Along with the chopped liver and salmon pâté, doting cat lovers can now provide their pets with what just might be the ultimate in feline luxuries: a glass of catnip wine with dinner.
Made by Apollo Peak in Colorado, catnip wine—now available in red (Pinot Meow) or white (MosCATo)—is a beverage made from organic catnip and beets, served from a small-sized cat-themed wine bottle. These are advertised as “Fine Feline Snack Wines,” though no alcohol or grapes are used in their preparation, because they can be harmful to cats. “It tastes awful,” says Brandon Zavala, Apollo Peak’s founder and CEO, who bravely makes it a point to taste every batch of his cat-targeted brew, “but for cats, it really hits the palate.” (See the video here.)
So what is it about catnip that’s so attractive to cats? Catnip (Nepeta cataria), a native of Europe and Asia, is a member of the mint family and a relative of such aromatic herbs as peppermint, basil, rosemary, sage, and lavender. Its active ingredient—the stuff that makes your cat go nuts—is nepetalactone, a volatile oil found in the plant’s stems and leaves.
In cats, nepetalactone acts via smell; from neurons in the cat’s olfactory bulb, signals are sent to the amygdala and hypothalamus of the brain, stimulating a semi-sexual response, which results in rolling on the floor, head shaking, rubbing, drooling, and ripping apart catnip mice. Basically, scientists believe, it functions as a cat pheromone.
The effect generally lasts about fifteen minutes, after which the cat is pretty much catnipped out for about two hours. And not all cats react to it. Catnip sensitivity appears to have a genetic component; 20 to 30 percent of cats could care less about it, and kittens don’t respond to it at all. Catnip, in the cat world, like the pre-dinner cocktail in the human, is a grown-up thing.
Peoples’ response to catnip isn’t nearly as exciting, though catnip has a long history of human medicinal use. Sixteenth-century herbalist John Gerard, author of the famous Great Herball, or General HIstorie of Plantes (1597), recommends catnip as a remedy for pains of the head and stomach, and as a useful treatment “for those who have fallen from high places and are much bruised.” (He also mentions that “cats are much delighted” with it.) Traditionally, as a tea, catnip has been used for digestive complaints, to soothe fractious children, and as a mild relaxant or sedative. (See a catnip tea recipe here.)
It also makes a dandy mosquito repellent (ten times more effective than DEET or diethyl-meta-toluamide, according to one study), which may explain its popularity with the bug-beset American colonists. Catnip is not native to North America; plants found today in the wild are the descendants of escapees from early American herb gardens.
Apollo Peak isn’t the first to leap on the cat wine bandwagon. In 2013, the Japanese pet supply company B&H Lifes introduced Nyan Nyan Nouveau, a mix of Cabernet grape juice and catnip. (“Nyan nyan” is Japanese for “meow meow.”) Some evidence suggests, however, that grape juice is a bad idea for cats, potentially leading to digestive upset and kidney failure.
Zavala says that his grape-free feline wines, ingested, make cats pleasantly mellow, though he hastens to add that that’s not always easy to tell since cats, members of an inherently mellow species, generally sleep somewhere between 16 and 20 hours a day. On the other hand, he believes his catnip wine bouquet contains sufficient scent of nepetalactone to give the average feline imbiber a bit of a buzz.
Next up for Apollo Peak (which is named, incidentally, for Zavala’s cat): White Kittendel for kittens. It uses valerian in lieu of catnip, which may better appeal to the younger set. And also, a new line of dog wines.