by Michael Cervin
Since grade school we’ve all heard the fatigued proverb, “It’s better to give than to receive.” Most of us wouldn’t argue with that, at least not publicly. Privately however, well, who doesn’t want free stuff? In truth, the wine industry is a magnanimous group, routinely called upon to provide free juice for charity auctions, public and private tastings, festivals and most anyplace where wine is poured and people want to imbibe at little or no cost. These three west coast wineries showcase the dedication of making wine, making changes, one bottle, and one person at a time.
Wine with Wheels: Lookout Ridge
As a teenager Gordon Holmes began his lifelong fascination with wine by purchasing futures. Not your typical adolescent activity. He worked in a high end wine shop in Los Angeles where the wealthy would buy wine to lay down. “They would tell me how magical those wines were,” Holmes recollected. So he decided to save his money. Beyond saving money, Gordon made money as a Wall Street publisher and eventually started his own winery, Lookout Ridge in Sonoma. He currently produces syrah, pinot, cab, and sangiovese. His first vintage was 2001 and his wines were made by Greg LaFollett. Simple enough.
A few years later he was at a charity event. “Someone spent $1,500 for a single bottle of my 2001 pinot noir and those proceeds went to the Wheelchair Foundation,” he says. As it happened, Gordon’s wife, Kari, was already sequestered in her own wheelchair fighting a fierce battle with multiple sclerosis. The couple began to donate more money to the Wheelchair Foundation and eventually secured a shipping container of wheelchairs that Gordon distributed in Mexico.
“That’s what changed my life,” he states. “I cry at dog food commercials so the fact that I cried for several days after seeing the problems in Mexico was no big deal.” Gordon and Kari decided for every case of wine sold at Lookout Ridge, they would donate a wheelchair to the Wheelchair Foundation. But Gordon tends to think in broader strokes. “One day it hit me, why can’t I put together the Bob Dylan’s of the world, the rock stars of winemakers?”
He enlisted some of the top winemakers in Sonoma and Napa including Cathy Corison and Andy Erickson, winemaker’s who have worked at legendary wineries like Staglin Family, Screaming Eagle, and Stag’s Leap. And he changed tactics.
“Though economically it doesn’t make sense, for every $100 bottle we sell of our winemaker designate wine, we donate a wheelchair.” So when a winemaker donates a barrel of wine to Gordon’s Wine for Wheels foundation, “that effectively changes 288 people’s lives,” as he puts it. 150 million however is the number that the World Health Organization estimates are individuals on the planet with no mobility. “If you can imagine how terrible that life is, how lucky we are, and by merely giving someone a wheelchair, you change their life,” Gordon says.
The irony of course is Kari Holmes. “If I could cure my wife that would be my number one priority,” he says, his voice getting thin. But Kari, like others on every continent, have enriched lives because someone is doing something. “People buy my wine that don’t even drink,” Gordon says of those who desire to get involved. And it’s not just wheelchairs, it’s finding the right outlet for every individual. “Let’s say you’re not into wine but you’re into animals. If my story motivates you to do something for the animals, that’s also part of my mission.”
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