Willi Opitz started out making wine as a hobby. The man who developed a cult following for his late harvest Austrian wines, and respect for his vinous joint venture with McLaren Automotive, originally held down a day job working for a pet food company.
I remember him telling me how uncomfortable he felt about the way TV advertisements were made that showed cats ‘preferring’ one brand to the others. The launch of ‘milk for cats’ was the last straw for him. Potential buyers of this overpriced dairy product were apparently told that the cow’s milk favoured by humans is not ideal for the feline digestion system, so the men and women in white coats at the pet food factory had come up with a way of re-engineering the liquid.
In the wild, adult cats, Opitz pointed out, wouldn’t normally drink any kind of milk. Nor would humans of course, but we—well, not all of us—have evolved to become lactose tolerant. And besides, we consume lots of stuff that’s not really good for us, like alcohol.
Opitz gave up on the world of pet foods and drinks and moved onto finer stuff. But the types of executives who came up with ‘cat milk’, are still around—and are now creating human-style, alcohol-free drinks for our pets.
Alcohol really isn’t good for cats or dogs either. And nor are hops. This helps to explain why giving your Labrador or poodle a bowl of lager or stout while they patiently wait for you and your friends to finish another round or two in the pub is no kinder than throwing them a handful of the chocolates that we now know could send them to veterinary hospital.
You could, however, safely pour them a can of the zero-alcohol, hop-free, Busch Dog Brew recently released by Anheuser-Busch InBev the world’s largest brewer, and on sale from US beer retailers for a heady €15 per four-pack. This would be a couple of dollars more than you might pay for six cans of the same company’s 4.7% Busch beer. To be fair, of course, ‘canine ale’ is something of a niche market—for now, anyway—and the beer giant has to recover the research and development costs involved in making beef bone broth and packaging it in a way that would appeal to dogs. Or, more specifically, to their owners.
Will Busch Dog Brew take off? I have no idea, but I do remember that a former owner of the UK Majestic wine warehouse made a lot more money once he’d opened a store for pets. “It’s far easier,” he said, “to get people to pay over the odds for a few rubber squeaky toys for their dog than to persuade them to buy a decent bottle of wine.
But don’t worry—pet wine is now taken care of, along with the beer. Thanks to VinePair, I can share with you the existence of a company called Pet Winery that specialises in ‘wine’, ‘Champagne’ (and ice cream) for cats and dogs. The pet beverages come in 5oz (14.8cl) bottles, with names like of Fetchme Grigio, Purrgundy or Meowsling and, for those special events, there’s Dög Pawrignon. These are all priced at $9,99, or $50 for the equivalent of a 75cl bottle.
The ice cream comes in two styles: Barking Bacon for dogs (“a pawsitively [sic] delicious blend of non-dairy soft serve, goat milk and bacon.” and Screaming Bonito (a purrfectly [sic] delicious blend of goat milk and bonito fish flakes) for cats. People who really want to pamper their pets can add ‘Cookie Crumbles’ or ‘Kitty Sprinkles’.
Seventy-five grams of Screaming Bonito and some Kitty Sprinkles would set you back $12.99. Which is more than Ben & Jerry’s or Häagen-Dazs would ask for their ice cream.
The people at Pet Winery say they are animal enthusiasts who “work hard to make products that are vitamin enriched, healthy and safe for your best pawfriend”. They are apparently “located in sunny Florida and only use US organic products”. Though I guess it is debatable whether organic goat milk is any better for kitty than the specially engineered stuff that bothered Willi Opitz and is now on sale in both my local supermarkets.
What I am willing to bet is that the Pet Winery is a lot more profitable than many of the wineries I know that are still doing things the old-fashioned way with grapes and for humans.
Because, unlike those winemakers, but like the cat milk producers, the pet people have identified their target customers and are giving them products they are happy to buy at premium prices.
Which, now I come to think about it, is what Willi Opitz did with his extraordinary wines.