ON ANY GIVEN day, every single winery in Washington — more than 800 now — is contacted by someone seeking a donation.
It is difficult to imagine another industry being approached more often to give away its product, especially when the vast majority of the state’s wineries are family businesses crafting small amounts of high-quality wine with low profit margins.
It is an overwhelming problem, but one Washington winery has figured out a solution.
Westport Winery near the coastal town of Aberdeen gives away no wine, yet it manages to support more than 30 charities in its community, and is approaching a quarter-million dollars in donations.
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Talk about making a difference — and having fun at the same time.
The small, young winery makes a dizzying 33 different wines. Each is attached to a charity, with part of the sales going to that particular cause. A few examples:
• Lighthouse, a blend of riesling and gewürztraminer, benefits the Grays Harbor Lighthouse Restoration Fund.
• Noirvana, a pinot noir, helps the Kurt Cobain Memorial Committee (the founder of the band Nirvana grew up in Aberdeen).
• Shelter from the Storm, a dessert wine, assists the Grays Harbor Hospital Foundation.
• Mermaid Merlot benefits the Grays Harbor chapter of the American Cancer Society. This is especially important to the winery owners because their daughter, Carrie, is a cancer survivor.
And my personal favorite:
• Bella, a red blend inspired by the main character in the “Twilight” books and films, benefits the Mount Rainier chapter of the American Red Cross. And Westport regularly supports the Red Cross with “Bella blood drives” at the winery.
Westport co-owners Kim and Blain Roberts write monthly checks to each of the 33 charities, totaling anywhere from $5,000 to $7,000 a month. They don’t do this by raising the price of their wine — “That’s being a pretend bigshot,” Kim says. Instead, Kim and Blain don’t take a salary.
Those checks may sometimes seem small — perhaps $100 or $200 — but they add up. Since opening in 2008, the winery has donated more than $235,000.
It has been important to the Roberts family for the donations to stay local. But recently, they felt called to support Mercy Ships, an organization that provides health care via ships on the African coast. To accommodate this, Westport is launching a line of hard ciders, and a portion of sales will assist the Texas-based charity.
Even though Westport Winery gives so much back to its community, the calls requesting free wine keep coming daily. The Roberts family handles this by offering 40 percent off a gift basket to any Grays Harbor County charity, allowing the winery to help the organization while sticking to its rules.
“There’s a limit to how much you can give and still operate,” Kim says. “That’s the hard reality.”
Andy Perdue is a wine author, journalist and international judge. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.