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wags - Mutt Lynch Winery

  By: AJ Mistretta

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Mutt Lynch Winery

Brenda and Chris Lynch love wine. But they never did like the pretentiousness that often permeates the wine industry. Wine, they believe, should be about the everyday, and there shouldn’t be barriers to enjoying it.

A decade ago, the pair who made their careers with some of the world’s best-known wineries were pondering their own label — something fun, different and, well, doggie.

On a tequila-inspired evening with friends, Brenda and Chris and their compadres started throwing around possible names for a new winery. Amid the revelry there was some howling at the moon and a dog-inspired label became certain.

“We didn’t want to name it after ourselves because that was part of the pretentiousness that we were trying to get away from,” Brenda says. So they turned to their dogs Nicki and Max, two mutts that had become part of the family, and Mutt Lynch Winery was born.

Ten years and ten harvests later, the Dry Creek Valley, Calif., boutique winery has become popular among dog lovers and wine lovers alike. The winery’s label designer, Rae Huestis Designs, takes the Lynch’s products and ideas and creates eye-catching artwork for the labels and names like Merlot Over and Play Dead and Portrait of a Mutt Zinfandel/Carignane blend.
And it’s not just the masses that are responding to Mutt Lynch. The winery has received high praise from some of the country’s premier wine critics in publications such as Wine Enthusiast Magazine and The New York Times.
But growth wasn’t easy in the beginning. “We weren’t just a new winery, we were a new winery with a dog label,” Brenda says. Some wine shops in nearby Santa Rosa didn’t take the product seriously and refused to even meet with her. Others embraced Mutt Lynch from the start, choosing to judge the wine on its merit. “What made us successful were the absolutely dog-loving people of Sonoma County and North Bay who learned about us and went to the wine stores and demanded it.”
On the winery’s Web site, Brenda refers to herself as “a ‘chick’ making wine. At home in work boots, t-shirt and jeans working my barrels.” She says in an industry that’s traditionally been dominated by men, there’s a lot of room for a woman’s touch. Brenda handles all of the actual winemaking herself, from the selection of the fruit to the pressing of the grapes, in a very labor-intensive process.

Chris, who is General Manager of Global Marketing at Allied Domecq Wines in New Zealand, handles the business side of the winery, including marketing and strategic planning. His job keeps the couple based in Auckland, New Zealand, with Brenda splitting her time between the South Pacific and the United States to make and promote the wine.

Managing a household as husband and wife is one thing; managing a business together is something else entirely. Still, Brenda says, “for us it’s always been incredibly easy because our strengths lie in such different areas that we rely on each other to make the boat sail straight. We really do compliment each other, and this business wouldn’t be nearly so successful if one didn’t have the other.”

When she’s not making the wine each fall, Brenda travels around the country promoting the label. But her method of advertising shows that Mutt Lynch isn’t just a name, it’s a concept.

“I always try to pair up (in an event) with the local animal shelter so that the proceeds go to benefit the (community’s) animals,” she says. In some cases, she will work for months ahead of time with restaurant chefs from California to Georgia to develop a meal that compliments the wines. From Amarillo, Texas to Lake Tahoe, Nevada, and across the South, Mutt Lynch comes to the people all year long. The winery itself also makes regular donations to nonprofits that aid animals. In Los Angeles, Mutt Lynch recently collaborated with an animal shelter’s spay/neuter program. Owners who had their pet spayed or neutered received a free bottle of wine. “This isn’t just a marketing scheme, it’s something we truly believe in.”

Brenda also spends time in the vineyards of the region, working with the growers to produce the type of fruit she wants to use. She makes the decisions on things like pruning and when the fruit is picked, based on taste. “Taste is so critical,” she says. “It’s a daunting task to make fruit that doesn’t taste good in the vineyard taste good at the winery.”

Mutt Lynch produces nearly 4,000 cases of wine each year. Brenda says she can probably grow a little more before she reaches capacity doing all the work herself. Though she doesn’t rule out expanding the winery further in the future, she says for now she and Chris want to keep the company small.

Typically a small winery producing only a few thousand cases of product would charge at a higher price-point. But Brenda says in keeping with the original concept of making wine accessible to everyone, she and Chris are committed to keeping prices competitive. Most of their labels retail for around $15 a bottle. Some of Mutt Lynch’s more selective wines, like the cabernet, go for $30 to $40 a bottle.

While the winery has grown in recognition and accomplishment, the product still isn’t on the shelves in some states. Brenda says she’s working to get distributors in a number of states, including Louisiana. “Usually what happens is it takes a ground swell of people learning about us, telling their local wine shop they want the product and the shop going to their distributors.” But for those who can’t find the label where they are, Mutt Lynch does offer its products for sale on the Web at
In the meantime, the Lynchs are enjoying their company and its doggie bent. “It all came out of a desire to have fun in an industry that had become stuffy,” she says. Mutt Lynch, to be certain, is anything but stuffy.

Photographs by Cami Johnson,