By: Cathy Huyghe, Contributor, Forbes Food & Drink
Find Article Online: Trends In Wine And Philanthropy: How Wineries And Consumers Give Back
A healthy corporate culture is, as we know, good for business, and “giving back” is a significant indicator: consider SalesForce’s 1-1-1 integrated philanthropic model, the growing popularity of B Corp status, and the well-documented desire, especially among younger workers, to belong to a company that benefits society as well as shareholders.
How does the wine industry match up to these trends?
Wine is, in a word, generous.
That has been my observation as, over the years, I’ve witnessed a wide range of initiatives, from fundraising at the community level for schools and libraries, all the way to large-scale, high-voltage events like Auction Napa Valley that fuel community health initiatives. Wineries receive and respond to frequent requests for donations throughout the calendar year, and it’s an opportune time right now to take a closer look at philanthropy within the wine industry, as the last quarter of the year is known as the Giving Season, especially for the nonprofit community, when donors are more likely to give more generously compared to the rest of the year.
For a closer look, from both the wineries’ and the consumers’ perspective, I sat down with Martin Cody, who designated “giving back” as one of the three pillars of their business when he and his wife Denise Smith Cody founded Cellar Angels back in 2010. Cellar Angels connects the dots between wineries and consumers who each have a penchant for philanthropy, and act on it.
Every time someone purchases from a Cellar Angels winery partner, a percentage of the sale is funneled directly to a philanthropic partner. Which means that buying, say, a small-production, limited-availability Napa Cab also benefits organizations that provide a child clean drinking water for the first time, or help a family with the financial burden of treating their autistic child, or send a care package to a soldier around the world.
Their model is, as Cody explains, very low tech and, well, kind of boring. They don’t have a large list; actually they continually cull their list of non-active participants. They don’t offer alarmingly high discounts, and they are not an end-of-bin digital flash site.
They do, however, reach out to active members with personal phone calls and hand-written thank-you notes. They hand-select participating wineries, and they arrange visits and even phone calls for members with vintners.
Old-fashioned? Maybe. Cody considers it leveraging a thirst — for wine and for philanthropy.
“There’s no fancy app, no cutting edge technology and really no public adoration,” he said. “There’s really nothing sexy about what we do.”
Unless you consider giving back to be sexy.
Here’s my Q&A with Cody, on motivations, trends, and examples of philanthropy in the wine business.
It will inspire you. Watch.
Cellar Angels CEO Martin Cody, left, with corporate partner Ignacio Delgadillo, Jr, General Manager of Delgadillo Cellars.
What are some of the drivers for philanthropy within the wine industry, and among Cellar Angels members?
Cody: I don’t necessarily believe there’s any more unique drivers towards philanthropy within the wine industry than outside. As it relates to the Cellar Angels’ customer base, I do believe philanthropy is more prominent a focus. The Cellar Angels’ customer is defined by Nielsen as affluent or mass affluent. These individuals know their wine, travel to wine destinations either domestically or internationally, appreciate and require impeccable customer service and respect philanthropy. They enjoy saving some money, as we all do, but they recognize our model is predicated on a percentage going to charities. So ridiculous price reductions harm both the winery, in terms of brand degradation, and the charity in terms of reduced contributions. That’s not what our members are about.
We wanted to take a beverage we love, combine it with the healthy act of giving, and to borrow a goal from Steve Jobs, dent the universe. We’ve yet to encounter a Cellar Angels’ customer, be it the private equity firm CEO in Manhattan or the oral surgeon in Tampa, who doesn’t enjoy private access to the best wines from Napa and Sonoma delivered to their door with proceeds to a charity they select.
We see some extraordinary examples of philanthropy from within the wine community.
Cody: There’s a recognition among wine producers they’re incredibly blessed to do what they do and where they do it, that it’s beyond their imagination to not give back.
What are some of your favorite examples?
Cody: Judd Wallenbrock and all the folks at Humanitas Wines have a mission to drink charitably. We’re also enamored with and thrilled over the success of Sonoma Wine Country Weekend. And the philanthropic example I think of most often as it relates to the wine community is Auction Napa Valley, or ANV. Cellar Angels has a focus predominantly within the Napa Valley and what ANV does is truly extraordinary. We’ve actually been called by some a reverse Auction Napa Valley as our pricing structure grants exclusive access to the wines below retail in a similar effort to raise money for charity. The difference being our prices aren’t being bid up, but rather reduced.
What are some examples of philanthropy that have arisen directly from the needs and concerns of the wine industry?
Cody: One great example is MAVA (Mexican American Vintners Association) whom we were introduced to by longtime Cellar Angels winery partner Ignacio Delgadillo Jr., of Delgadillo Cellars. MAVA is comprised mainly of immigrant workers and now their children who work, run or own some amazing wineries in Napa/Sonoma. Proceeds for their efforts fund educational needs of children in both Napa and Sonoma Counties.
Another example is one of Cellar Angels’ earliest charity partners, Clinica Verde. This organization is run by a tireless group of workers headed by Napa resident Susan Dix Lyons. They provide first-time-ever access to healthcare for girls and young women in Nicaragua. It resonates with me as I’ve spent 27 years in healthcare and it provides countless examples of the wine industry “stepping up” as many of Susan’s supporters are among Napa’s elite producers.
What are some new opportunities or needs within the wine industry that you think can be met by philanthropy, that aren’t already being met?
Cody: I think there needs to be a much shorter, structured and formal path into wine than currently exists. Typically someone gets bit almost accidentally or because they happen to know a foodie who geeks out over a Grüner and introduces them. There needs to be more universities with similar curriculum as Davis. Wine industry as a vocation needs to be more mainstream. I do see an increase in crowdfunding programs for scholarships supporting both new positions within the wine industry and also winemakers, so that’s a great start. Wine is truly a liquid passport allowing one to meet people from all over the world. It slows us down, allows us to talk, share, interact—those are all good things!
Cathy Huyghe is the author of Hungry for Wine: Seeing the World through the Lens of a Wine Glass. Find her online at cathyhuyghe.com.