Long before winery dogs became a trendy industry accessory, there was Sunny. If you have ever visited our winery, you’ve probably seen him—he’s hard to miss. And while Sunny may be slowing down after so many years, his legacy at JUSTIN is still going strong.
We picked Sunny up at a local breeding ranch about 15 years ago. He was so cute. He fit in the palms of your hands and was the most athletic of his brothers and sisters. He had all the right breeding papers but they were lost long ago as we mostly wanted him to play with Morgane and Evan when they were young, and we never had plans to show him. He has always been good with children.
Sunny lived outside from the get-go. He was never a house dog. He spent the day in the vineyards with workers who dutifully fed him tacos and enchiladas. As he grew, he became an adept hunter. I watched with amazement as he and his canine compadre Minnie tracked and captured (and ate!) rabbits and gophers. He is also a good swimmer. We often found him in the pool cooling off but he was equally interested in recovery ponds and fountain basins.
As he got older and the restaurant got more popular, he stayed closer to home, gobbling up leftovers given to him by the chefs at the end of each evening. Weekends became his time to shine. When we moved into our home on the other side of the property in 2001, we took him with us. Day after day, he would rise early and walk back to the tasting room. He never said anything to us, but I suspect the attention and the leftovers were an irresistible draw. After months of unsuccessfully trying to get him to stay at the new house, we gave in and let him reside full time at the tasting room under the watchful eye of Katherine Wiebe, our caretaker, the tasting room team and the wait staff at the restaurant.
Sunny loves to be petted, and I estimate that more than 250,000 different people have enjoyed the privilege. He has never been mean. You can tie his tail in a knot, pull his ears, dress him in Halloween costumes, ride him like a horse or kiss his lips without fear or trepidation!
He is very curious, which hasn’t always worked out in his best interest. Twice he was bitten by rattlesnakes. He swelled up double in size and just sat there looking at you! Each time we took him to the vet for an anti-venom shot. After the second bite, I guess he learned his lesson.
I chalk up his longevity, in spite of his “ginormous” size, to his years of running in the vineyard and the endless attention he has received from so many admirers. He gets emails; has had his photo taken thousands of times; is the subject of most of the inquiries I get at JUSTIN events; has attended weddings and celebrations; is the star of winery events; and has appeared on postcards and winery promotions. But none of it has gone to his head.
He is simply Sunny. He is loved universally and has become synonymous with JUSTIN for anyone visiting the winery. His name says it all…