbarot)

Bárbara Palacios's Golden Retriever is yet another member (albeit an unpaid one) of the project she launched in 2005 with Tempranillo and Merlot vineyards in Haro planted years earlier by her father, Antonio Palacios Muro.
Merlot is a dog with white hair, a calm look and tranquil character that follows Barbara both at home and in the winery and vineyard. "Now he's 12 years old so he's getting on a bit. He takes a pill for his arthritis, but it helps that he’s not fat," says Barbara.

He was also the inspiration for the name of her project, Barbarot, and for the labels of the two wines she makes. "When I released Barbarot, my first wine, I had just bought Merlot who was still small," recalls Barbara. "At first the wine was going to be called Barbaró, but my father suggested Barbarot, for Bárbara and Merlot, and that's how it stayed". He was also the inspirer of the old label in which a girl with a dog appears. "In the current ones, there is only the dog because the girl is no longer a little girl,” says the Rioja winemaker, who bought Merlot in Alfaro, where she was born. Merlot is also featured in Puppy, her second wine. "It represents my latest projects, my new plots, my new babies, really," explains Barbara.

She didn't want to do the paperwork that would certify Merlot's pedigree, but that hasn’t stopped the dog from having the odd fling with other Golden Retrievers. "He was with Arturo De Miguel's dog (Artuke) but they didn't like each other. It seems there was no feeling between them," jokes Barbara. "I would have loved him to father a puppy, but it wasn't meant to be.”

Curro Barreño, Jesús Olivares and partners, all #doglovers (Fedellos de Couto)

These young, dynamic producers have a passion for wine and dogs. Perhaps it is not a mere coincidence that their partners in different wine projects across the country share this trait with them.   

Luis Taboada, their partner at Fedellos de Couto in Ribeira Sacra, used to own a mastiff and now has what Curro describes as a “huge puppy” called Ron, a cross between German Shepherd and Mastiff. Their new partners in Gredos (the first wines were released in the 2017 vintage), Victoria Serrano and Paolo Armando, have a cute poodle called Ginger. For the time being, the group are using the facilities of Ca’ di Mat whose winemaker Javi Tenorio has his own four-legged friends: Tofu and Lur.

The cute picture above was taken during a visit to Valdeorras last year. I wanted to find out more about Peixes, their new project in the village of Viana do Bolo whose vineyards lie outside of the boundaries of the appellation. Lupo, Curro’s six-year-old Border Collie, and Vago (lazy in English), Jesús’s robust Labrador Retriever, get along just fine and are used to hanging around vineyards and wineries. Both go with their masters everywhere unless Curro or Jesús have a plane to catch or during the harvest, the busiest moment of the year with little time to watch them out properly.

What would a master do for his dog? Curro and Jesús were working down a ravine as they were pruning one of their most beautiful vineyards in the Bibei valley on the edge of a ridge. A devastating frost had severely damaged the vines and they were piling the broken blocks of wood, but one trunk rolled down the cliff and Lupo, with his retriever instinct, fell into the void. Luckily, some trees stopped the fall. “It took us a long time to get him out of there,” Curro recalls. “We both had to go down, grab Lupo and pass him to each other all the way up. We were lucky it wasn't Vago. He is much heavier and we might not have been able to rescue him.”  A.C.

David Sampedro and Melanie Hickman and Shrek y Fiona (Bodegas Bhilar)

Dogs, chickens, horses, a colony of bees and a cat are the animals that live on the estate and the vineyards of this couple of grape growers and producers in Elvillar, Rioja Alavesa. Melanie, an animal lover, even dreams of having more ("a goat, a couple of sheep to take care of the vineyard... Perhaps when the children are older").

The first was Kitty, a well-traveled cat who arrived with Melanie from Hawaii and still lives in the family home next to the winery. The next to join the family home was Keko, a quiet, gentle American Stafford who followed his owner everywhere and died last winter. He was probably deeply grateful to Melanie, who adopted him in the animal shelter in Vitoria after years of neglect. "If you treat them well, they are incredible. There are no dangerous breeds; these dogs just have to be in the right hands," Melanie explains.

A few weeks before Keko died, David brought Cane Corso siblings, Fiona and Shrek, to guard the estate. Fiona was meant to come alone, but David arrived with two because Shrek, of delicate health, was going to be sacrificed. "I always prefer to adopt, but when I saw Shrek it felt as if I had adopted him. Now they both guard the property, but they also keep me company and are good with the kids. In the summer they are with me in the office, where it's cooler."

The estate is also home to a colony of bees —from which they soon expect to collect honey— and eight Castilian and Basque hens. "They lay their eggs all over the property because they are more independent and rustic than traditional farm breeds," Melanie adds. The two horses are owned by Alfred Ferris but live in a stable next to Hapa vineyard, on the foothills of the Sierra Cantabria mountains. "We don't work with tractors; it's the horses, pulled by Alfred, who help us to plough and do the work in the vineyard.” 

Juan Carlos Sancha and Kinga (Bodegas Juan Carlos Sancha) 

Strongly boned and even-tempered, Kinga is a Caucasian Shepherdess of about ten years of age adopted in the municipal kennel of Logroño. "A friend told us that Kinga would be sacrificed the next day so we rushed to get her," recalls Juan Carlos Sancha. "It seems that the previous owners didn't want a big dog.” 

Kinga, who arrived at Sancha's house with that name, has been living for five years on the estate that the winemaker owns in Baños de Río Tobia, in Rioja Alta. When Kinga came to live with the Sancha's, she was fitted with an electric collar so she wouldn't leave the premises. Now she freely moves around the 30,000m2 of land between the river, the family home, the winery and the vineyards. "She is most comfortable in winter, reclined on a slab of ice. In summer she is always looking for shade," says Sancha.

Luckily for the Rioja producer, Kinga does not like to eat grapes, but prefers fodder and leftovers from what the Sanchas eat at home. “It's impressive to see her grind the bone of a ham. I don't know how many kilos of food she eats each day, but a lot.” 

Kinga weighs about 40 kg but she is very good and affectionate. “She is always vigilant to see who comes and goes. She barks and is rather assertive when she has to, but she has never been aggressive towards anyone.”

Isolina Florido and her dog Willy (Finca El Armijo)

Since her childhood, Isolina Florido always remembers having animals in El Armijo, the family estate on the outskirts of Sanlúcar. Daughter of Gaspar Florido, a visionary producer who took pride in the quality of his vineyards and wines, Isolina can't conceive her life without her dogs and her horse Armijo, which is the favourite animal of her two children, both keen horse riders.

A professional farmer and winegrower, Isolina is always accompanied by Willy, an Andalusian Bodeguero, similar to a Jack Russell terrier. Willy is bigger than other dogs of this breed and meant to be with beasts. "He was born in Seville, is three years old and comes from a stud farm of Spanish horses,” explains Isolina. Willy has a four-year-old brother named Casper who lives next door. "The Andalusian Bodeguero dogs are very good to have in the cellars and country houses because they hunt rats and mice that hide between casks,” adds the owner of Finca El Armijo.

Although it is Willy who appears in the picture, Isolina's faithful companion during her day-to-day life in El Armijo is Otto, her wire-haired dachshund. "He's my secretary,” says Isolina. "He follows me everywhere, despite having a problem with his spine and having trouble climbing the stairs to my office."

Oxer Bastegieta and Ohiu 

Ohio is a Newfoundland male whose owner, Oxer Bastegieta, describes as “70 kg worth of love and drool”. The young Basque producer is based in Laguardia (Rioja Alavesa) but beyond his highly personal, interesting riojas, he also makes txakoli in his village in Bizkaia. “Ohiu in Basque means scream, but I really chose the name because I was looking for a short name that I liked.”

Although this dog breed originates from Canada, Oxer likes to tell a story that says that these dogs come from the mastiffs that Basque fishermen took with them on their boats.  What’s clear though is that Ohiu loves the water. “He jumps into every puddle he finds, regardless of size, purpose or cleanliness. Sometimes tourists end up taking pictures of him instead of photographing historic buildings.”

According to Bastegieta, Ohiu is the guardian of the vineyard and the place, but from time to time likes to eat grapes. His preferences are pretty clear: he loves Garnacha, both red and white. A.C.

Fredi Torres and Nini

Born in Galicia but raised in Switzerland, Fredi Torres is an exception when it comes to his favourite pet. His companion is a pretty cat (see the photo above, taken from Fredi’s Instagram account) who lives with him in his apartment in Gratallops (Priorat).

For Torres she is much more than a cat. “I picked her up in the street when she was not even two months old. She makes me more than happy and I can't imagine life without her”, says the prolific producer who makes wine in Priorat, Montsant, La Conca de Barberà, Ribeira Sacra and Switzerland. That's why he never spends more than five to six days away from home.

I can attest that the affection is reciprocal. When I visited Fredi a few years ago in Priorat, Nini subjected me to a thorough inspection and then marked her ground. Although I am more familiar with the behaviour of dogs than cats, Nini made perfectly clear that she was the sole and undisputed female presence in the household. A.C.

Additional reporting by Amaya Cervera. 

Photos by Yolanda Ortiz de Arri, Amaya Cervera and sent by the producers.

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