The Dogged Pursuit of Wine
“Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance,” according to Benjamin Franklin. You could say the same about dogs. Better yet, add “pets” and it’s quite possible you’ve got yourself the perfect pairing.
With good wines and beloved pets in mind, Four Brix Winery in Ventura and Cani Amante Vineyard in Ojai have partnered to benefit Ventura County’s best friends in need. A portion of the proceeds from each bottle of wine made with grapes from Cani Amante and sold by Four Brix supports the Ventura County Animal Services no-kill animal shelter in Camarillo via its nonprofit arm.
Cani Amante loosely translates to “dog lovers” in Italian. The vineyard’s owners, Debbie and Ed Guerra, have been longtime supporters of rescue programs for animals, especially dogs.
“We specifically use the funds from Four Brix for the Fly Me Home program, where we pay for animals to fly across the country, which takes animals from our shelter and places them into other communities where they’re quickly adopted,” says Tara Diller, director of Ventura County Animal Services.
The winery also donates wine boxes used as hidey boxes for cats in the shelter and proceeds from previous events held at the winery furnish the music that’s piped into the cat, dog and small-animal rooms at the facility. Music reduces the animals’ stress while they’re in the shelter, says Diller.
The partnership came about when one of Four Brix’s partners, who had been overseeing public health and animal services for Ventura County, connected them with the foundation.
“We certainly hope it makes a difference over time,” says Karen Stewart, co-owner of Four Brix, which also hosts an annual pet adoption at the winery.
“So many people are animal lovers, whether you have one or not. There are so many worthwhile organizations, but this was just a natural fit, because it’s called Cani Amante and it’s related to animals.”
The Guerras planted the first vines on a small portion of the 38- acre Ojai parcel in 2010. Four years later, they leased 7½ acres to Four Brix. Currently, 4½ acres are planted and managed by Martín Ramirez, owner of Vineyards of Ojai.
Cani Amante is a private property, but is bisected by a public hiking trail. A number of people who know the area well have told Stewart they’re thrilled to taste the wine that comes from the grapes grown on the land they care so much about.
“It’s fun because I’ve run into people who have come to us and said, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so excited to finally get some wine—I’ve been hiking it for years, saw the vines being planted,’” says Stewart. “They’ve felt like a part of it.”
Four Brix had been using just one Italian grape varietal out of Paso Robles, but were seeking more Italian varietals and encountering some difficulty in finding quality grapes. With Cani Amante, they found what they were looking for in Nebbiolo, Barbera, Sangiovese and Montepulciano grapes. “Block 4” is a blend of Bordeaux grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.
Four Brix also makes a dry Riesling from white grapes grown at the Ojai vineyard. Most Cani Amante wines are only available to Four Brix wine club members, and sell out. The good news is that if you’re not a club member, you can still get the Block 4 and Dry Riesling at the winery. Nebbiolo will also be available to the public, possibly as early as this fall.
The harvest yields a few hundred cases every year—around 400— but it’s growing through the combination of more water and the vines maturing, says Stewart.
For everyone involved, it’s of the utmost importance that the land is treated with care. While not certified organic, the vineyard uses no pesticides or non-organic material, says Stewart.
“I know that a lot of growers out here are the same way with our ag business and so it’s kind of understood that’s how we do it and that’s the way we honor the land,” says Stewart. “What’s really good about grapevines is they don’t take a lot of water. They are on a drip system when needed and we are on wells when a well is available.”
While the roots continue to gain strength, the land carries a touching symbol of fidelity that expresses the meaning behind Cani Amante. The Guerras placed a bronze statue of a dog at the top of the vineyard as homage to their dog Sara, who was a sturdy presence during the clearing of the land and planting of the vines.
“The dog [statue] overlooks the vineyard, bringing us good luck and good fortune in our harvest,” says Stewart. “It’s a good, positive reminder to all of us that she [Sara] is watching over us, taking care of the vineyard.”