Napa Valley: February 2006 Archives

Or, we could also call this blog: Hair of the Wine Dog

By M.L. Hilton

(NAPA) -- It’s an old southern expression and one I have invoked on a number of fabulous Wine Country dinner occasions. After a magnificent meal, you skooch your chair back a hair from the table, place your hands on your now protruding belly and declare in your best drawl: I do believe I have a serious case of puppy belly going on.

Wine dinners aside, real puppy bellies – in the form of assorted varieties of canines -- can be found at almost every winery in the world. It is this symbiosis that Craig McGill has set out to document.

Craig produced in 2004 a pictorial on the dogs of Australasian wineries. This book became a best seller and spawned several new editions. He, and cohort Peter Herring, were in Napa Valley late February scouting wineries and locations for their next book – Wine Dogs USA, the dogs of North American Wineries. The book will focus on about 10 states, covering parts of California, Oregon, Washington, Virginia, New York, and Michigan.

As part of his research, Craig came with a full compliment of dog toys and dog treats to help entice his next book subjects. Arriving from Australia, McGill was stopped in customs when the drug beagles smelled the goodies and “alerted” their handlers to the contraband.

Craig and Peter wine tasted, made inquiries, and traveled the Valley for a week before moving on to Sonoma and heading south for additional California wine countries. I ran into the guys their second night “in country.” We were bar mates, enjoying dinner in downtown Napa at Tuscany. After hearing their story, I invited myself along (to invoke another southern phrase) to see if “that dog could hunt.” After all the garlic flatbread I ate, I am surprised they let me trot along. (No jokes here about dog breath.)

At Domain Chandon in Yountville the next morning, Craig and Peter were charmed by the squirrels which they don’t have in Australia. A humming bird was also sighted through the picture window behind the tasting bar, prompting them to remark that they have insects in Australia that are bigger than the delicate bird.

We also stopped at the newly re-named Rubicon Estate (previously Niebaum Coppola). We tasted our way through five wines, and made purchases in the elegant tasting room, after confirming that the lovely Sofia was a dog-owner.

Our day together ended at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars which is well know for cabernets, and historically significant in that their 1973 S.L.V. Cabernet bested French wine in a now famous blind tasting in Paris 30 years ago. We hoped to catch a glimpse of Warren Winiarski with his dogs in tow, but even though he still works almost every day, we missed a hookup. We had to make due tasting wine at the wine bar and making plans to come back.

Craig undertook the book as an amusing project that combined his love of wine and dogs. He and his wife currently live in Sydney with three huskies. When asked the main differences in Australian wines and what they were tasking in Napa, Peter said: “It is a completely different world of flavor. You have to forget what you know and start again.”

The book -- started for fun -- sold more than 20,000 copies in Australia. In addition to the USA book, they are planning on publishing books on France and South Africa.

Wine Dogs USA will be available for purchase online at in September 2006. McGill will be back in Northern California in April for the photography shoots.

A Napa Valley only winery dog book was recently published, and is also available online. Check out The local book has no affiliation with the McGill’s indie publishing company, Giant Dog.