Across the country, rescued cats are living “their best nine lives” at the most unexpected of places: wineries.
Sometimes, it’s stray cats that adopt a winery or vineyard, as was the case at the Napa Valley’s Black Cat Vineyard. In the mid-1990s, a stray black cat wandered onto the property as proprietor and winemaker Tracey Reichow and her kids planted their first grapevines. Every day, he would return to supervise.
They named him “Black Cat.” The following year, Reichow decided to name the business after the friendly feral feline.
Through her veterinarian, Reichow learned of other needy felines better suited to life outdoors. Reichow would bring them to live on her property. At one point, she had 13 winery cats prowling over her 20 acres.
She has a cat door in case any want to come inside her home. But typically, they prefer to sleep in cat beds in the vineyard’s outbuildings like machine sheds and a huge barn, which she warms with heating pads in winter.
Many rescue organizations offer “barn cat” adoption programs for cats that are fearful or distrustful of humans. These cats would be stressed as indoor pets, which puts them at risk of euthanasia. But they can thrive at wineries, according to Saffron Williams, feline behavior program manager at Humane Society of Sonoma County.
At Black Cat Vineyard, the cats hunt rodents like gophers that can tunnel through the roots of grapevines and kill the plants. One of her current cats, Peanut, even leaves gopher guts on the front porch each morning as a gift.
“Cats are so independent,” says Reichow. “They require so little, but give back so much.”
Williams agrees. When people apply to adopt barn cats from her organization, they must commit to provide 24/7 access to shelter like outbuildings. Cats also need their food and water refreshed every day.
“They have a territory to roam, and live, and prey to chase to fulfill their hunting instincts,” says Williams. “It is their choice to remain on the property or not.
“If barn-cat adopters slack off on providing adequate food, water and shelter, the cat is free to leave and seek a different territory where they will have access to those things.”
Wineries often adopt barn cats to provide rodent control, since most people are reluctant to put out poison, says Williams.. It’s a win-win situation. Since vineyards are typically staffed every day, there are more people to look out for the cats’ needs. Meanwhile, the cats get to indulge their hunting instincts.
Cats who live indoors tend to have longer lifespans than outdoor cats due to life in the wild. However, vineyards are usually away from busy roads, and Williams knows of barn cats living into their 20s.
“Also, for cats who are friendly and want to interact with humans, they have plenty of people to choose from, like the staff and guests,” she says.
That’s the case at Carlson Vineyards in Palisade, Colorado. Its three rescue winery cats—Hank the Tank, Gunny and Willow Taffy Snowball—seem to turn on the charm for guests, according to co-owner Garrett Portra.
“It’s almost like they know, ‘Showtime! Time to earn our keep around here,’” he says with a chuckle. “It’s amazing how many people come in just to see the cats.”
The cats live outside, but they sleep indoors at night since there are coyotes in the area. There’s even a cat bed next to the register, which is “purr-fect” for cat lovers who buy bottles of the winery’s popular “Laughing Cat.”
A beloved rescue cat named Jinx, who was “crazy as anything,” inspired the name of Crazy Cat Winery and Café in Bristol, New Hampshire, says co-owner Claudette Smith. At the end of the day, Jinx liked to come into the tasting room and do the “zoomies,” hilarious bursts of energy that a cat or dog seemingly cannot contain.
Smith was deeply moved by the outpouring of support from fans when Jinx died last year.
“His legacy lives on in our logo,” she says.
Now rescue cats Cricket and Jasper attract customers. When asked what they bring to the business, Smith doesn’t hesitate. “People. Cat people.”
Crazy Cat shares photos of the winery cats on social media, as well as posts about adoptable cats from rescues like nonprofit group FuRRR Feline Rescue, which rescued Cricket and Jasper.
The winery recently hosted a monthlong food and kitty litter drive for FuRRR. Anyone who donated received a 10% discount on bottles of wine, which have names like Whisker White and Cat’s Paw.
For the photography book Wine Cats, Craig McGill and Susan Elliott photographed 108 cats in three countries. They learned of a cat named Mr. Wu, who could detect cork taint whenever a wine writer opened a bottle that was off. But most excel at pest control or simply charming visitors.
“Photographing Wine Cats was very rewarding, but a lot harder than photographing Wine Dogs,” says McGill. “Cats really are their own masters, and it is very difficult to schedule a cat for a photo shoot.”
Cool cats also prosper at distilleries like Beehive Distilling in Salt Lake City. Owner Chris Barlow and his daughter adopted a cat named Gimlet from Best Friends Animal Society after they hosted a fundraiser for the nonprofit.
Gimlet deters rodents that may be attracted to the grain bags around the gin distillery. But her main job is to entertain guests that watch her strut her stuff as they enjoy a drink. She even sleeps in cat beds on barrels and steam pipes.
“It’s really nice to have a cat around,” says Barlow. “I think she just makes everything better.”
Ultimately, when distilleries and wineries adopt working cats, it benefits the business and saves the cat’s life, according to Megan McCloud, senior manager of lifesaving programs at Best Friends Animal Society.
“Just like people, cats have unique personalities and thrive in different environments,” she says. “Working cats are a great asset to businesses, and it’s a wonderful lifestyle for their unique dispositions.”