By Peri Podratz
contributing writer 

Kate the Stray Leaves Vineyard dog

 

March 2, 2024



Provided.

Kate.

Stray Leaves Vineyard calls its best wines "Kate's Reserve." These wines are typically strong, "Wild," and one-of-a-kind red blends.

We often get asked who Kate is and why she has a reserve. Kate's Reserve is a story of a man and a stray dog. Kate was a black lab mix that decided Stray Leaves Vineyard would be her home. Clifford Merdith, vineyard owner, remembers his dog fondly. From 2005 to 2014, Kate protected the vineyard as it grew from baby plants to beautiful vines.

For six months in 2005, Clifford found dead squirrels and other rodents on his vineyard. There was a tenacious hunter on his property, killing the vineyard's pests. Then, he spotted the hunter, a wild and roughed up black dog. It took him another six months before the cautious dog let him touch her, and a few more months before she moved from the horse paddock into his home. Since that moment, Clifford and Kate became inseparable.

Kate was extremely cautious around strange men, but grew comfortable with him. She was a wild dog, and everything happened on her terms. He reminisces their adventures as they backpacked and horse camped all over California, Utah, Nevada and Arizona. Even after being welcomed officially to the vineyard, Kate never stopped hunting, and was always on the go. Clifford often wondered when she slept, as he woke up to her staring at him, ready to go, and fell asleep while she remained active. He remembers her following him everywhere in the vineyard, later in life taking frequent naps next to him as he worked from one grape vine to the next.

She loved truck rides, hated baths, enjoyed carrots with the horses and remained an active hunter until the end. As the saying goes, every man needs one great dog, one great horse and one great woman, and Kate was Clifford's one great dog. Kate passed away in 2014 and was buried under an oak tree that overlooks the vineyard.

In 2016, Clifford bought the building downtown for the tasting room, and in 2023, he opened Stray Leaves Tasting Room to the public. There, he shares his wines, including his Kate's Reserves. These are what Clifford considers the best wines he has ever produced, and their flavors are directly inspired by his beloved vineyard dog. The 2015 Kate's Reserve is a "Wild" Cabernet Sauvignon, which Clifford describes as a powerhouse grape using the natural yeast produced on the grapes. The results can be unpredictable, but it perfectly captures his one great dog, the wild Kate. The 2018 Kate's Reserve is a blend of "Wild" Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, which Clifford likes to think of as a representation of his mixed (blended) breed dog.

The logo has changed since the first wines, moving to a more contemporary design, but Clifford is adamant that all Kate's Reserves will have the original logo, Kate under her oak tree. It has been 10 years since her passing, and Kate is still well loved and greatly missed on the vineyard.

Check out more pictures and paintings of Kate in the tasting room at 123 S. Green St., in Downtown Tehachapi, as well as trying the Kate's Reserves on your next visit!

 
 

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