Michael Honig with a canine colleague / Photo courtesy Honig Vineyard and Winery
While it’s not uncommon to spot a winemaker’s dog lounging amid the vines, some canines are actually put to work in wineries. With their powerful noses, dogs can sniff out pests and contaminants to protect the quality of vines, barrels and wine around the world.
Chemical compounds like TCA (2,4,6-Trichloroanisole) ruin wine by tainting corks, wooden barrels and packaging. So, in 2012, Labrador retrievers named Ambrosia, Moro and Odysé joined the team at Chile-based cooperage TN Coopers to help detect TCA in the wood used to make handcrafted wine barrels.
Unlike devices that test for the presence of TCA and other haloanisoles in the air, dogs can pinpoint exactly which barrel, pallet or hose is contaminated. In a warehouse filled with 1,000 barrels, this is an extremely helpful skillset, explains Alejandro Fantoni Jr., one of the cooperage’s managers. When a dog gets a whiff of contamination, he points his nose toward the scent and freezes.
“The Labradors are super intelligent and really easy to train, and they have this nice nose; they can detect really low doses,” says Fantoni. “There’s people that are afraid of dogs and we work with people. So, that’s one of the reasons why we choose Labradors: because they’re friendly.”
While working in their vests, the Labs are focused, Fantoni says. After the job is done, the vests come off and their reward is playing with a ball.
The scent-detection program has proven so successful TN Coopers has trained more Labs, including four named Mamba, Zamba, Bonny and Clyde, and plans to train a new litter whose names are being decided. The canine crew has been hired to inspect warehouses and shipping containers at wineries in Chile and Argentina.
Additionally, TN Coopers is helping to train TCA- and TBA-detection dogs for global breweries and distilleries. The cooperage also hosts demonstrations at wineries in California as part of the organization’s Natinga Project, which seeks to raise awareness of ways detection dogs can help the industry.