WINSTON, Ore. – With the help of a local winery, the Wildlife Safari in Winston, Ore. made a little history this weekend.
One of the elephants made famous for its Elephant Car Wash traded in bucket and sponge for a glass of Pinot. George the elephant from Wildlife Safari stomped grapes for wine this past weekend in Winston, Ore. – marking the first time in North America where an elephant has been used to stomp grapes for wine.
The tents were set up at the elephant barn, because not even the rain could stop this party. Beneath the "big top" were gourmet foods, local wines and of course the main attractions: two African Elephants.
While Alice entertained the guests, George was behind the barn warming up for his big moment. People crowded the gate and looked on with amazement as George used all 13,000 pounds to get every drop of juice.
Trainers say the interaction and stimulation is a big help to the elephants who lost their matriarch Tikki this past week.
"Having activities like this, having things for them to do, that's what's really important for them, getting them to be busy and stay busy, and interacting with the trainers and interacting with each other," Senior Elephant Keeper Katie Alayan told KATU's Roseburg affiliate, KPIC News. "That's our biggest priority, making sure that they know we are still here and they still have each other and they still have us."
The owner of the vineyard, Stephen Reustle, says he was at first hesitant about the concept – after all, he didn't know how an elephant's feet might affect the wine. But after seeing the elephants in person he was on board.
"Of course, I inspected the elephant's foot," Reustle said, "and low and behold, the elephant's foot is this wonderful, leathery kind of texture to it that almost makes it perfect for stomping wine grapes."
The elephants had been practicing for weeks to make sure they stomp the grapes just right. At this weekend's event, George even tried on a hat and gave flowers to a lucky couple celebrating their anniversary.
More important than the wine or the party, however, was the opportunity for people to get interact with an animal most only see from a distance. That's why a portion of the proceeds from the tickets and the wine sales will go toward elephant conservation.
Stephen Reustle, owner of Reustle Vineyards, says the white wine from the grapes will be bottled and ready to release in about two months. They have not decided on a label yet, but they are thinking about naming it after the late elephant Tikki.
The Reustles say the event was so successful they are already planning for next year.