Whether it’s sharing an experience at a tasting bar or popping a cork to toast a celebration, wine is a beverage that brings people together. On a larger scale, the camaraderie between neighboring wineries is strong. Some commiserate together after being struck by frost or hail, while others share grapes following a devastating wildfire.
From the thickest of turmoil to the thinnest of margins, the community surrounding wine is what has people returning time and time again. Consumers like knowing that wineries they buy from support their peers, the environment, and the ecosystems that surround them.
For the Boisset Collection, giving back is at the crux of its more than 35 wineries and brands worldwide. One of the company’s newer fundraising programs is JCB Unity. Partial proceeds from the sales of the California Cabernet Sauvignon support two national organizations focusing on helping Black and underserved communities thrive in the world of wine; these include the Association of African American Vintners Scholarship Fund and Wine Unify.
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Marnie Old is the director of vinlightenment, or wine education, for the Boisset Collection. She says that the project originated from the same discussions that were happening inside many companies last summer. The protests following the murder of George Floyd acted as the precipice for the Boisset Collection to look more introspectively. “We worked very hard to find two organizations that had really good plans, but also good results in getting people into wine in otherwise marginalized communities, particularly the Black community in the United States, which has often felt like wine wasn’t being marketed to them,” she says.
As the company’s head, Jean-Charles Boisset says the project has outperformed expectations thanks to a retail partnership. “The buyer of Sam’s Club called us to say he loved what we were doing and asked if we could do it together,” says Boisset. “So now, we have 7,000 cases committed to them that are going to raise $200,000.”
Philanthropic efforts have been part of the Boisset philosophy for nearly 20 years. When the company added DeLoach Vineyards to its portfolio, it introduced a localized fundraising effort with the Redwood Empire Food Bank. Every vintage, 60,000 meals are donated thanks to 100 percent net proceeds from their Vinthropic wines.
“They’re our neighbors, and our bottom line is we want to help the community,” says Boisset. “We believe a strong community makes all of us stronger, and we believe health and great food should be a part of everybody’s table.”
For some companies, the hardships of the pandemic have triggered initiatives to ramp up fundraising efforts. For example, Blue Grouse Estate Winery and Vineyard, located in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, produces fewer than 10,000 cases a year but was able to snowball its donation to Nourish Cowichan to $20,000 during the campaign in April 2021, up from $10,000 the previous year.
The Cowichan Valley has the second-highest child poverty rate in British Columbia. As the owner of Blue Grouse, Paul Brunner says that it was easy to pick the local organization because the support directly impacts his community. “Nourish Cowichan feeds hungry children by providing meals for schools; it’s so that the kids can concentrate on learning,” he says. “We think that we need to make a difference and help contribute to the Valley.”
The initiative has allowed the winery to look beyond the typical structure of donating $1 or $2 per bottle sold. To boost donations and enable people to contribute without necessarily buying wine, Blue Grouse set up a fundraising page on CanadaHelps — a website that provides fundraising technologies for online campaigns — which added nearly $5,000 to the total offering.
Further cementing the notion that even the smallest, boutique-style wineries can make big differences, Schermeister Winery in Glen Ellen chooses to direct its benefaction to animal organizations. The idea to donate came about after scoring a great deal on the grapes used to make its Scavenger Syrah.
“A friend of ours couldn’t fit all her Syrah grapes into the tank, so we got the fruit for next to nothing,” says Laura Schermeister, co-owner and general manager of the winery. “At that time, we decided on $47 a bottle. And because we didn’t pay much for the fruit, we gave 20 percent back to a charity,” she says.
The portion of proceeds from the 2016 and 2017 vintages went to the International Bird Rescue. In addition to being an avid birder, Schermeister says that supporting a rescue and rehabilitation center that releases birds back into the wild is in perfect alignment with winery horticulture. “You have your hawks and falcons that do pest control in the vineyard, but you also have smaller birds that will come in and peck holes in the fruit. So there’s this balance that growers are always seeking to have everything live in harmony,” says Schermeister.
Despite now paying full price for the Syrah fruit and going through unforeseen closures during Covid, Schermeister remains committed to continuing the initiative, “We feel so incredibly fortunate that we’re still open and people still care about really great wine,” she says. After adopting a rescue dog in 2018, Schermeister decided that proceeds from the 2018 vintage will go to the Dogwood Animal Rescue Project.
Another animal-focused initiative is being spearheaded by the Taylor family of Wakefield Wines in Australia. A 50 percent drop in the seahorse population in the Sydney Harbour in only 10 years has prompted the winery to partner with the Sydney Institute of Marine Science (SIMS).
The Taylor family’s connection to seahorses goes back 50 years, when the brand’s founder, Bill Taylor, found fossilized seahorses within the vineyard’s terra rosa limestone soil. The seahorse has been a symbol on their wine label ever since.
Wakefield started the SeaBnB campaign with a $10,000 donation to provide temporary homes for seahorses in an effort to increase the species population. “Our idea was to purposely design them so predators can’t get inside,” says SIMS marine scientist Dave Harasti. “Over time, the ‘hotels’ will eventually degrade but leave behind the sponges, coral, and algae for the seahorses to continue to live on.”
Managing director and third-generation family member of Wakefield Wines Mitchell Taylor says that a winery’s eco-friendly habits go beyond what happens in the vineyard. “It’s not just about a conversation on the land; it’s also the important impact that the oceans have and reducing the carbon footprint,” she says.
Wineries that apply the Golden Rule understand that lending a hand — whether to members of their community or to vulnerable wildlife — is vital to maintaining the community-driven nature of wine. And they can find solace in knowing that, if it’s ever needed, a hand will be there, lending back.