Next time you kick-back with your favorite glass of vino give a shout to a pioneering group of Golden Retrievers in America's winemaking capital, Napa Valley. Because in the U.S. where wine outsells coffee and ice cream, these ace-detective canines do a lot more than fetch Frisbees beneath the glimmering sun.
California produces 95% of all U.S. wine exports and wine grapes are the Golden State's #1 finished agricultural crop. They add $51 billion to the state's bottom-line and help to keep California the 7th largest economy in the world. Plus, California's world-class vintners bring-in an additional $125 billion of ching-ching to our national coffers. But there's a nasty blight on this rosy picture.
Winemaking regions across Europe, South Africa, New Zealand, and California alike are under siege by alien armies of highly destructive Mealy bugs. The speck-like, sticky white pests can enter vineyards on nursery rootstock, farm equipment, or even in blow in on the wind. Once they've infiltrated, they burrow under leaves and in underground roots. They're hard to detect, expensive to eradicate, breed rapidly and spread a crop-destroying virus that has cost California tens of thousands of wine-growing acres, and tens of millions of dollars.
And not only is the use of pesticides expensive, it is the lease desirable option with consumers, winery neighbors, and vintners alike. Environmental pragmatics dictate sustainably grown crops.
Faced with this formidable brewsky, a consortium of Napa Valley wine-makers decided that since female Mealys exude sex-hormones, then dog breeds that sniff out drugs and bombs might likely detect initial vineyard infestations, which could then be destroyed before healthy plants were threatened, too.
Thirty winemakers pitched in on the $33,000 tab--a fracion of the millions spent every year for Mealy bug preventative herbicides--and the Assistance Dog Institute in Santa Rosa put a group of pups through their paces.
The institute trained a litter of two-month old Goldens by acclimating them to the artificially produced scent of female Mealy pheromones hoping that once in the fields the doggies would go right to the eau de pest parfume.
The dogs were soon zeroing-in on vineyard infestations with resounding accuracy. The hope of many vintners is that this inexpensive, and eco-friendly method of protecting the goldmine crop will soon be a howling success throughout the state's wine-producing regions.
And with the Golden Retriever's notable sense and scents-ability, and wine's taste tied to its fragrance, perhaps our furry friends could also make 5-Star sommeliers. Not only could they quickly retrieve the best among the over 10,000 available wine labels, they'd do so with a wag of the tail and in return would expect only a loving pat. I'll drink to that.