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The Best Wine Influencers Are Paid in Treats

It’s not difficult to persuade people to visit the Douro Valley—an almost comically picturesque wine region in northern Portugal. But if you’re a dog lover with an appetite for vintage Port, Quinta da Côrte’s Instagram may inspire you to book airfare immediately.

Amid photos of the cobblestoned wine cellar and gnarled grapevines of the Douro Valley-based winery are shots of the owner’s dogs, Boris, Vicky, Lori and Tinto Cão. These “faithful companion[s]” are pictured roaming the grounds and gazing soulfully into the camera in front of trellised vineyards.

They’re among a new breed of wine dogs whose responsibilities go beyond traditional farm duties and into the digital realm. Photos of pets are increasingly common on winery and wine shop social media feeds as ways to develop brand identity and build connections with far-flung audiences.

But as tempting as it may be to sniff at the artifice of platforms, like Instagram, few businesses can survive without a digital community. In the social media era, we’re all brands. Why shouldn’t our dogs help us build them? Whether this strikes you as adorable, opportunistic or inevitable depends on your relationship to social media, and how these companies approach it.

But there’s no denying the power of a post featuring a four-legged friend.

“Dog posts tend to perform very well across Jordan [Winery’s] social media channels,” says Kendall Busby, the director of marketing and communications at Jordan Winery in Healdsburg, California. She notes that pup posts receive 3-4% more interactions per follower on social media compared to the industry average. The dog-focused content is also seen by followers about 1,000 more times than the average.

Metrics aside, dogs are an important part of the success of a winery and can even help carry out a winery’s mission. Like Jordan Winery Owner, John Jordan’s, four-legged companion.

“John’s black labrador retriever rescue dog, Halsey, joins us at the winery every morning and is a beloved member of our staff,” says Busby. Jordan himself is an animal rights activist who has raised funds and awareness through dog-centric social media posts for groups like Canine Companions, an organization that matches service dogs with people who have disabilities, and Soi Dog Foundation, an animal rights group.

Dogs are similarly prominent at Troon Vineyards in Applegate Valley, Oregon. Beau and Belle are a brother-sister pair of Grand Pyrenees who guard the biodynamic winery’s sheep and chickens, and periodically appear on its Instagram account.

“It almost feels like cheating,” says Craig Camp, Troon’s general manager, of Beau and Belle’s social media marketability. “They’re these giant, adorable white dogs, and people love them.”

Still, Camp notes, the dogs are first and foremost working team members of the winery and crucial to Troon’s commitment to biodiversity. “Our mission overall is to try to convince other people to farm this way, not just our 100 acres. If we really want to change agriculture, we have to get out there and tell that story,” Camp says.

Storytelling is how many brands differentiate themselves, whether it’s via social media posts, the anecdotes sales representatives share with investors or an earnest mission statement in a company handbook. All of those messages can be thoughtfully or inauthentically crafted, and it’s up to the audience to decide whether to engage or unsubscribe. Dogs can help appeal to followers and tell these stories.

Along with doing vital work in the vineyards (both on and offline), dogs are also hard at work in wine shops.

Family is woven into the foundation of New York’s Beaupierre Wine & Spirits, a boutique bottle shop that Yannick Benjamin and Heidi Turzyn opened in 2022.

Benjamin and Turzyn’s dog, Amelie, often accompanies them to the shop and appears on its social media channels. “The posts that get the most views are of Amelie—by far,” Benjamin says, laughing.

It makes sense to him that Amelie is a fan favorite on and offline. “I think people see it as a connection. People enjoy that they’re supporting a family-owned business and that it’s from someone who grew up in the neighborhood,” Benjamin says.

Besides, for some people, the wine world can seem intimidatingly opaque. If you open your social media feed and see Amelie sitting in Benjamin’s lap on Beaupierre’s sales floor, or Boris the beagle searching for snacks in the Douro, it makes the entire endeavor more approachable.

“Sometimes, having the dog in the shop helps break down barriers,” says Vince Tillotson, the manager and buyer at Grapefruit Wines, a bottle shop in Hudson, New York. His dog, Augie, is often in the store with him and makes cameos on the shop’s Instagram feed.

“It’s not just a tech sheet as a caption. There are so many ways to have conversations about wine,” Tillotson says.

The word “authenticity” is often overused in conversations about branding, but it’s why pictures of Amelie, Beau, Belle and all the other pups resonate with audiences. Sure, some of us mindlessly scroll our feeds and like pictures of cute animals. However, many social media users are savvier than cynics expect. They can tell the difference between a soulless algorithm grab versus posters who treat their communities—including the four-legged members—with respect.