1. Meeting A Vital Need
By its very nature, the wine industry is seasonal and therefore relies upon the services of seasonal laborers to bring in the harvest. Most of Washington’s vineyard workers are Spanish-speaking migrant laborers, some making less than $20,000 annually, and many not able to afford health insurance. Winemaker Ashley Trout founded Vital Wines to provide funding for the SOS Clinic — a free, bilingual healthcare facility in Walla Walla — as a way to help care for the people who help make the region’s wines possible.
“Vital is the excuse to be the bridge between the two communities,” Trout said, referring to Spanish-speaking laborers and the wine industry. Trout is bilingual, having grown up with a Guatemalan grandmother.
Trout also understands what it’s like to be uninsured. Throughout her time working in the wine industry, she has never been given health insurance. It’s not that wineries don’t want to provide for their workers, she says, but many are small, which makes it tough. She counts her lucky stars that when she suffered a serious injury — a 40-foot free-fall from a rock wall that left her broken from femur to jaw — she was in Japan, where she was given excellent care during several surgeries and more than 40 days in the hospital. Medical care that would surely have bankrupted her in the United States, she says, cost about $5,000 in Japan.
As an SOS Clinic board member, Trout saw firsthand the challenges the organization faced. She decided to be the solution. Trout says people in the community were immediately onboard, donating so many wine grapes that she had to start turning donations away.
When she had to refuse two tons of grapes from winemaker Justin Wylie of Va Piano Vineyards due to lack of space and time, he too became the solution, saying he would make it into wine, and she could pick it up in December. “Everyone wants to help,” Trout said. And they have — from grapes to bottles to corks and everything else in between.
“The faster we start acting as one community, not two, the better the wine will be”
Vital Wines released its first vintage in 2016 at an inaugural party hosted by Whitehouse-Crawford. The $120 ticket price bought a seat for both the purchaser and a harvest worker. In 2017, proceeds from Vital Wines increased the SOS Clinic budget by a factor of 50, with even greater expectations for 2018. Seattle distributors sold out of their Vital Wines allotments in just 10 days.
“The faster we start acting as one community, not two, the better the wine will be,” Trout said. Let’s raise a glass to both. vitalwinery.com
2. Think Upside-down
Seth Kitzke came of age in a vineyard. During his teens, his parents transitioned orchards into vineyards, eventually founding a winery of their own. He assisted consulting winemaker Charlie Hoppes until taking over the role in 2015. Kitzke and his wife, Audrey, also launched their own label, Upsidedown Wines. They decided to donate 20 percent of proceeds from each wine to separate nonprofits.
“We have a rescue dog, so the first was a no-brainer,” says Seth Kitzke of his Rescue Rosé whose proceeds go to the Seattle Humane Society.
Proceeds from the Gold Drop collection go to A-21, a nonprofit committed to fighting human trafficking and abolishing modern slavery. Proceeds from the Upsidedown Merlot are donated to The Young and Brave Foundation, dedicated to helping youth beat cancer. And Method wine sales benefit Burton’s Chill Foundation, which serves underprivileged youth by teaching them board sports and life skills (Kitzke is a former professional snowboarder). drinkupsidedownwine.com
3. Purple Star Gets A Gold Star
Kyle and Amy Johnson commit 15 percent of Purple Star Wines’ proceeds to Seattle Children’s Hospital to benefit uncompensated care. “It’s our way of paying it forward,” Amy Johnson said. purplestarwines.com
4. Fee Free at Gifford Hirlinger
Not all goodwill gestures require months of planning. Bring cash when you taste at Gifford Hirlinger in Walla Walla. Instead of charging a tasting fee, the winery encourages donations to the local food bank with a simple vessel on the bar. giffordhirlinger.com
5. Auction of Washington Wines
Celebrating 30 years of philanthropy in 2017, the Auction of Washington Wines has raised more than $37 million since its inception in 1988. This summer, it raised $4.19 million, setting an AWW record and exceeding the goal of $3.5 million. Proceeds from the multi-event fundraiser are split between the Washington State University Viticulture and Enology Program, and Seattle Children’s Hospital.
6. ¡Salud! to Our Health
In 1991, several Oregon winery owners and Tuality Healthcare administrators banded together to form ¡Salud! in an effort to meet the healthcare needs of seasonal vineyard workers and their families. Since the inaugural auction in 1992, the organization has raised $13 million. More than 40 Willamette Valley producers now craft five exclusive 12-bottle cases of ¡Salud! Cuvée Pinot Noir for the annual auction. Donating to a good cause is great, but ¡Salud! takes it a step further and provides the healthcare services to its beneficiaries. With a mobile wellness unit, nurse Leda Garside and her team of three bilingual/bicultural staff provide onsite care at area vineyards and wineries, with cholesterol and diabetes screening, blood pressure checks, vision exams, and wellness education. In 2016, they administered more than 500 vaccinations. There are now two events supporting ¡Salud! each year — the Annual Big Board Auction & Gala, and The Big Dinner at Stoller Family Estate. saludauction.org
7. Red Mountain Giving Gardens
Two years ago, Frichette Winery, Purple Star Wines, Hedges Family Estate, and nine others within the Red Mountain AVA planted Giving Gardens in that “community, not competition” spirit often found in the Washington wine industry. A volunteer driver delivers produce from the Giving Gardens once a week to the Benton City Food Bank. In 2016, ticket-sale proceeds of the Giving Garden Progressive Soirée went toward the purchase of two freezers for the food bank to help store donations. Their generosity has inspired others within the community, including the FFA students from the local high school, who provided starts for the gardens this year, and middle-school students who volunteered a day of weeding and irrigation setup. bfcac.org, frichettewinery.com, on Facebook @BCGivingGarden
8.Walla Walla’s Barrel Full of Money
Duane Wollmuth’s legacy is still benefiting the people of Walla Walla even after his 2016 death. A few years ago, he and a group of colleagues contacted Philippe Michel, a friend in the barrel business, to help raise money for the local food bank. They set up barrels as donation vessels, then Michel took it a step further by convincing the barrel companies to donate $5 for the first 20 barrels sold to each local winery. Since 2011, the Barrel Full of Money campaign has raised more than $92,000, which has provided $552,000 worth of food assistance to local families. wallawallawine.com, bmacww.org