Puppies, Pinot help draw crowds to Brook Hollow

AFP Correspondent

COLUMBIA (June 1, 2015) — Nothing brings people together like wine and music and ... puppies?
Beth Rimer of Road to Rescue pet rescue mostly does pet adoptions at pet stores, but her son, Andy, suggested she adopt pets from an event at Brook Hollow Winery.
So the winery grounds were full of happy puppies and happy patrons on a sunny Saturday.
Andy Rimer is one of a number of local musicians who play the winery every weekend, he spoke to vintner Paul Ritter who jumped at the idea of Pinot and Puppies.
“I help a lot of local non-profits,” Ritter said in between taking care of customers in the tasting room, adding, “It works for both of us.”
The pet adoption on Saturday, May 23, was the first of its kind.
The sloped lawn in front of the winery building was alive with people and dogs, many of the hound variety.
“I’m the beagle lady,” Rimer confessed, laughing. “They are a great family dog, but I’ll take any breed.”
She accidentally became involved in rescue when she read about some puppies about to be put down in Ohio, she drove out and rescued seven of them. That was in 2007.
“After that, I was hooked,” she said. “I named it Road to Rescue because it started on a road trip. “
She takes dogs from kill shelters in Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky.
“There are so many kill shelters in those states and people don’t get their dogs spayed or neutered, people just dump them.”
She has 12 foster homes and a number of her foster families had dogs at Brook Hollow.
Kids and parents were being walked around the property by small, medium and large size dogs and other visitors were talking to the foster parents and getting to know the dogs.
Rimer is quick to admit she has “failed” as a foster parent to dogs several times and many of her foster families also adopted the pets they were supposed to just take temporarily.
“I established a relationship with a rescue that gets the dogs vetted and pre-screened,” she said, adding, “Since all my fosters have their own dogs, we can’t take dog-aggressives.
While the dogs and families gathered on the lawn, the winery was busy with tastings and purchases.
Ritter said about 50 percent of the people on the premises were there for the rescue. Others were regulars with whom he chatted as he rang them up. Road to Rescue had a “tricky tray” game  set up on a table and were also selling food.
The winery is no stranger to chaos, with music ever Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. Open mic night is held every third Friday.
“There is out-of-the-park local talent around here,” Ritter said.
He said between 150 and 200 people attend each evening.
Brook Hollow has weddings every weekend starting this weekend through the summer season, he said. It is also a venue for bridal showers and other events.
Ritter has held two book signings for various local authors and will have another in the fall.
Lining the walls of the winery are portraits of wolves from the nearby Lakota Wolf Preserve.
Brook Hollow sells them with all of the proceeds going to Lakota and offers two wines, a white German and a hybrid Geneva red with the proceeds going either to Lakota or to the Antler Ridge Wildlife Sanctuary.
“We try to help local groups,” Ritter said.
Brook Hollow is a second career for the former biologist for the state.
His wife, Debbie, helps out when not at work at her information technology job and all three daughters have helped.
Youngest, Jessica is wineries operations manager.
Besides employees, friends also help out here. “It’s great to have friends and volunteers. When this was a hobby, it was one thing,” Ritter said.
Many patrons were buying glasses for tastings.
The eight wines Ritter makes are on the tasting menu.
Return customers can bring their glasses and get the tasting for free.
Ritter said when a return customer forgets the glass, he gives them another one.
“More than half the hurdle to profitability is being nice to people,” he said. He noted people are often telling him how they are condescended to at other venues. “People leave here happy.”
He and Jessica suggested at a vintner’s meeting that wineries cross-honor each other’s glasses, but it was met with only silence.