on dogs and wine

January 29, 2008

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There is a silly sort of book out, available in barnes and nobles in every suburb: a big picture book of dogs in the wine country, generally owned by people whose names you might somehow match with wine (like they own the stuff you can’t afford and don’t really care for).

I’ll admit to picking it up and looking at it. I mean, why not? Nobody had a dog cooler than my dog and I decided that the book was kind of stupid, just pictures of dogs, posed, I dunno… who needs a whole big book like that? What’s the point of killing trees to print pictures of dogs?

There’s this thing about dogs and wine that keeps popping up. A weird sort-of thing. Whaddya call it? A thing. no. A congruence?  A confluence?  A commonality between the myths?

Whatever– you remember that movie Mondo Vino? There’s this funny subplot to the movie: almost everyone that’s interviewed has a dog. There’s all these mad wine people with dogs that suited their personalities, like that Monsiour Parker has a flatulent, slobbery bulldog.

I’ve got a young pup of a sheepdog, a bunny killer who’s submissive to bigger dogs; a ruthless and intelligent herder who just wants to snuggle. What does that say about me?

My dog and I spend a lot of time in the vineyard together. We inspect vineyards, he talks to me while I prune, he chases rabbits and I sing songs. So, you can understand why i think an awful lot about the mystical union of man and dog and man and vines. There’s something about dogs and wine I want for us to explore. You’re cool, right? You’ll understand that there’s a deep sort of connection between dogs and wine that, and if you’ll indulge me a little, I’ll try to explain.

In Greek mythology, the dog is intimately involved in the revelation of wine to mankind. They wed the stories of man’s friendship with the dog into the patterns of stars in the sky. I will tell you exactly 5 of these stories.

1. Sirius

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The brightest star in the sky besides the sun is Sirius, the dog star. The rising of Sirius in the summer months coincides with the rising of the Nile and the blast of scorching summer heat, which they called the dog days.

Sirius is a set of two stars that orbit each other in a helical pattern and is drawn into Canis Major, one of Ptolemy’s original 48 constellations.

The ancient writers like Columella and Pliny the Elder wrote about the timing of the grape harvest taking place on a certain time after the appearance of Sirius

in Roman times, The rising of Sirius brought the Robigo, an annual festival set to placate some goddess or god that brought mildew and rust to the crops. To keep the deadly goddess happy, they’d slaughter a goat and a puppy at her altar.

2. Canis Major

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Canis Major is a collection of stars that includes Sirius that kind of, sort of, looks like a dog. It is referred to by Homer and Hesiod as the hunting dog of Orion. The chinese call it the Celestial wolf god, I guess, and other folks do too. it’s this weird commonality in the mythology of disparate people in the world: that Sirius is a dog star, that the stars surround it form a large dog in the sky.

(Orion is the mighty hunter in the sky, chasing the big bear Ursa Major)

3. Canis Minor

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Canis Minor is another small constellation that’s supposed to be a dog. It dates back to Ptolemy too. I guess it’s supposed to be Orion’s second dog. I don’t know. It looks just like a couple of stars to me.

4. Bootes

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Bootes is a cool constellation. This little collection of stars was referred to by its name as early ago as Homer. Some folks think it might be the oldest of the constellations, whatever that means. Bootes is said to be a herdsman in the sky. Maybe he invented the plow, you know?

In another story, Bootes represents the story of Icarius, a simple sort of guy who lived in the countryside near Athens with his daughter and his dog. Dionysos visited him and bestowed upon him the secrets of grape growing and winemaking. Icarius being a cool dude, he shared this new wine with some dumbass shepherds, who upon getting drunk killed him and buried him somewhere. His daughter found the body with the help of the dog, and Dionysos placed the three of them in the sky. Icarius as Bootes, his daughter as Virgo, his dog as Sirius.

Sophocles wrote a play about it. It got lost.

5. The curious case of the Ozolians

So, if you’re not familiar with that guy Pausanias, it’s okay. You don’t have to be. He was like this wannabe Greek in Roman times-around 100 AD. He traveled around Greece and wrote about what he saw for all the other Greek wannabes. He told another story of dogs and wine.

In Phokis, near the border of Laconia, a few villages called themselves the Ozoi-a play on the word for branches. These branch people had a few stories why they called themselves as such, one of which is an alternate dog-based revelation of wine. Orestheus, a son of Deukalion (the Greek Noah), had a dog.  One day the dog gave birth or puked up a stick, which her owner then planted or buried and it grew to become a fruit-bearing vine. The vine had a bunch of branches, you see?

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So there you have it. 5 stories about wine and dogs from way back when everyone worth a damn spoke Greek. They told stories about wine and dogs but they never really said why. They never explained the linkage between the two.

My guess? I don’t know. Around the vineyards, I see a lot of coyote shit that looks like the coyotes are eating a lot of grapes. My dog likes to roll around in it. Maybe it’s just a bunch of bullshit.

But, I think its just that the two things–dogs and wine– are so elemental to the existence of homo sapiens that the two things can’t be divided. The dog was the first animal to which the human bonded, and the vine was what I believe to be the first plant to seduce us into settled life. Just like drinking wine, or pruning a vine, to be a human with a dog is to participate in the most ancient of acts. Without the dog, we’d never have made it so far as to wander northwards into the snow and find the grapevine surviving the age of ice, clinging to an oak tree.

Today, one of the people I work with that I guess is supposed to be one of my bosses or something told somebody to tell somebody that I’d have to leave my dog in my goddamn truck while in the vineyard.  It was the singlemost stupidest thing i’d heard in a while, the boss person just making up rules on the spot, trying to feel important or something.  They do that, you know, those sunsabitches: they see universal truths and try to erase them. Out in the country, up in the mountains at night, you can still see the dogs in the sky chasing bears, finding wine.  You’ll always be able to, you know.  The sunsabitches can’t do a goddamn thing about that.

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5 Responses to “on dogs and wine”

  1. william Says:

    what about: animals co-walkers as the intermediaries between human consciousness and that of the plant-realm elementals?

    I dig and share you shamanic connection to canines and vines!

  2. winefarmer Says:

    Thanks, man!

    More to think about.

    -R

  3. goodbear Says:

    such good references! but could it be simply…dog people are good people and wine people are good people?
    orrr…the dog is the ultimate animal, and a vine the ultimate plant.

    you’ve got a good blog…

  4. Jane Mundy Says:

    I agree. Took my two Jack Russells to the Okanagan last year and our best time was 5am, running through the vineyards before we got caught.

  5. rodney Says:

    Which hemisphere fella?
    I’m in South Africa. We have a very bright star in the East. Can’t find its name 😦


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