Wineries and Chefs Gear Up Charity Efforts for California Wildfire Relief

Some provided on-the-ground aid to deliver meals amid the blazes, while others are coming up with creative fundraisers for victims with longer-term needs

Wineries and Chefs Gear Up Charity Efforts for California Wildfire Relief
Snack break: Firefighters responding to the Glass fire dig into a meal prepared by World Central Kitchen. (Courtesy of World Central Kitchen)
Oct 15, 2020

Updated Oct. 16

On Oct. 13, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection announced that the Glass fire, which had ravaged Napa and Sonoma counties since Sept. 27, had been almost completely contained. But in its wake, more than 1,500 structures are destroyed, with hundreds more damaged, ranging from family residences to big-name wineries, restaurants and hotels. It’s only one of the many fires that have wracked the entire West Coast in 2020 in recent months, leaving thousands displaced and putting tremendous pressure on first responders.

But the wine and hospitality industries have mobilized to help those most impacted, as they have throughout the disasters of 2020—and even as they assess the severe damage to their own businesses. Here’s how they are stepping up in the wake of the most recent fires; read more about how you can, too.

Within 24 hours of the Glass fire outbreak, meal-making squads from chef José AndrésWorld Central Kitchen had set up an outpost at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds to get fresh, hot food to evacuees and first responders. "Every single season, unfortunately, there’s a lot of fires in California," Tim Kilcoyne, WCK’s director of chef operations, told Unfiltered. "Luckily we have a big presence in California, so it’s easy for us to activate." As it did during the year’s earlier California fires, WCK called in its local volunteers and delivered meals to shelters and firefighting frontlines throughout the blaze—around 3,000 meals per day, in this case.

Kilcoyne told us that need is particularly high in fire hot spots, and his team ventures into these places to get food to them. "The difference of chefs being able to come in and prepare meals where it’s more focused on the health aspect is very important," he said. "Helping the firefighters get calories up, and people who are evacuated as well, because it’s hard to say what their next meal is going to be." He added, (half)-jokingly, "In California, we don’t have as much of a hard time with feeding people salad."

Kilcoyne’s work on the scene of the Glass fire has wrapped, but WCK continues to feed COVID victims and other communities in need around the world, providing 19 million meals so far to those impacted by the pandemic. "[2020] is keeping us very busy, no doubt," said Kilcoyne.

Firefighters with World Central Kitchen meals
Firefighters quench their hunger during a shift battling the Glass fire, with help from World Central Kitchen. (Courtesy of World Central Kitchen)

Constellation Brands, the wine and spirits giant, announced last week that it would be donating more than $100,000 toward initiatives to bring relief to wildfire victims in the Golden State. Beneficiaries will include the Napa Valley Community Foundation, Sonoma County Resilience Fund and the American Red Cross.

"We are heartbroken at the devastation caused to our local communities … particularly in Napa and Sonoma counties which are home to many of our employees and partners," Robert Hanson, Constellation president of wine and spirits, told Unfiltered via email. "We are confident in the strength of our community and are committed to working with our team members, partners and neighbors to recover, rebuild and re-emerge stronger."

Several of Constellation’s brands are also encouraging consumers to join the effort, including Robert Mondavi Winery, Mount Veeder Winery and The Prisoner Wine Company, and Constellation will be providing a two-to-one match for all donations made by its employees through October. Constellation CEO Bill Newlands said in a press statement that none of the company’s vineyards or wineries had been affected by the wildfires, and all its employees are safe.

Last week, The Wonderful Company, owner of California wineries Justin and Landmark Vineyards, announced it would be expanding the reach of a fund it designed for COVID-19 relief to include Sonoma and San Luis Obispo counties, as well as victims of the wildfires. The company has added $500,000 to its Justin and Landmark funds, which benefit nonprofit organizations that offer local communities and frontline workers relief from the pandemic and wildfire crises in the two counties. "The fires in Northern California just have added an additional element of strain on the communities that are already trying to combat COVID-19. We really think it’s our responsibility to do more for the community," Kaitlyn Yates, the company’s senior manager of philanthropy, told Unfiltered.

The new donation follows an earlier $1 million pledge from owners Stewart and Lynda Resnick to support community resources in the Central Valley during the pandemic. Yates said the company was planning to expand its efforts to Sonoma before the fires stressed community resources further. "The issues are compounding," she said. The application process for Justin and Landmark grants is now open to nonprofits and schools; submissions are being received until Oct. 31, or until the organizations’ funds are depleted

Chef in the Justin kitchen
Preparing meals in the Justin Winery kitchen (Courtesy of The Wonderful Company)

Benchmark Wine Group (BWG) has called Napa Valley its home since 2002, and the online retailer is using its collection of fine and rare wines to help its neighbors affected by the Glass fire. The company donated 10 percent of sales from its weeklong Wildfire Benefit to the Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund, raising more than $5,000, with contributions funding gift cards, shelter, meals and emergency relief services for evacuees and other fire victims. In the longer term, funds will be allocated to assist those whose homes were damaged or destroyed in the Glass fire.

"We have always been committed to both the wine and local community," Dave Parker, CEO of BWG, told Unfiltered via email. "Being an integral part of Napa Valley, as well as the fine wine business community, it was a natural instinct for us to support all those in need."

Bottles and boxes of rare wine
A few of the Benchmark Wine Group bottles offered during its Wildfire Benefit (Courtesy of Benchmark Wine Group)

Other big-hearted small companies are doing their part as well. Napa’s Smith Devereaux Wines is donating 100 percent of profits from sales of its 2018 SB White Blend to the California Fire Foundation. Amizetta Winery is giving 10 percent of online sales of its 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon to the Napa Valley Community Foundation. Bar Lucia, in the city of Napa, is also raising money for the NVCF, donating all proceeds from Schramsberg wine sales through the month of October.

The Napa wine team and local Halloween superfans at Flora Springs acknowledged that "this Halloween will be different for everyone," but they have adapted their usual slate of spooky soirees for the times. This year’s Halloween Dinner will be a pick-up affair prepared by Napa-based Italian chef Massimiliano Boldrini, featuring lasagne alla zucca e salsiccia and two Flora Springs bottles: Soliloquy white blend and Ghost Winery Malbec. The two-person feast is available for $200, or drinkers can just treat themselves to the wine two-pack for $100. For sales of both, 35 percent of proceeds will go to the NVCF Disaster Relief Fund to aid victims of the Glass fire.

In 2017, a small group of wine industry public-relations pros raised $107,000 for victims, especially farmworkers, of that year’s devastating fires, and founder Kimberly Charles has reestablished the #WineCountryFireRelief fund for 2020. "We felt collectively as a group of marketing communications professionals in wine that we need to give back to those who have made our professions possible," Charles told Unfiltered via email. "Also, the farmworker community has taken much of the risk and little of the reward in our industry, and we are keenly aware of that. We are here to support the heartbeat of the wine world."

Charles’ partners in organizing are Rebecca Hopkins, Tia Butts, Katie Calhoun and Katherine Jarvis, and the group is in discussion with potential beneficiaries UndocuFund and Puente, community and disaster relief foundations in Sonoma and San Mateo counties, respectively. This year’s fundraising goal is set at $75,000 so far.

This week, Napa’s Clif Family Winery, cycling apparel company Capo, and Ride Napa Valley, a cycling events organization that benefits nonprofits, launched a line of cycling gear called California Love to raise funds for first responders in the wake of the 2020 wildfires. Following successful fundraisers after previous years’ fires, the partners will be donating proceeds to the Sonoma-based First Responders Resiliency, Inc. organization that provides assistance to first responders and their families suffering from PTSD.

"We know that many of our fellow cyclists are also police, firefighters and EMTs, and producing this kit is just one small way we can give back to them," said Gary Vasconi, co-founder of Capo, in a press release. Clif Family and Clif Bar have also been delivering meals and bars to evacuees through the Salvation Army, and collecting funds for gift cards for victims, in coordination with the Napa County Farm Bureau and CrossWalk Community Church.

On Oct. 21, Napa community supporters will be gathering around the table for a socially-distanced barbecue dinner to benefit the Invictus Fund NV, which provides aid to those who have been displaced or lost homes in the fires. Chef Christopher Kostow of Grand Award winner the Restaurant at Meadowood will be firing up the grill at the Charter Oak restaurant in St. Helena; Meadowood itself was severely damaged in the Glass fire, and the fund is partly an initiative of the Harlan family, which owns it. The feast will be accompanied by wines donated by vintner Kerrin Laz, and winemakers Dan Petroski of Larkmead and and Josh Phelps of Grounded Wine Co.

“The fires this year were devastating to so many right here in our small town," Phelps told Unfiltered via email. "We decided to host this event as an opportunity not only to raise some money, but also as a way for the community to thank our firefighters and first responders in person.” Tickets for the event are $100 per adult and $30 per child, and can be purchased through Resy. First responders and firefighters are invited free of charge.

Vintner Kathryn Hall, owner of Napa's Hall Wines and Sonoma's Walt Wines, will be kicking off a fundraiser on Oct. 16 during her weekly Hall Happy Hour on Facebook Live. Hall will be raising money through the Redwood Credit Union, which has frequently served as a vehicle for providing relief during disasters in the North Bay. Hall plans to match funds raised, and to set aside $50,000 for Hall employees to allocate to charities of their choice.

Hall's virtual happy hours have often featured celebrity guests—Steve Wozniak and Cecily Strong are two on the schedule—but this week, she'll be hosting the men and women who suited up to fight the Glass fire. During the fire, the company's Senza Hotel in Napa also provided free accommodations for firefighters and evacuees. They'll be going live Friday at 7 p.m. ET.

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Unfiltered 2020 Wildfires Charity Events Disasters Fires Napa Sonoma

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