Dr. Jessica Klein knows it can be stressful for pet owners to make a visit to the vet’s office, so she tries to make it as relaxing as possible when they come into her Wine Country Veterinary Hospital in Windsor.
“When you walk into my hospital, it’s warm colors and a happy, friendly vibe,” she said. “We offer homemade banana bread, coffee, hot chocolate and water.”
But it’s Klein’s further measure of hospitality — pouring a complimentary glass of wine for her customers — that’s stirred some controversy.
In this corner of Wine Country, where wine can be found at farmers markets, clothing stores and horse shows, in hair salons and other unexpected places, the veterinarian was told she had to stop.
Five months after she began serving it, the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control informed her she needs a license to pour wine and also needs to charge for it. And before one is issued, she needs approval from the town, which she is now seeking.
Not everyone thinks sipping a glass of chardonnay or zinfandel at the vet hospital is a great pairing.
Windsor Police Chief Carlos Basurto raised concerns in a memo to the Town Council saying it is precedent-setting and, if granted, will make it difficult to turn down other nonfood and nonbeverage serving businesses wanting to do the same.
His other concern is the potential for drunken driving.
“It is my understanding that the typical veterinary visit is presumed to be approximately 15-20 minutes and this establishment does not serve food with the alcohol,” he stated in the memo, in reference to the ability of food to mitigate the effects of alcohol.
Klein said the average pet exam actually lasts between 30 to 45 minutes — “longer than people stay at most wineries” — and she always has some sort of food item set out for customers, whether it’s cookies, baked zucchini bread or a bowl of blackberries for people to sample.
It will be up to the Town Council to decide the issue in a public hearing tonight.
Town administrators don’t have a recommendation one way or another in their prepared agenda report. But they note the ABC requires the municipality to make a determination of “Public Convenience and Necessity” before the state issues a license.
That’s because the veterinary hospital in Bell Village is located in an area considered to have an overconcentration of alcoholic beverage licenses.
The police chief and planning staff said wine will be served where children may be present, and that proposed planters functioning as a required barrier between the wine consumption area and rest of the lobby may be inadequate.
Klein said “it’s not about the drinking ... I wanted to create a hospital that focused not only on amazing veterinary care, high quality and forward-thinking medicine, but made people feel welcome.”
Veterinarians, she said, are generally very good “at speaking and thinking for the animal,” but don’t often focus so much on “what’s at the other end of the leash.”
“Nothing says ‘relax, take a breath and enjoy the moment’ like a glass of red wine,” said Klein, a mother of three whose company website notes she enjoys relaxing with a glass of red and a good book.