WineInk: Alma Rosa’s 10,000 steps
A winery supports mental health
The wine community can be a generous lot.
The charitable aspect of the industry manifests itself often in a multitude of ways. These can range from corporate donations to nonprofits, extravagant wine auctions that serve as fundraisers for philanthropic giving, to more grassroots events supporting organizations that resonate with winery owners.
A prime example of the latter will be on display later this month at the Alma Rosa Winery, a Sta. Rita Hills, California, producer of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (and other varieties) that I have waxed poetic about in this column in the past. Alma Rosa is taking a significant step — actually 10,000 of them — using the power of their brand, along with their prestigious vineyards, to host an event designed to raise awareness for a cause in need of both attention and funding: mental health care.
On Saturday, July 24, the bucolic winery located just north of the wine town of Buellton near Santa Barbara will host their second annual Peace of Mind: 10,000 Steps in the Right Direction Fundraiser to Benefit Mental Health. It provides participants the enviable opportunity to walk among the Alma Rosa vineyards for approximately 5 miles, or 10,000 steps, on the 628-acre estate. Though it is a somewhat strenuous jaunt, with two significant hills offering majestic views of the vineyards below, for wine lovers it is an unprecedented chance to explore the El Jabali vineyard that is the source of the Alma Rosa wines. Oh, and there will wine poured amid the vines.
But beyond just a walk, the event will serve as a fundraiser for a pair of nonprofit organizations dedicated to supporting those with mental health issues. Registration fees and all donations raised in conjunction with the Peace of Mind: 10,000 Steps walk will go directly to either the Mental Wellness Center of Santa Barbara or the One Mind research organization (which has its own wine connections). Participants can choose which organization they want their registration to support.
“This is a perfect way to use our brand and our resources to help support an important cause,” said Debra Eagle, general manager of the Alma Rosa Winery.
Last year’s inaugural walk was forced to become a virtual event but, nonetheless, over $140,000 was raised for the nonprofits. This year, participants who are unable to attend in person or would prefer to support the cause via donations will be offered a virtual option, simulating a walk through the property. (See box)
“The mental health scene in this country has been a living tragedy for years,” said Bob Zorich, who along with his wife Barb own Alma Rosa Winery and have been committed to supporting mental health issues for some time. “It’s a tough deal, everyone has been touched by anxiety or depression at one time or knows someone who has. And we feel it is so important to help fund those organizations that can do something about it.”
The two designated charities represent a continuation of the strategy that the Zorichs have used in their philanthropic giving to support mental health issues in Texas, where they have a home and business.
“There are two areas that we think are important with the issues surrounding mental health,” Bob explained. “At one of end of the spectrum, people need care, they need treatment, beds, therapy and caregivers. For those in need, that is the most important thing that you can offer.”
To that end the Mental Wellness Center in Santa Barbara, which has provided a significant support system and treatment for those impacted by mental health issues since 1947, is one the two beneficiaries.
“Then we have to fund research,” Bob added. “There are so many really promising things going on with gene mapping and other therapies. Walter Isaacson’s (the former president and CEO of the Aspen Institute) new book, “The Codebreakers” talks about how technology and science is changing the world of health care. These are exciting times.”
To that end, the other beneficiary of the Peace of Mind walk is One Mind, a research organization created by Shari and Garen Staglin, who are perhaps better known for their Staglin Family Vineyard in Napa than their role in health care.
Seeking solutions for treatment for their son Brandon, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, the Staglins formed One Mind in 1995. It has since grown to become a leading brain health nonprofit committed to healing the lives of people impacted by brain illness and injury through global collaborative action. To date they have raised close to $500 million for research and outreach and Brandon is now the president of One Mind.
While the Zorichs have a long history of supporting mental health issues through their philanthropy, their experience in wine is a bit briefer. In 2014 they purchased Alma Rosa from Pinot Noir pioneer Richard Sanford and his wife Thekla and today own some of the most treasured vineyard land in the country.
“The wine business can still be a mystery,” Zorich said, “but the land is special. As an owner, you are really a steward of the land.”
Alma Rosa was founded by the Sanfords in 2005. Richard is credited with planting the first grapes in the region in 1971 for his Sanford & Benedict Winery (now Sanford Winery, owned by Terlato Wines) and he was also instrumental in the creation of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation.
“I had a home in Santa Barbara,” said Zorich, who had been a student at UCSB in the early ’70s, “and I thought I would plant some grapes in the backyard. My landscape architect suggested I call her friend Richard first and he rather quickly dissuaded me from my plan. … But when I visited Richard I found he was amenable to selling the brand. That’s how it happened.”
The Sanfords still reside on the Alma Rosa ranch property and Richard serves as a beloved ambassador for both Alma Rosa and the region.
In a unique geographic quirk, the Sta. Rita Hills appellation features a mountain range that runs eastward from the sea, creating a funnel of cool air that “refrigerates” the valley and the vines. It is this natural funnel, combined with the soils that make it one of the most desirable locations in America for the production of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This year the AVA celebrates the 20th anniversary of being sanctioned as an AVA that is now home to Sea Smoke, Melville, Foley Estate, Star Lane, Babcock, Brewer Clifton and over 50 other quality producers.
Today, Alma Rosa has a tasting room in Buellton (adjacent to the outstanding wine country eatery Industrial Eats) where the wines of Alma Rosa’s Bosnian-born winemaker Samra Morris are poured. It is a comforting place, but for a true Alma Rosa experience it is the El Jabali Vineyard (translation: the wild boar) that provides the perfect setting for the Peace of Mind.
“A little caring and compassion can go along way,” (which?) Zorich says.
PEACE OF MIND: 10,000 STEPS IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
July 24 at Alma Rosa Ranch
9 a.m. (average walk time two hours)
Register by July 23 at runsignup.com and search “Peace of Mind”
More info: almarosawinery.com
If you would prefer to support a local institution confronting mental health issues, consider a donation to the Aspen Hope Center, which is currently welcoming donations for a capital campaign. “The Aspen Hope Center provides an array of mental health services such as crisis intervention, suicide prevention, mobile crisis response, therapy, a confidential 24/7 HopeLine, school-based programs, and referrals to appropriate providers.”
24 Hour Hopeline: 970-925-5858
Alma Rosa 2018 Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay
While I am a fan of the Pinot Noir, the Alma Rosa Chardonnay also shines in the Sta. Rita sun. Bold but refined, this golden wine emits the sweet aromas of honeydew and a touch of saltiness on the nose. A hint of spice and mellow vanilla mingle in a fresh and bright glass of wine that is a perfect example of what the region can produce.