If you're looking to raise a glass to veterans this Memorial Day you might consider filling it with wine that will raise funds for them, too. A number of wineries are making the veterans-and-vines connection. And if you're not so fine on wine, there's even a liquor — Wild Turkey — that's gotten into the spirit with a Boots and Bourbon campaign.
At the Murphy-Goode Winery in California's Sonoma County wine country, winemaker David Ready Jr. says linking vines and vets was natural for his family. His great-grandfather served in World War I, he had two grandpas in World War II and his late father served in the early days of Vietnam.
So when he and his team came across Operation Homefront, a national organization that provides emergency financial assistance to military families, they knew they had a fit. "It's an organization that's just simply there to help out our active military families or veterans that need little things or big things," he says.
Since fall 2011, the winery has donated more than $100,000 to Operation Homefront and is on track to donate $300,000 this year, partly through the release of a special wine, Homefront Red, scheduled for the holiday season. A portion of the winery's profits will be donated to Operation Homefront and distributors also have agreed to donate part of their profits.
In a second initiative, the winery ran a "grill sergeant" campaign, looking for a veteran to serve as winery chef and tour the country for barbecue events. Meanwhile, the winery is wrapping up a Facebook campaign, "A Few Goode Heroes," in which people nominated local heroes and winners got $1,000 donated to their charity of choice while the winery donated another $1,000 to Operation Homefront. The contest ends in June with a grand prize winner who will get to have the Murphy-Goode Grill Sergeant visit their town and throw a July 4th party in their honor.
"Wine is a lifestyle," says Ready. "It's not just a beverage. It's not just a food. It's a lifestyle and it's about getting together with friends and laughing and sharing conversations and what better what to do that than throw a barbecue?"
After all, he says, a name like Murphy-Goode takes a little living up to. "We're just trying to do good and be good and I think that's really cool."
At Valor Winery, a small winery in the Livermore Valley wine-growing region southeast of San Francisco, it's all about the vets. The winery was founded in 2007 by Iraq War veteran Josh Laine, who got interested in the business through an ex-girlfriend who worked in the industry. Laine, who received three Purple Hearts, currently has 58 veterans on payroll and another 200 veterans who volunteer.
The winery has been producing 3,000 cases a year but plans to ramp up to 15,000 cases. Valor produces a sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, zinfandel and sangiovese. Proceeds go to the Vets & Vines Foundation created by Laine, which employs the vets. Working hard in the fields has "a couple of byproducts; one is camaraderie," says Laine. Another benefit is mental and physical therapy.
"A lot of these veterans are getting back into shape; they go home tired at night. There's a lot less fighting with their families and bills are getting paid," Laine said, who also is in the process of adding a brewery.
McClean Vineyards, set in California's Paso Robles wine country, is focused on helping returning soldiers with rehabilitation. McClean was founded by Vietnam War veteran Michael McClean. A Distinguished Service Cross recipient, McClean got interested in wine nine years after his return to civilian life when he enrolled in a wine class. McClean Vineyards has been open since 1993 and makes limited quantities of viognier (vee-ohn-yay, a delicate white wine) and syrah. Ten percent of proceeds from wine sales go to the Armed Forces Foundation.
Meanwhile, Rob Mondavi Jr., grandson of the pioneering vintner Robert Mondavi, partnered with ONEHOPE to help the families of veterans. ONEHOPE integrates causes into products including wine and coffee. Half of the profits go to various charities. Mondavi's ONEHOPE Wine, a zinfandel, raises money for Snowball Express, an organization that supports families and children of fallen soldiers.
But if wine isn't your style, check out Wild Turkey Bourbon. The whiskey company has teamed up with The Boot Campaign, which supports veterans through the sale and promotion of combat boots. The "Boots and Bourbon" initiative began in April and continues through September.
Wild Turkey will be holding in-store promotions highlighting the Boots Campaign, which has a mission of raising awareness about returning veterans' issues, as well as raising money. Wild Turkey is donating $50,000 directly to the Boot Campaign, as well as encouraging consumers and friends in the industry to purchase 1,000 pairs of boots this year through various activities. The Wild Turkey team, including master distiller Jimmy Russell and associate distiller Eddie Russell, will be wearing combat boots on the job to reinforce the message.