Friday, September 25, 2009

Lookout Ridge Winery Looks Out for Kids

Tuesday, September 15

This article comes from the Wine/Winery-of-the-Month feature section of my newsletter, but I thought the story important enough to redo here. If you don’t currently get my newsletter, and don’t want to miss the next one, click here to enter my website.

I’m not sure what most took my breath away, the views from Lookout Ridge, the wines crafted by cult winemakers, or the Wine for Wheels program instituted by the founder, Gordon Holmes. Well, this time it wasn’t the wine as much as the wheelchair program that grabbed my attention. Gordon began it years ago after his wife was diagnosed with MS and confined to a wheelchair. Together, this story and these wines make Lookout Ridge my winery of the month.

I know a little about the feeling of helplessness when a loved one contracts a major disease and the intense desire to do something, anything, to expunge that feeling. Gordon has brought joy – and mobility -- to many people that might have otherwise been confined to bed. I’ll relate just one story that touched me greatly.

Constrained by the Bolivian government to bring in only one wheelchair, Gordon came to a hospital where fifty children were housed who had lost or amputated limbs. The decision on which child was most worthy was heartbreaking. The child that was awarded the wheelchair was asked what he would do first. “I want to go outside,” he said. Without mobility, outside was as remote to these children as it was to a prisoner in jail. Yup, that one got to me, too.

To build his business, Gordon took a different tack on wine production – he invited cult winemakers to craft wines from his quality grapes, and then marketed them as winemaker-labeled wines. You have probably heard of vineyard labeled wines, but how about winemaker labeled wines? Exactly.

The Greg La Follette 2006 Pinot Noir we tasted was rich, earthy, and more Burgundian than Californian, with spice and leather and dark fruit. After savoring this wine Gordon said, “Would you like some more?” I said, “Was that in the form of a question?” I slid my glass over for a refill.

Taking wine in hand, he led us to the cave he’d had cut into the side of the mountaintop. On the Sonoma-side of the cave, burnished copper doors framed by a fallen redwood giant provided access to the cool interior. At first I thought I was in an abandoned missile silo, as the winery equipment has not been installed yet. On the cave’s other side, huge glass doors gave way to stunning views of Napa Valley. When we exited and I went to the rail of the curved balcony that overlooked the Napa side, I was as much in awe as when the Wizard of Oz switched to color.

When we returned to the deck outside the tasting room, with its huge mahogany table and cushioned benches along the side, Gordon brought out the 2001 Gabriella Vineyards Sangiovese I’d requested. This one was also a knockout with a wonderful mouthfeel, spicy cherry and earth-laden dark fruit, and a long finish.

At $100 each, these cult-style wines are reasonably priced, particularly when you consider that each bottle purchased provides a wheelchair and blessed mobility for children, teens and adults the world over. Lookout Ridge; savor the wine and watch the wheels turn.

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