Big Dog Vineyards: Competing with Critters for Grapes

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Big Dog Vineyards:
Competing with Critters for Grapes

Here we are…the only buffet in town,” were Mark Capalongan’s first words as he opened the 8’tall ‘Deer Gates’, officially kicking off the Big Dog Vineyard tour. I was very excited to learn more about his journey as well as to taste the wines. Big Dog Vineyards is a very unique winery in that it is pretty much the only bonded winery in the Milpitas Hills (Silicon Valley). Not only did Mark make the leap to own and run a winery, but he also did it in an area unknown to grape growing and mostly full of farmland and cattle. This terroir also happens to be prime real estate for a multitude of hungry critters that are apparently willing to battle to the end in order to get a taste of those luscious and rare hillside grapes. I guess you could say that Mark had a lot more cut-throat competition than your typical winery – but competing with animals for grapes can be very tricky. In fact, several years ago, he mentioned that about 90% of his crop was devoured by these animals, which, by the way, weren’t all so cute. Here is a quick rundown of what Mark is constantly at battle with:

-Birds (song birds, hawks, bald eagles, and wild turkeys)
-Wild Boar (scary)

Now I understand why the name Big Dog Vineyard – he had to get a big dog to:

A) Scare away potential vandals 
B) Have a canine friend to hang with amidst all the turmoil  
C) A small dog would have been eaten alive by a hawk, raccoon or boar.

So back to this 8’ deer fence…until that fence was built, those grapes really were the only or at least the best buffet in town for many rascals. Even after installing the deer fence, there were opportunities for birds and other small animals to chow down (I saw gopher holes all along the fence line – it was actually kind of funny that they knew exactly where to come in at!). Mark’s final feat was when he installed electric lines along the vines, which in conjunction with the fence was probably expensive, but worthwhile. Here is a rundown of his newly released wines and corresponding awards:

’06 Cabernet Franc: Gold Medal Winner*, quite smooth and easy to drink.

’06 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Grown: Silver Medal, had that toasty, buttery finish that I am constantly searching for. **Favorite**

’06 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Grown Cinq Chevaux: Silver Medal, even though the grapes were grown ½ mile from the other Cabernet Sauvignon, they were very different flavors. This one was much spicier and bold.

Final Thought: The competition for his grapes is fierce, but Mark has officially won his most difficult battle and sweet, juicy success is what lies ahead (Cabernet Franc & Cabernet Sauvignon)!!


 *For the Gold medal, Big Dog Cabernet Franc beat other Cabernet Franc’s that cost 4 times as much!

**Big Dog Vineyards does not hold regular tasting hours, but wines are available at their online store ( Also, if interested in checking out a future tasting, you can sign up on his email list here.

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