I teach a wine class at Columbia College in the Culinary Arts Program, and one the most popular class sessions is a visit to a winery in Calaveras County. Since 2006, we have spent fall afternoons at Twisted Oak Winery touring the winemaking facility, checking out the crush and walking through the wine cave.
For the first nine years, my class visit always included an initial meeting with Nacha, a big white furry greeter who was posted outside the office and tasting room. As my students made their way around the facility and through the barrel cave, Nacha was on duty as a second guide, and seemed to take up the rear to make sure no one got separated from the group. She also appeared to use the tours as an excuse to sample wines with the class.
As with other visitors to Twisted Oak, Nacha became a memorable part of my students’ visits.
Sad to say, Nacha passed away about two years ago, but she is still fondly remembered by many of us who came in contact with her. She was a very special winery dog.
I asked Jeff Stai, who along with his wife Mary is the founder and owner of Twisted Oak, to share Nacha’s story and special notoriety just before her passing.
“In the spring of 2004, two momentous events occurred,” Jeff shared. “We moved into our new winery in Vallecito, and a little white pup came into our lives. We had been visiting friends down in Orange County when a neighbor came by with her. She had been locked in a nearby house and left to die. The neighbor had rescued her and was trying to find someone who could take care of her. She licked my face and it was all over.
“The next day she rode all the way home with us, sitting peacefully in the backseat just enjoying the ride. (We soon realized that her favorite thing to do was to go in the car; it didn’t matter where – just go!) We stopped every hour in case she needed to pee, but she waited until she got to her new home. She knew where she was going; she wanted to wait.
“We never understood how anyone could leave such a sweet, lovable, well-behaved puppy to die like that,” Jeff continued. “At only 4 months, she was fully potty-trained, she knew how to sit and stay and shake hands. It still boggles. She must have had a name but, of course, we never knew what it was. Being the wine geeks that we are, we named her after a grape: Garnacha Blanca, Nacha for short.
“Many of you who have tasted from the barrel at the winery will remember her as the happy dog who loved to lick the drop off the end of the wine thief: ‘Nacha’s share.’ Or maybe she came up to your picnic hoping that you would drop something; she never entirely got over nearly starving to death as a pup. She was our ‘see-food dog.’
“We also have cats,” Jeff added, “and Nacha raised all of them from kittens. It was a little unnerving at first to see ‘The Big White Thing’ carrying a kitten around with its whole head in her mouth, but she was perfectly gentle and plopped them down safe and soggy.
“And in 2014 she ‘made the big time’; she got her picture in the latest release of the ‘Wine Dogs’ series of books!”
That was also about the time Jeff noticed that Nacha was having trouble getting into the car for trips to the winery. She was clearly in pain.
“When we got to the winery our see-food dog refused a treat,” Jeff said. “This was not right and we had her into the vet the next day. X-rays showed a large mass in her abdomen and we scheduled surgery. The mass was cancer and her liver had turned into one large tumor. There was nothing to be done. At best she would have only a few more days of life and more pain. We decided to accept the inevitable and let her keep sleeping.
“I knew one day I would have to say goodbye to her; I just didn’t think it would be so soon.”
Thanks, Jeff. Nacha affirms the notion that all dogs do go to heaven.
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