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Vineyard Event Raises Funds & Awareness
November 2017

One grateful table: Diners toast first responders

California Wine Country is “full steam ahead,” with newly fermented wines in cellars and a packed calendar of hospitality events. That’s the reality and the word that needs to reach global wine lovers after October’s devastating wildfires. Although the disaster claimed too many lives and homes, the wine industry sustained minimal damage as a whole. Tourism and the dollars and jobs it brings will help stricken communities heal.
 
To spread that message, Visit California—the non-profit organization that promotes tourism—organized the Grateful Table, a benefit lunch on November 21 spearheaded by celebrity chef Tyler Florence. The gathering brought 500 guests together at a single table for a Thanksgiving-style al fresco meal and salute to first responders. Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of Visit California, describes the day:

Visit California's Caroline Beteta (right)

How were you able to pull this major event together so quickly?
 
Unfortunately, we’ve been through other disasters in California so we have a structure for handling crises. We immediately start conversation-monitoring globally. It became clear that “Wine Country” was prominent, and the perception was total devastation. We knew we were going to have to respond. Yes, it was the most horrific fire in California history in terms of loss of life and structures, but the media coverage added to the damage. The vineyards were largely unharmed. Ninety percent of the grapes had been harvested. So we had a media crisis on our hands after the actual crisis.
 
The Grateful Table was already in the planning pipeline. We were working with the Guinness Book of World Records to do the longest sustainable table on the beach in Santa Monica for California Restaurant Month. We saw an opportunity to take that concept and put it right down the middle of the Napa and Sonoma County line for two purposes. First, we felt like the table would depict the splendor and glory of Wine Country by saying, “We’re open for business and it’s as beautiful as ever.”  And it would be an opportunity to do a benefit for the community at the same time.

Cooking for a cause: Chef Tyler Florence

A table that straddles the county line is moving in its symbolism. What do you hope that communicated?
 
If we could have crossed Mendocino County, we would have. We just wanted to send a message to influencers and stakeholders that this fire was a Northern California event, and we wanted to demonstrate “wide open arms” in terms of the recovery effort.
 
We were in the middle of an organic vineyard, the weather was a perfect 71°F, and the orange and gold grape leaves were still on the vines. We had almost 50 members of the media to help give life back to this community that people thought was completely torched. People came from as far as Mexico City and Toronto.
 

What do you hope people took away from the event, both those who were there and those who could only read about it?
 
I hope people felt a sense of energy and connectedness and hope, like a new dawn. Part of the fundraiser was that when you bought a ticket, you were encouraged to buy another ticket for a first responder or somebody affected by the fires. We had a lot of first responders there, many of them in uniform. The California Cut Flower Commission provided all the flowers, and the bouquets were spectacular. Each first responder was able to take one home.
 

Any estimate on the dollars raised? How will the funds be used in the affected communities?
 
We’re still tabulating, but 100 percent of the table proceeds will go to charity. All the food was donated by farmers associated with California Grown, and the California wine was donated by Wine Institute officers, board members, and Napa Valley Vintners. Visit California underwrote the event, and we let the affected communities choose their charities. There are four in particular: Sonoma County Resilience Fund; Mendocino County Disaster Fund; the Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund; and the California Restaurant Association Foundation.
 

How important is wine tourism to the state’s overall tourism industry?
 
Fully 20 percent of the state’s visitors partake in wine-tasting experiences. That’s incredible. About 24 million tourists visit California wine regions and contribute $7.2 billion to our state. People come to California because of our wine and food experiences. It’s not just an activity that happens after they arrive.
 

Six weeks after the fires, are there any misperceptions that persist in the media and in the tourism industry?
 
The local media have done a pretty good job covering the recovery, but we still have our work cut out for us domestically and internationally. We’ll be spending at least $2 million to get the message out globally through the spring. Very few wineries were actually affected and their product is intact and vibrant.


Copyright 2017 Wine Institute

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How to Help with Wildfire Relief:
The biggest need for wildfire recovery and relief is monetary donations. Two examples of financial support for wildfire recovery efforts are the $3 million being distributed by the Napa Valley Community Foundation's Disaster Relief Fund and Sonoma County Grape Growers Foundation's $400,000+ raised to support agricultural workers who have been impacted by the wine country wildfires. Donations can be made online or offline by mail. Visit the following sites to learn more or to donate:

Mendocino County Disaster Fund

Napa Valley Community Foundation Disaster Relief Fund

Sonoma County Resilience Fund

Sonoma County Grape Growers Foundation Wildfire Housing Support Fund

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After a thorough evaluation of CSWA's Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing program (CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE), SCS Global Services, a leader in third-party environmental, sustainability and food quality certification, auditing, testing and standards development, issued the following statement:

"CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE has undergone a robust third-party assessment of its standard development process and assurance program by SCS Global Services, and has successfully demonstrated overall compliance with the requirements of an assessment framework based on the requirements of internationally recognized standards and assurance systems, including ISO/IEC Guide 59:1994, ISO/IEC 17065:2012, and ISEAL Credibility Principles."
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Congratulations to C. Jeff Thomson International, the recent recipient of the 2017 California Leopold Conservation Award ® by Sand County Foundation, the California Farm Bureau Federation, and Sustainable Conservation International for extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation on private, working lands. Thomson was a fifth-generation farmer in Bakersfield, CA and was recognized for his wetland management. In 2006, LangeTwins Wine Estates received the award for improving natural habitat and their involvement with the Lodi Winegrower's Workbook, among other things. For more information click HERE.
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Did You Know? 

A recent Sonoma State University study indicated that 99% of the wine businesses surveyed (most respondents were CA wineries) significantly engaged in altruistic behavior in their local communities. The wineries primarily helped local charities and donated a median 150 cases of wine each year. (Source: SSU)
Resources • Publications

California Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Workbook: Download individual chapters or the entire workbook to learn more about sustainability in your vineyard or winery HERE.
Workshops & Webinars:

Dec. 14: Program Updates for Currently Certified Participants Webinar

Dec. 19: SWP and Certification Webinar
Down to Earth: a monthly newsletter celebrating the commitment of California vintners and growers to sustainable winegrowing and winemaking.
 
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