Every year there are countless wine launches, and so many get lost in the shuffle. I can't tell you how many press releases fill my inbox or Twitter feed announcing the latest and greatest wine to come on the market. But these three wines are giving back to the community in various ways, and in light of that, are certainly worth seeking out.
Alder Fels National Parks Foundation Wine Collection
In these days of budgetary cutbacks and the sequester, it's nice to see something done to help promote our national parks. With summer just around the corner and peak travel time to parks such as Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone about to begin, the timing is right for wines created to give back to the National Park Foundation, the charity arm of America's nearly 400 national parks.
Alder Fels Winery, in California's Sonoma Valley, partnered with the Foundation to develop the National Parks Wine Collection. This project was the brainchild of acclaimed American photographer Mark Burns, who first approached the Foundation with the idea of creating a wine as a charitable vehicle for raising funds for the parks. Once given the green light, Mark shopped the concept to multiple wineries before choosing Alder Fels. He says the winery expressed the most passion and enthusiasm for the project. The idea behind the collection -- make approachable, ready to drink and affordable wines available nationwide, with label art paying homage to the national parks with iconic images.
The first two wines released, made by Alder Fels winemakers Harry Parducci and Aaron Bader, are the Yosemite Artisan White Blend and Yosemite Artisan Red Blend (both are non-vintage). The white has Viognier, Moscato, Symphony (yes this is really a grape varietal and it is very floral), Semillion and Sauvignon Blanc. My mouth was watering before I even got to try it (sample from winery). It's a perfect summer quaff, fragrant with white flowers and flavors of peach and honey. It's the wine I would take with me to watch the sunset at a national park, one of my favorite things to do by the way. The best sunset I saw was a sunset and moonrise at the same time at Arches National Park in Utah, and of course my husband and I toasted it with glasses of wine. The image on the Yosemite White is Half Dome.
The Yosemite Red Blend is a big American wine, but it's also smooth and drinkable now. Zinfandel based with spicy Syrah, Merlot and Petite Sirah. Grilling burgers or ribs? This is your go-to summer red wine. The photo on this bottle is of El Capitan.
I mentioned the iconic images, which it turns out, are black and white scenes from national parks shot by Mark Burns. He's no stranger to the wine world, with his photos published in Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Wine & Spirits. The photos were shot specifically for the labels. Mark says due to the small size of the image, he had to approach the photography differently than he would for a larger work, focusing on a bolder, more graphic look with contrast. "I try to keep them relatively clean and straightforward with strong elements of composition," he says. These are gorgeous, collectible labels.
In addition to shooting in the national parks for the wine labels, Mark is also working on a photography project to celebrate the upcoming centennial of the National Park Service in 2016.
Other wines are in the works, varietal specific vintage wines, with labels paying homage to other national parks, including the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, the Everglades, the Great Smoky Mountains and more.
The wines in the National Parks Foundation Wine Collection retail for $15.99 and $2 of every bottle sold will be donated to the Foundation to help maintain and develop the national parks across the country.
Tunes For Troops
Since 2012, Liberty Creek, a winery in the Gallo wine portfolio, has been raising money to send music to American military troops around the world. They created Tunes for Troops and partnered with Operation Gratitude -- supplying music download cards at first, and now sending CDs from country music artists. Since the inception of the program, Liberty Creek, through Tunes for Troops, has raised $50,000 for Operation Gratitude and given 6,000 music download cards and 3,333 CDs from musician David Nail. The current CD offering is a country music compilation.
How does it work? Liberty Creek wines are available nationwide, with most bottles priced around $7 each. You go-to the Liberty Creek website and click on the Tunes for Troops icon, then enter a code from the wine bottle. For each bottle you purchase, Liberty Creek donates $1 to Operation Gratitude.
10SPAN may be an unusual name for a California winery, but not for winemaker John Clark. The name refers to the California condor, a bird which has a wingspan of up to 10 feet. "The California condor are giant, majestic birds that are a symbol of the ruggedly gorgeous California coastline," says John. "I think of them as gliding protectors, and their grace and beauty are part of what is so inspiring and representative of this unique place."
Condors were nearly extinct in the 1970s and 1980s, threatened by the pesticide DDT. The Ventana Wildlife Society has been working to bring the California condor back to its natural habitat. They created a reserve near Big Sur as a safe haven for the birds where they could reproduce. According to the Society, there were only 22 condors in the wild in 1982; today there are almost 70 birds in the state and a total of 404 condors across the southwest.
Helping to protect the Condor was part of the inspiration in John's launching his new winery, 10SPAN, focused on wines grown Monterey and Santa Barbara wine country in California's Central Coast, the condor's stomping grounds. "My passion for winemaking lies in this region in which these beautiful creatures soar above and oversee."
There are three wines in the 10SPAN portfolio, all sourced from cool-climate vineyards: a 2012 Pinot Gris made with grapes from the Rava Black Jack Vineyard in Monterey, a 2012 Chardonnay with grapes from Sierra Madre Farms and Riverbench Vineyards in Santa Maria Valley and a 2011 Pinot Noir sourced from Garey Ranch Vineyard and Riverbench Vineyards. The bottles all have a condor feather on the label.
Currently the wines are available only "on-premise," which means at a restaurant or bar. The wines are available by the bottle or out of a keg. With every glass or bottle of 10SPAN that you purchase, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Ventana Wildlife Society to support its work to reintroduce the condor to its wild habitat.
10SPAN is just launching but you can find it at these restaurants, with more places to be added soon: Vault One Sixty Four, San Mateo, CA; Bar Louie, Rockville, MD; Bar Louie, Auburn Hills, MI; Chef Melba's Bistro, Hermosa Beach, CA; Bar Louie, Mishawaka, IN.