Updated: From Testing Labs to Supporting Black Communities, Wineries Continue Major COVID-19 Relief

Boutique operations and major conglomerates alike, wine and spirits producers are raising big bucks for coronavirus victims, through donations, Cabernet hand sanitizer, even golf-putting contests—with help from some famous friends

Updated: From Testing Labs to Supporting Black Communities, Wineries Continue Major COVID-19 Relief
In the lab Concha y Toro built to study grapevine disease, a Hamilton Microlab Starlet robot is now ready to process 2,300 samples of coronavirus RNA per day. (Courtesy of Viña Concha y Toro)
Apr 3, 2020

Updated June 15

Wine has remained an essential pleasure for many during the coronavirus pandemic, and for the most part, wineries and wine shops have been deemed essential businesses. Still, the wine industry, especially smaller producers, has felt the economic strain, with winery tasting rooms just beginning to reopen to a reduced number of visitors. But the community has been more than eager to step up and help out victims hit far harder. From independent businesses donating proceeds to multinational producers partnering with major nonprofits and celebrity boosters, the drinks industry is going into overdrive to support the needy, the vulnerable, first responders, and their own out-of-work comrades in the severely crippled restaurant industry.

What’s new

Chile-based Viña Concha y Toro has invested heavily in wine tech in recent years, and it’s paying off in unexpected ways during the pandemic, which continues to intensify in South America. The company’s Research and Innovation Center, opened in 2014, originally focused on combating vineyard disease. But beginning in April, the company worked to outfit it as a coronavirus testing facility as well. On June 1, lab director Gerard Casaubon reported to Unfiltered that the new COVID lab has received all certifications, passed all inspections and is “prepared to start processing at our maximum capacity.”

Concha y Toro already distilled and donated 50,000 liters of hand sanitizer for community needs, and now it stands to reach five figures of tests as well, if not more. Casaubon explained that two potentially lifesaving gadgets would drive the operation: A Hamilton Microlab Starlet robot can process 2,300 samples of virus RNA per day, which then go through a system called a Thermofisher QuantStudio 5; that unit can diagnose 786 samples daily.

“When the Center was inaugurated in 2014, we could not have imagined that our facility could be of help in a pandemic,” Casaubon said. But “this new direction not only makes sense, it is emblematic of the positive advances in science that allow us to help the community through innovation and adaptation.”

On June 12, drinks giant Diageo announced the creation of the Diageo Community Fund, with a commitment of $20 million to support hospitality businesses in black communities that have been faced with economic hardship during the pandemic. Diageo has also announced that, through June, it will double the amount it matches from employees who contribute to National Urban League, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and 100 Black Men of America, Inc., organizations that adovacte racial equality and social justice. The company has already pledged more than $1 million to these groups.

"Diageo has no tolerance for racism, injustice and unequal treatment. We stand together with the black community in this defining moment," said Ivan Menezes, chief executive of Diageo, in a press release. "We are committed to taking every step necessary to champion equality everywhere and, while we have made progress, there is so much more to do. The Diageo Community Fund is just one of many steps we will take on this journey."

Washington Cabernet star Quilceda Creek is among the latest producers to step up to help restaurant employees in need, through its #QuilcedaCares campaign. The family-owned winery has donated $365,000 to the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund (RERF), which will use the funds to provide $500 checks to more than 700 unemployed restaurant workers. “We all had this desire to give back,” general manager Scott Lloyd told Unfiltered; the restaurant industry has been a great booster of the wine over the years. "We wanted to do something that would have an immediate impact and would help people now.”

Quilceda Creek workers in masks
Paul Golitzin (center), president and director of winemaking at Quilceda Creek, said, “It was very humbling to witness the outpouring of support, and a true honor to read the messages of personal connections to the restaurant industry we received from our customers.” (Courtesy of Quilceda Creek)

Over the course of 10 days, the Golitzin family dug into its cellar to put up library wines for sale, including Quilceda Creek’s Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2015, donating 50 percent of the proceeds. The initial offering sold out in four days, prompting the winery to add the 2016 Cabernet to continue the rally. The company also donated double-magnums of some of its 2017 wines to the United Sommeliers Foundation (USF) auction hosted by Acker Wines. “Our hope is that other wineries will see what we have done and will hopefully help out as well,” said Lloyd.

Other small and midsize producers are posting big figures too. Kistler Vineyards in Sonoma announced May 28 that sales from a special spring release will benefit the RERF, USF and Restaurant Workers Community Foundation (RWCF), with nearly $100,000 to be distributed. Fellow California wineries Papapietro Perry and Alder Springs announced donations in recent weeks to hospitality charities and others, while 154 Oregon wineries from the Willamette Valley Wineries Association went straight from their source to the frontlines of the pandemic, sending nearly 1,700 cases of wine and sparkling grape juice to healthcare providers last month.

Other winemakers are releasing whimsical merch or broadening their charitable efforts to less reported victims of the pandemic, such as formerly performing musicians in financial need.

Napa winemaker Grant Long owns brands Aonair, Reverie and Misc. Wines, and for COVID relief, he’s rolling out a new project, with some proceeds going toward hunger relief initiatives: T.P. Reserve, a line of Chardonnay, Grenache and a red blend, each label adorned with the now (?) iconic (??) image of a single roll of that quarantine hygiene essential. “T.P. Reserve wines really came from trying to find a way to bring a slight bit of levity to a stressful time while also trying to be proactive as a small family winery,” Long told Unfiltered via email. “This is quite personal for me: Every night at home we go around the dinner table saying what we’re thankful for, and my son is always grateful for the food on his plate. So it was natural to choose the Napa Valley Food Bank as a beneficiary for these special wines.”

Toilet paper on grapevines
A bounty in the vineyards for T.P. Reserve, which benefits the Napa Valley Food Bank (Courtesy of T.P. Reserve Wine)

City Winery New York also created a bottle: A Mendocino rosé of Syrah whose label announces “Bought This Rosé and Stayed the F*** Home.” The beneficiary is Relief Opportunities for All Restaurants (ROAR).

The first winery to put together a jam session in support of out-of-work musicians, that we know of, was Sonoma’s Three Sticks (see below). Three Sticks is continuing its virtual tastings and gatherings to include chefs like Dustin Valette and Tyler Florence, as well as designers and winemakers, with a goal of providing $20,000 to Sonoma Family Meal.

Now, Napa-based Tarpon Cellars is also pledging proceeds to musicians and music education through its newly founded Let It Rock initiative, which coordinates with Spotify’s larger efforts to identify the needy and underserved among performers.

And of course, the ultimate wine-country concert, BottleRock, pressed pause on its annual Memorial Day event, but it certainly has not gone quiet. (re)LIVE BottleRock is the new weekly virtual series featuring the highlights of performances past every Friday at 8 p.m. ET on YouTube. Viewers are encouraged to donate, with Napa Valley Food Bank and Crew Nation, an organization for impacted musicians' crews, receiving proceeds.

“Everybody needs a little more music in their life right now!” said Bill Price, owner of standout Sonoma Pinot producer Three Sticks. The winery has been contributing to a variety of COVID relief efforts, partnering with local restaurants to help feed the needy in the community. But they’ve also been fundraising for another group that has fallen out of work and onto hard times: musicians and music industry staffers. The format was obvious: Hold a concert on social media. “We thought it would be great to give some people some work, raise some money and help out people for whom it’ll be awhile before they’re going to get a chance to get out in front of their fans.”

Billy Valentine
R&B and jazz singer Billy Valentine belts one out in his home studio for the Three Sticks concert. (Courtesy of Three Sticks)

Price and winemaker Bob Cabral needed to pull something together quickly, so they called up a few friends to play: R&B and jazz crooner Billy Valentine, whose career spans seven decades; jazz pianist Laurence Hobgood; singer Tim Hockenberry, who’s made appearances on America’s Got Talent and at Bill Price’s wedding; and, for something a little different, ‘80s rock dynamo Sammy Hagar. The musicians all recorded their video sets over the weekend, and Price and Cabral emceed the show on their Facebook page on April 29. Price planned to raise at least $10,000 in donations during the concert and pledged to match that amount; the beneficiary is the Plus1 COVID-19 Relief Fund for music workers in need.

The number of wine companies and organizations around the world that have kicked off charity initiatives continued to grow in late April. Virginia’s RdV Vineyards has raised $30,000 for José Andrés' hunger-relief organization World Central Kitchen through bottle and membership sales, and hopes to add another $50,000 to that haul by June. Clambake, a label of California wines, is sending bottles to healthcare workers. Ecco Domani, the popular Pinot Grigio brand, pledged $50,000 to the Meals on Wheels COVID-19 Response Fund.

The Piedmont producers in and around the Barolo commune of Serralunga d’Alba pooled funds to bring some light into their neighbors’ lives: Starting last weekend, the iconic 14th-century castello that dominates the town lights up every night in shades of the Tricolore, the red, white and green of Italy’s flag.

The Castello at Serralunga d'Alba
Barolo producers raised money to light up the castello in the town of Serralunga d'Alba every night to serve as a symbol of Italian resilience. (Photo by Franco Giaccone)

Online retailer Nakedwines.com has moved to help the wineries themselves, launching a $5 million buy-up intended for winemakers who have been struggling to move inventory and hurting for cash during the pandemic. Another retailer, Manhattan Wine Company, is enlisting sommeliers to write email newsletters that double as wine offers; #MWCWineRelief then donates money and a portion of proceeds to each somm’s restaurant. Rajat Parr, Pascaline Lepeltier and Union Square Hospitality Group’s Jenni Guizio are among the participants.

Legend of Hollywood and vine Francis Ford Coppola and his family announced a campaign April 20 to help children impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The Francis Ford Coppola Winery, in Geyserville, Calif., is joining forces with No Kid Hungry, a nationwide nonprofit; the winery is donating $150,000 to the organization to help it feed vulnerable children who are dependent on school meals. “Nothing is more important to me than our kids,” Coppola said in a statement. “They need good, nourishing food in order to learn, and they must learn or there’ll be no future.”

Bottling line at Francis Ford Coppola Winery
The bottling line at Francis Ford Coppola Winery keeps moving; the company is making masks for employees in-house. (Courtesy of Francis Ford Coppola Winery)

The Coppola family had been looking to partner with No Kid Hungry even before the crisis, according to Corey Beck, CEO of parent company the Family Coppola. But they decided to broaden the scope of their relief efforts. “This is a major issue, so tackling it on a larger scale, versus what we have been doing locally, was one of our first steps,” he told Unfiltered. “There are certain criteria that the [Coppola] family has for philanthropic endeavors, and one of them is children.” The winery will also be donating $5 to NKH for every bottle of Gia Coppola wine sold online through the end of May.

On other fronts, the winery has donated N95 masks to healthcare workers—it has a sewing machine on the premises that it’s using to make masks for its own staff—and has started producing hand sanitizer. “[Francis Ford Coppola] already made the label for it,” Beck said. And FFC Winery allows employees to use some of their paid hours to work at a charity of their choice. “We have a lot of people donating their time to the food bank right now.”

Meiomi, the Pinot powerhouse and new official wine of the PGA Tour, has teed up an initiative for its social media followers, both pro and am: the #MeiomiPinotPuttOff. In most years, PGA Tour events are themselves vehicles for charitable fundraising, but this year, nine of the tourneys are canceled. So pro golfer Ryan Palmer, with the PGA Tour and Meiomi, started Pros for a Purpose to keep the giving going. Meiomi lined up first with a $100,000 donation.

Kira Dixon, Golf Channel host
Golf Channel host Kira Dixon prepares to sink a hole-in-one and a glass of Meiomi. (Twitter / @KiraDixon)

Now, the winery is challenging Twitter and Instagram users to post videos of themselves sinking a one-handed putt (glass of wine in the other), with the hashtag, for which Meiomi will pony up another $5 each, up to $50,000. Pros Palmer, Jimmy Walker and Charley Hoffman, as well as coach Claude Harmon and Golf Channel host Kira Dixon, all got in on the game. “It’s a great cause, and you get to enjoy a little Meiomi Pinot Noir along the way—a true hole-in-one!” Palmer told Unfiltered via email.

Actors and social-distancing butterflies Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis were not previously known for wine-world crossovers, but they too saw the opportunity to put good Pinot toward a good cause during the pandemic. On April 19, they announced the launch of their new Quarantine Wine in collaboration with Nocking Point Wines and Portland, Ore.–based Battle Creek Cellars: a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.

“100 percent of the proceeds go to a handful of charities we have done homework on … to make sure that their overhead is low enough or they actually do the work that they’re supposed to do, where they’re outcome is visible,” Kunis says in a promo video. “So we kind of took the guessing game out.” Beneficiaries include America’s Food Fund, Direct Relief, Frontline Responders Fund and GiveDirectly, charities that provide services like safe access to food, personal protective equipment for frontline workers, ventilators to medical facilities and cash grants.

The bottle wears a blank canvas as a front label, to encourage friends to write toasts to each other from afar. “Mila’s brilliant idea was to create a wine where we could actually give shoutouts to whoever we want with the wine,” Kutcher explains.

Other A-listers, at least within West Coast wine, are also activating COVID charity efforts. Bogle Vineyards, in Clarksburg, Calif., spent around $60,000 to buy meals from Sacramento-area locally owned restaurants and give them to healthcare workers around the city. Santa Barbara County Vintners heard their local frontline responders wanted wine, and soon, U-Haul vans were dropping off cases right at the hospitals—550 cases’ worth, donated by wineries around the region who heeded the call. California labels Joseph Carr and Josh Cellars have pledged $100,000 to the Restaurant Workers' Community Foundation (RWCF) for out-of-work hospitality employees. In Washington, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates last week announced gifts of $50,000 each to local hunger charity WA Food Fund and the Plate Fund, for Seattle-area restaurant workers facing economic hardship.

The Great Brain Cell Sacrifice is the cheeky name of a charity label from Santa Barbara winemaker Justin Willett of Lieu-Dit that pledges to donate a book to a child in an underfunded community per bottle of wine sold; it is now ramping up to six-bottle/six-book “home library” collections to drive donations to kids learning to read in a time when schools are closed.

Coravin, the cork-piercing wine-preservation tool, has been hosting weekly live tastings through social media, and last Friday’s soiree shaped up to be a Very Special Episode, as founder Greg Lambrecht aimed to host the world’s biggest virtual wine tasting ever—and raise a hefty sum for COVID-19 relief in the process.

On April 17, Lambrecht hosted a Facebook Live session with an international ensemble cast of wine stars, to benefit the James Beard Foundation Relief Fund that’s providing assistance to small, independent restaurants. "We’ve seen such great response to our weekly Wine O’Clock Instagram Live shows as a way to escape the reality of our current environment and wanted to expand that idea to unite the world around our common passion for wine," Lambrecht told Unfiltered.

For the show, he called on guest hosts that included Véronique Sanders, managing director of Château Haut-Bailly in Bordeaux; Barolo star Federico Ceretto, co-owner of Ceretto; Peter Granoff, co-proprietor of Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant and Oxbow Cheese & Wine Merchant; and more.

For every participant that joined the session, Coravin donated $20 to the fund, with Lambrecht meeting his goal of raising $50,000; more than 9,400 people tuned in. "We’re passionate about supporting our business partners who are being devastated by this current situation,” he said. The company will continue to donate 10 percent of online sales to the fund.

If you’ve been following the efforts of drinks pros to combat COVID-19, you already know many have diverted their stills to making alcohol for artisanal hand sanitizer, with many even blending and bottling FDA-approved disinfectant themselves. (Read more about distillers delivering sanitizer to hospitals, aid workers and nursing homes, and check out the efforts of big-time time distillers like E. & J. Gallo, LVMH and Rémy Cointreau, below.)

Sanitizer products from Goose Ridge winery
Goose Ridge Estate Winery cleans up: the sanitizer lineup. (Goose Ridge Estate Winery)

Now the government is encouraging anyone who can to hop aboard: The recent $2 trillion stimulus package from Congress includes a temporary exemption from an excise tax on alcohol if it’s used to make hand sanitizer along FDA guidelines. For big distillers, that’s a tax break of $13.50 per proof gallon (e.g. a gallon of 100-proof liquor), and for small distillers, $2.70 per proof gallon on the first 100,000 they make.

Washington’s Goose Ridge Estate Winery owner Molly Stutesman was getting ready to launch a vodka brand when cleaning duty called. “We had requests from the state of Washington to produce this [hand sanitizer],” Stutesman told Unfiltered. She’s selling her sanitizer products to the military and state of Washington, while donating gallons to first responders and local hospitals. Packaging the stuff requires some makeshift magicking, with 750ml and 375ml bottles meant for wine now holding gel.

Chateau Ste. Michelle and Sparkman Cellars, both based in Woodinville, Wash., are even giving wine itself to distillery partners, to be used as a base for what is made into sanitizer. Ste. Michelle’s red winemaking team has been producing stripwater, the byproduct of reducing alcohol in wines, from its Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, to send to Glass Distillery in Seattle. “Normally we provide them with stripwater, which they distill and provide us with a high-proof spirit that we use for our Whidbey's Port wines,” explained Chateau Ste. Michelle red winemaker Leah Adint. “Now they’re using the high-proof spirit to produce hand sanitizer.” So far, Ste. Michelle has provided more than 6,000 gallons of stripwater to make more than 450 gallons of hand sanitizer.

Cabernet Sauvignon stripwater
Believe it or not, this is Cabernet Sauvignon. Washington's Chateau Ste. Michelle has been turning it into stripwater, a reduced-alcohol base that distillers can use to make high-proof spirit for hand sanitizer. (Courtesy of Chateau Ste. Michelle)

Sparkman has a dessert wine connection with Scratch Distillery, who usually help it make brandy and Port-style wines. “Our friend Kim Karrick, who used to work in the Sparkman tasting room before opening Scratch Distillery, asked if we might have some wine that we could donate in a pinch to help make hand sanitizer for first responders,” winemaker Linn Scott told Unfiltered via email. Sparkman joined forces with Long Road Winery to donate over 1,000 gallons of wine, including 330 gallons of Sauvignon Blanc, for sanitizer production. Ste. Michelle and Sparkman are donating the product to local hospitals, first responders and law enforcement agencies.

Others turning booze into something you can wash your hands with include North Carolina’s Duplin Winery, which provided 15,000 gallons of Muscadine to the Hackney Distillery, Sono 1420, a Connecticut distiller specializing in hemp-infused spirits, the Winery at Versaille in Ohio, and Diageo, which has expanded its sanitizer alcohol distribution to healthcare providers in hard-hit areas of Southeast Asia, with 60,000 liters earmarked for the Philippines, Myanmar and Vietnam. Labeltronix, an Anaheim, Calif., printer, has helped put a bow on these efforts by donating more than 50,000 labels for sanitizer to drinks companies making it.

Original story, with updates throughout

Big companies get to work

Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits, the Miami-based drinks distributor, began firing up initiatives last week to offer immediate financial relief to hospitality employees who found themselves suddenly jobless and struggling to make ends meet in the wake of mass closures in the industry. "It didn't take a lot of brains to figure out that this industry was going to be devastated," Lee Schrager, senior vice president of communications and corporate social responsibility, told Unfiltered. "These people have served us for years; now it's time for us to serve them."

Southern's first effort is channeling proceeds from its South Beach Wine & Food Festival, in partnership with Florida International University, producers like Bacardi and Jägermeister, and even Miami hitmakers like Pitbull, and Gloria and Emilio Estefan, into the SOBEWFF & FIU Chaplin School Hospitality Industry Relief Fund. "We had a call with 20 chefs from south Florida, talked with them about what would be the most important thing," said Schrager. "And they all were concerned about taking care of their employees—before their rents, before their vendors, before their own bills, they wanted to care of their employees. We've already given out almost $900,000 since last Friday," as of April 3. A similar effort is in the works for New York, and Schrager reported he's been in discussions with potential partners like Microsoft and Zoom.

"As you can imagine, people were incredibly grateful: That we were quick to do it, that there was no red tape, that we were, honestly, happy to support undocumented people." Southern Glazer's also teamed with spirits producer Beam Suntory to give $1 million to the United States Bartenders' Guild (USBG) Emergency Assistance Program and the RWCF, other organizations providing relief to out-of-work hospitality professionals.

Gerard’s Paella making meals for charity
Kitchen staff at Gerard’s Paella in Santa Rosa, Calif., prepare meals for Sonoma’s vulnerable residents. Jordan Winery and Sonoma Family Meal are raising money for the project. (Courtesy of Jordan Winery)

Victor, N.Y.–based Constellation Brands, one of the country's largest wine companies with The Prisoner, Kim Crawford and Meiomi in its portfolio, kicked off its fundraising with a $2.5 million commitment, with $1 million earmarked for the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund (RERF) launched by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The face of the campaign is that most ebullient booster of dining out, Guy Fieri, and Moët Hennessy USA and Boston Beer Company are also founding supporters.

"Our hearts go out to the many individuals and businesses impacted by this terrible virus, and we felt it was important to help," Amy Martin, VP of corporate reputation and corporate social responsibility, told Unfiltered via email. "We are grateful to our thousands of employees across the U.S. and to our distributor and retail partners that are joining the effort to help drive awareness and raise support."

Constellation pledged another $500,000 to the USBG, $250,000 to healthcare initiatives in Italy's Veneto region where its Ruffino Prosecco brand is based and $500,000 to #FirstRespondersFirst, a campaign from Thrive Global to equip medical personnel on the frontlines with masks, gloves, gowns and other essentials. More initiatives are in the works, a Constellation rep told us.

E. & J. Gallo Winery, the Modesto, Calif., wine juggernaut, is also spreading the love. It announced a $300,000 pledge from its Barefoot brand to the Children of Restaurant Employees (CORE), which is providing assistance to the families of food and drinks pros who have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Or rather, late-night host Jimmy Kimmel announced it, on a March 27 airing of Jimmy Kimmel Live!, glass of Cabernet in hand.

“Since CORE brings together two things Gallo is very passionate about, family and community, we want to help the families of restaurant employees stay resilient through COVID-19,” said Stephanie Gallo, chief marketing officer. Gallo's small-screen splash, she said, "we hope will inspire more donations.”

Through other brands, Gallo also pledged $100,000 to wine-educational org GuildSomm and $100,000 to the USBG program by selling "Support Your Local Bartender" T-shirts. Finally, Gallo is now dispensing hand sanitizer, repurposing some of its distilling gear for disinfectant. Their bottles are headed to the local Stanislaus County Office of Emergency Services.

Jimmy Kimmel with Barefoot Cabernet
Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel and his wife, Molly McNearney, announced Gallo's $300,000 donation to the Children of Restaurant Employees program on Kimmel's show and encouraged others to follow suit. (YouTube / Jimmy Kimmel Live)

Distributor Brown-Forman announced a $1 million relief package on March 23, with funds going to the RWCF, the USBG foundation and the company’s hometown One Louisville: COVID-19 Response Fund. Wholesaler Breakthru Beverage Group committed $500,000 to be distributed to nonprofits around the country and the RWCF. Global spirits giant Campari is giving $1 million to Another Round, Another Rally, an organization sending relief grants to hospitality workers. That follows a €1 million donation to the ASST Fatebenefratelli Sacco, a healthcare institution in Milan specializing in research of infectious diseases. Massachusetts distributor Martignetti Companies has committed $250,000 to local hospitality charities and the RERF.

West Coast wineries get creative

All around the country, wineries are giving what they can, through straightforward donations, volunteer hours and food from their own farms, and your favorite purveyors of pours are likely in the mix.

In Sonoma, Jordan winery's charity arm, the John Jordan Foundation, paired with Sonoma Family Meal to pay local restaurants to keep their stoves hot, cooking meals for the community's underserved; the campaign is called the Restaurant Disaster Relief Fund. Jordan put up $150,000, with the goal of having the charity match that. The $300,000 would keep open an estimated 20 kitchens and provide 65,000 meals. Gerard's Paella (of Wine Country movie fame) and the Girl & the Fig were the first two restaurants.

Heather Irwin, SFM founder, proposed the idea to John Jordan. “When I read Heather’s email, I knew we had to do something,” Jordan told Unfiltered. “Finding a way to pay restaurants to cook for the less fortunate is a new concept in philanthropy that is smart and needed, especially now. The idea of a program that supports restaurant workers, farmers, the economy and those in need all at one time really spoke to me.”

Novelty Hill and Januik, two Washington wineries that share a Woodinville, Wash., tasting room and kitchen, have taken a similar path, putting their chef to work to prepare 100 meals each week for distribution through Hopelink, a local social services agency. "At its core, wine is about community and bringing families together around the table," said vintner Mike Januik.

Chef Aaron Grund prepping meals
In Woodinville, Wash., Novelty Hill and Januik’s in-house chef Aaron Grund has been busy prepping meals for those in need. (Courtesy of Novelty Hill - Januik)

Cabernet baron Andy Beckstoffer opted for a simpler model: Cutting $100,000 worth of checks directly to the people whose livelihoods have been endangered by the coronavirus outbreak living in the three counties where he owns vineyards—Napa, Mendocino and Lake. "We want to let the people in the communities where we farm know Beckstoffer Vineyards cares about them," he explained to Unfiltered, and he's working with county chambers of commerce to identify those in need. "This way, Beckstoffer is able to give checks of $300 each directly to those most affected—the busboys, the waiters, the cashiers and housekeepers—those who are on the front line of the hospitality industries.”

Heitz Cellar, also in Napa, is counting its contribution in pounds—500 pounds of Angus beef from the cattle it raises on 40 acres of its biodynamic farm. The winery has united with local relief groups Abode Services and the Table, as well as the Salvation Army, to donate the meat to families in need. The winery is also donating a percentage of its sales to restaurant employees impacted by COVID-19. “The idea was, ‘How can Heitz play a bigger role in the community beside making great wine?’” said Heitz president and CEO Carlton McCoy, who added that Heitz plans to continue working with restaurant partners and help the needy once the crisis is over.

Other wineries donating food from their own gardens or through partners include Napa’s Round Pond; 1849 Wine Company, through owner Golden West Food Group; and Francis Ford Coppola Winery.

Heitz CEO Carlton McCoy
The Salvation Army picked up 500 pounds of beef from Heitz Cellar president and CEO Carlton McCoy. (Courtesy of Heitz Cellar)

Napa-based Hall winery is donating its employees. "Part of our longstanding benefit package is making available 40 hours per year at full pay that our employees can devote to local nonprofit organizations," said vintner Kathryn Hall. "In the aftermath of COVID-19 … our volunteering has focused on food delivery and food bank–related projects. Some of our employees have used up all their community hours, but they continue to volunteer. This has been truly heartwarming.” The winery is also offering pay for virtual volunteering.

Online auctions are another avenue. The Wine Country for Restaurants #86LostWages auction also benefits the RWCF; bidding opened April 5, and lot donors include marquee names like Alejandro Bulgheroni, Bond, Clos du Val, Dalla Valle, Duckhorn, Favia, Flowers, Harlan, Lewis, Matthiasson, Ovid, Quintessa, Screaming Eagle, Shafer, Silver Oak, Staglin and more.

In-person auctions, of course, are not. However, despite the cancellation of Auction Napa Valley, Napa Valley Vintners intends to push forward on its giving goals. “Many years ago we set up a reserve fund in case of an emergency or in the event the auction might not take place," said Linda Reiff, president and CEO of NVV. "Our pledge is to provide at least the same level of support as we did last year.”

Babe—the canned, fizzy official wine of the NFL—simply gave away wine online to anyone who requested it. It pledged $1 million worth and made good on that within 24 hours.

Small wineries, big hearts

Though most tasting rooms are closed, and many small wineries are hurting for income themselves, the most common method of philanthropy for them is donating proceeds from wine sales. In California, Aubert, Papapietro Perry, Far Niente, Domaine Rütz, AldenAlli, Revel Wine, Bonanno Vintners, Matthew Fritz, Cuvaison, Honig, Bricoleur, Inman Family, Macrostie, Ram's Gate, Grounded Wine Co., Carter Estate (in Temecula, Calif.), South Coast and Donum are sending money to health efforts, food banks and unemployment relief funds. In Washington and Oregon, DeLille, Alexandria Nicole, Betz Family, Waterbrook, Waters Winery, Stoller Family and Chehalem are among the altruists, and in New York, count in Shinn Estate.

Stoller Wine Group president Gary Mortensen described an in-tandem effort between its wineries, restaurant Botanist House, Meals on Wheels People and distributor Young's Market Company to buy, make and deliver meals to Portland, Ore.'s elderly and displaced. "The most breathtaking thing about our partnership is how quickly it came together," Mortensen said. "In less than a week, we went from concept to launch. In times like this, there is no time to waste."

“The Washington wine industry is such a big-hearted community that it’s no surprise we are seeing people step up to help their neighbors,” said Steve Warner, president of the Washington State Wine Commission, via email. “Our wineries are constantly adjusting their efforts to keep business healthy while doing what they can to support their greater communities."

Hall winery volunteer workers
Hall and Walt winery staff volunteering at the Napa Food Bank (Courtesy of Hall Wines)

Rick Reilly, co-owner of Forge Cellars in New York's Finger Lakes, is another winemaker who felt compelled to help however he could. Forge is donating 5 percent of sales of its flagship Dry Riesling Classique to the RWCF, indefinitely.

"When this all started happening, all these restaurateurs I'm buddies with were closing their doors—great people, hardworking. And they woke up one day and their livelihood was gone. I felt terrible, and thought, what can we possibly do?" he told Unfiltered. "It's not like we're rich guys or anything; we're just some guys who own a winery. But we wanted to have some kind of impact. I hope it's 12, 15 grand."

Daniel Johnnes, wine director for chef Daniel Boulud’s restaurants and founder of La Paulée, is hosting virtual tastings via his Pressoir wine club with Burgundy and Champagne winemakers. Jean-Marc Roulot, Véronique Drouhin and the directors of Champagne Salon and Champagne Delamotte are all coming up; all proceeds from the tickets for each go to various restaurant staff relief funds.

Santa Barbara winemaker Alecia Moore of Two Wolves—whose primary source of income has been selling 90 million records and touring under her stage name, P!nk—contracted the disease and recovered. She’s now pledging $1 million to the Temple University Hospital Emergency Fund and Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles.

Giving around the globe

In a global pandemic, wine and dining have been disrupted in Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Austria, South America, Australia and beyond. Some of the significant drinks players abroad have also mobilized their resources.

Making hand sanitizer at Christian Dior
Christian Dior, the LVMH-owned fashion house, repurposed some of its facilities to produce hand sanitizer and masks. (Courtesy of LVMH)

In mid-March, as COVID-19 cases surged in northeastern France, luxury giant LVMH started producing hydro-alcoholic gel through its perfume and cosmetics businesses for French hospitals. Its coronavirus efforts have revved into high gear across its many brands of drinks and fashion.

LVMH has now produced more than 130 metric tons of hand sanitizer in its factories, around 50 to 60 tons per week. It has also ordered 40 million masks for the French healthcare system. Its individual brands have tuned up local responses. In France, Hennessy Cognac has given hand sanitizer, surgical masks, overalls, and alcohol to local medical infrastructures. In Poland, Belvedere vodka is making several thousand 1-liter bottles of 70 percent alcohol solution, which it will donate to local communities to use for health sanitation purposes. It will also donate 50,000 liters of pure alcohol to Orlen, the state-run oil entity, which is sanctioned by the government to produce hand sanitizer for Polish hospitals. In the U.S., Washington’s Woodinville Whiskey is making 500-gallon batches of sanitizer.

The company’s non-drinks brands are also churning out sanitizer, masks and blankets; Fendi expected to have sent 100,000 masks to Tuscany by the end of this week, an LVMH rep told us.

Headquartered in Paris, conglomerate Rémy Cointreau has geared up its brands around the world, and a company with distilleries from Cognac to Barbados to Washington state can make a lot of alcohol for much-needed sanitizer. "Terroir, people and time—those are the core values of our group. Given the terroir aspect, we've been working as hard as possible to achieve what we can as soon as possible," Hervé Dumesny, the group's director of public affairs, told Unfiltered. The sanitizer will go back to hospitals from Scotland to the Caribbean where the company has outposts. "We made hundreds of phone calls to find who was in need, and we're supplying hospitals and central pharmacies in the regions where we are active with the neutral alcohol they use to make the hand gel that is so lacking."

On April 2, Dumesny reported, "We've just received this morning 10,000 liters of neutral alcohol, and it should be in their hands in the coming days."

Italian consortium Gruppo Italiano Vini donated €100,000 to the Fondo Emergenza Coronavirus, which supplies much-needed equipment to hospitals around the country.

While wineries like his are making more substantial contributions, Reilly reflected that wine could also help alleviate quarantine-induced boredom as hobby fodder. Those who can afford it could support cash-strapped businesses and broaden their palates along the way. At first, "you go out and buy your Barilla pasta; 10 boxes of the pasta that you know is good. But then you eat pasta for eight, 10 days, and you go, 'It's good, but man, I need some better pasta.' And you start looking around and find a guy making pasta in another place that's homemade. Maybe you kind of evolve as you're stuck in your home with more time to sit by the computer and have more discussions," he said.

"Maybe we'll see people start to elevate their drinking and become more and more interested in smaller, more interesting producers."

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