Tasting Notes: Sweet Charity

Area winemakers are investing millions toward helping with education, healthcare and more.

Category: Tasting Notes


At many charitable auctions and benefit events throughout the fall, wine is a featured guest. Trips to wine country, wine dinners, and rare and collectible wines will be auctioned off to benefit Seattle’s arts organizations at the 18th Annual PONCHO International Wine Auction next month. The Auction of Washington Wine, held each August, has raised more than $19 million since 1988 to benefit the uncompensated care fund at Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center and the Washington Wine Education Foundation.

But wine is also becoming a tool for smaller, more personalized philanthropy. O Wines, a new Woodinville company, is headed by Kathy Johanson, a program manager at Boeing, and Stacy Lill, whose husband, Greg, is co-owner of DeLille Winery in Woodinville. Both women have been involved with local wine auctions and benefits for years, but they wanted to create a wine business that would give back all year around. “O”—for opportunity, not Oprah (who doesn’t have a trademark for food and drink, by the way)—donates 50 percent of the profits from what is currently its only wine, a light, fresh Chardonnay, to organizations that provide scholarships for at-risk teen girls in Washington.

“We wanted to create a wine to help address the problems women and young girls face in our community. Kathy and I have a strong opinion that education is power, and knowledge is power,” says Lill. The partners developed their wine—and even their label—with women in mind. They did a lot of research with groups of women, and the results only reinforced their own ideas. “The women we surveyed said they want delicious wine with an elegant-looking label that they’d be proud to give as a gift or take to a dinner party,” says Lill.

O Wines is not the only wine business with an ulterior motive. Tom and Debbie Waliser, owners of Beresan Winery, teamed up with the Washington Wine Industry Foundation to create Angel’s Share. Wineries can donate proceeds from chosen wines to the Angel’s Share fund, which will be donated to causes of the winery’s choice. The first Angel’s Share wine, Beresan’s 2005 Semillon (now sold out), has gathered funds for breast cancer research, a cause that hits home with the Walisers; both Debbie and Tom’s mothers suffered from breast cancer.
Another winery, Sparkman Cellars in Woodinville’s hot new warehouse district, has created Wilderness, a rich, well-balanced blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Sangiovese and Petit Verdot. Winemaker Chris Sparkman donates $1 from each bottle to the Wilderness Society.

Other philanthropic organizations, such as the Alzheimer’s Foundation and the Lenny Wilkens Foundation, work with Northwest Cellars, a company that creates private-label wines for everything from fundraising events to weddings and birthdays. Wine options vary from vintage to vintage, but offer nearly anyone a chance to blend their love of wine with the causes they love.

Northwest Cellars 2005 Lenny Wilkens Red Blend ($19.95)
This surprisingly elegant wine—a blend of Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot—shows lovely aromas of black cherry, bacon and smoke. Juicy cherry and plum fill your mouth with a burst complex flavors. Pairs with: Seared pork loin with Cabernet-blackberry reduction sauce.

Beresan 2006 Semillon ($18)
A rich nose of pineapple, mango and ripe peach, followed by grapefruit and honey on the palate. This 100-percent Semillon is fermented in stainless steel tanks, resulting in a ripe but refreshing wine. Pairs with: Rotisserie chicken with grilled vegetable ske