When Colleen M. Berg started feeding a stray cat years ago, she had no idea he would one day become the “winery cat” for the Virginia winery she co-owns, Fabbioli Cellars. Instead, she was simply trying to earn his trust. After about a year of building a relationship, she noticed he had injured his leg.
“It was December, and he was going to go through another winter outdoors when he hurt his leg and I caught him,” Colleen said. “I took him to the emergency vet and slowly through the years since he has come to trust us.” The cat — now named Warren — has come to be part of the Fabbioli Cellars family. Colleen’s veterinarian estimates that Warren is approximately 12 at this point. “It was a big sign of how far he has come when he falls asleep on his back.”
Warren also now has a buddy, Goldie. Together Warren and Goldie have made themselves celebrities at the winery. They are popular with customers and employees alike. “They visit the customers in the tasting room and in the picnic areas,” Colleen said. “Also, they greet the employees when they arrive and love to watch the activity in the winery especially when we bottle. But mostly they take naps … in their home, in the tasting room, out in the sunshine.”
Across the United States in California, Jezebel plays a similar role at Rancho Sisquoc Winery. “She is a celebrity here and quite photogenic,” said tasting room manager Becki Rodriguez. “She has a fan club. We have people who ask about her on a daily basis, and we had one wine club member paint a picture of her.”
Cats making their homes at wineries appears to be a good fit for all. Forgotten Felines of Sonoma County has found big success with adopting out cats to wineries.
“Callers have told me about rats and mice in their wineries and warehouses and how they leave their droppings behind right next to the barrels,” said Stephanie Schreiber, wine county barn cat coordinator. “They have great concern for sanitation and cleanliness and want to deal with their rodent problem without poison, for obvious reasons. One grape growers’ warehouse had a problem with mice chewing through the bags of the mustard seed that they plant between the rows of vines. The cat I brought him took care of that problem very quickly! Sometimes the person is seeking a cat simply for rodent control. He hunts but hides from people most of the time. Other folks enjoy getting a friendly, outgoing cat that they can interact with and may even greet their visitors!”
That’s exactly the situation with Rancho Sisquoc and Fabbioli. The cats roam the property, live well, hunt if they choose and have turned themselves into winery ambassadors. “We always say Jezebel works the night shift here!” Becki said. “She knows she has the best life ever. She greets the guests as they arrive to the winery. During the warmer months you can find Jezebel outside on the picnic ground basking in the sun. In the colder months she is curled up in a favorite spot next to the heater.”
Likewise with Warren and Goldie, who get the run of the property and any of the buildings. “They usually sleep on one of our beds or on the couch,” Colleen said. “They eat cat food and get snacks … neither really like people food. Warren is still a hunter. He had to fend for himself before we got him, but we don’t have cats for rodent control.”
The winery life seems to agree with cats. Colleen and Becki both report that their cats are not only happy but healthy. Although they can and do hunt for pests, they are also fed cat food and receive regular veterinary care.
When prospective adopters contact Stephanie at Forgotten Felines for a cat, she impresses the requirements for food, shelter and health care. The adoption process also includes an application and a site check. “I’ve placed cats with wineries, vineyards (grape growers without a winery), warehouses, livestock ranches, organic farms, stables and many residences,” she said. “I even adopted mouser kitties to two different Buddhist temples and a Christian church!”
The nonprofit’s work has helped place many cats that may not have found homes otherwise. “Our mission is to help spay and neuter as many feral cats as possible, to reduce the sheer volume of homeless, unwanted kittens each year,” Stephanie said. “The need was desperate — the euthanasia numbers in shelters were overwhelming.”
Their approach is working. “I often hear back from the client, giving me updates and sending me photos of their barn cats,” Stephanie said. “Most live wonderful lives, being useful and having a job and no longer a ‘nuisance’ to some member of the public who decided to trap a feral cat and take it to the local shelter.”
“I think having a cat at a winery is important,” Becki said. “It shows that we are an animal-loving winery, and I think it brings peace and serenity here, too.”
Thumbnail: Photography courtesy Fabbioli Cellars.
Freelance writer Elisa Jordan specializes in pets, history and architecture. She shares her Southern California home with a cat, Izzy, and a dog, Gidget.