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How Golden Retrievers Aid Californias Mega-Billion Wine Industry

Next time you kick-back to relax with your favorite glass of vino, give a shout to a pioneering group of Golden Retrievers in Napa Valley; America's winemaking capital. Because in the U.S. where wine outsells coffee and ice cream, these ace-detective canines do a lot more than make a gorgeous picture out fetching 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.

And although winemaking is a growth industry, 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 an expensive option; it is increasingly undesirable with consumers, winery neighbors, and vintners alike. Environmental pragmatics, as well as the growing organic market segment, dictate an industry-movement to 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 bombs might likely detect early infestations in vines, which could then be destroyed before surrounding healthy plants were destroyed, too.

Thirty winemakers pitched in on the $33,000 tab, a fracion of the millions spent every year for Mealy bug preventative herbicides, for the Assistance Dog Institute in Santa Rosa to put a group of pups through their paces.

Around the time of Fall 2005's wine harvest, the institute began training 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.

According to the institute, 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 expect only a loving pat in return. Now, I'll drink to that.

The author's romantic adventure novel, French Heart, set on wineries in Aix-en-Provence, France, and Santa Barbara, won highest marks in the world's largest writing program, will released in 2008. Please sign up today for the book's one time book announcement list on her blog: http://web.mac.com/myfrenchheart

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