State regulators crack down on dogs inside Valley vineyard

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ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) — If you've visited vineyards in Virginia, chances are high that you met a friendly dog in or around the tasting room, or even saw other visitors with their dogs.

But Virginia law does not allow any dog that's not a service animal inside tasting rooms, and the Commonwealth is now cracking down on local vineyards in violation.

Bluestone Vineyard says dogs will no longer be allowed inside its tasting room after a notice from the Virginia Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services (VDACS).

According to a spokeswoman for VDACS, dogs were never allowed inside Virginia tasting rooms (except service animals) and were only allowed outside at vineyards as of July 2016, under certain guidelines like being on a leash and not being able to sit on the tables and chairs.

The guidelines were meant to keep dogs out of areas where wine is manufactured or sold.

In September, VDACS sent a letter to Bluestone notifying them of the state regulation. The agency cited its policy on animals in food and beverage establishments. On Tuesday, the vineyard notified customers of the new policy via email.

Vineyard President Curt Hartman says they were not happy about the notice. He says dogs are part of the winery's culture, including its actual wine with one being named after Beau, the vineyard's first dog.

"We joke about dogs in the vineyard. Every vineyard's got a vineyard dog somewhere. We have a couple of them, so that's just part of the culture. People like their dogs," said Hartman.

Many vineyard owners have dogs to help scare away deer and other animals who may get into the wines.

Hartman says they were aware of the regulation, but it was rarely enforced. So, for now, there is nothing they can do, but he encourages people to contact their lawmakers.

"A vineyard without a dog is just a grape farm," the vineyard said in their notice to customers.