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NorCal Wine Blog

Lookout Ridge Turns Wine into Wheelchairs

Gordon_HolmesGordon Holmes didn’t start out intending to make Lookout Ridge Winery a charitable endeavor. Like many successful businessmen before him, he was simply looking to buy some beautiful acreage in wine country and become a gentleman vintner. His background was in equity investment and, in addition to his own trading, he had established magazines that guided other investors. Selling off those magazines in 1998 yielded enough capital to acquire land for a winery.

Sadly, in the same year that his long-time dream of owning a winery began to come true, his wife, Kari, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of multiple sclerosis. It’s progression made Kari increasingly wheelchair dependent. Such an experience transforms not just the person afflicted, but also the people who love them. Gordon Holmes’ deeply understands the practical and emotional impacts that losing one’s mobility has. He also became aware of how widespread the problem is and how many people around the world can’t afford a wheelchair.

In 2004, Holmes met Kenneth Behring. Decades of huge success in property development allowed Behring to become a prolific philanthropist. He established the Wheelchair Foundation in June of 2000. Through that organization, Behring has provided tens of thousands of wheelchairs to need people around the world. Kari’s situation and Behring’s work inspired Holmes.

Now, Lookout Ridge has a stunning philanthropic angle. For every bottle of Lookout Ridge wine sold, the winery gives a wheelchair to someone who needs one but cannot afford it. [When you purchase a bottle of Lookout Ridge wine you, or the person to whom you give it as a gift, also receive a nice folio with a certificate commemorating the wheelchair donation and a photograph of a wheelchair recipient.] By the end of this year, Lookout Ridge will have given the gift of mobility to roughly 4,000 people. Gordon Holmes and his staff find the recipients by working with non-governmental organization’s in countries throughout the world. There is a particular focus on remote areas in under-developed countries such as Mali and Costa Rica where lack of personal mobility is especially problematic and local governments don’t have the funds to provide substantial assistance.

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The countries also tend to be ones in which there is substantial mining activity, because that is one of Holmes’ primary areas of investment focus. He leverages his work with companies in the extraction business, getting them to pay for additional wheelchairs. Since Lookout Ridge is a small-production winery, his evangelism efforts in the mining community have led to substantially more wheelchair donations than have wine sales. However, Holmes is looking for ways to step up the winery’s volume so it can help more people. Donations through the winery this year will match the total from all previous years combined.

The generous distribution of wheelchairs is not the only thing that makes Lookout Ridge unusual. As an investor and investment advisor, Holmes knows the importance of — and can sell — diversified portfolios. So, rather than offer a range of wines made by one winemaker, he has almost every wine for a given vintage made by a different, highly-respected winemaker. In doing so, the differing styles of the winemakers create more variety and the aggregated fan-base of the winemakers ensure a broad audience. The multi-winemaker approach is even more crucial now that the winery is trying to keep costs at a minimum so as to fund wheelchairs. The winemakers do their Lookout Ridge work pro bono, something that a single winemaker doing all of the wines could not do.

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The first ever Lookout Ridge wine was a 2000 vintage Camp Meeting Ridge Vineyard Chardonnay made by Greg LaFollette (of LaFollette Winery and previously Tandem, Flowers, etc.). He told me he that he thinks the charitable aspect makes Lookout Ridge “a great project” and it’s one in which he’s “very happy to be involved.” It is not his only altruistic venture either. Greg helps his wife, Mara, with Cellar Magic. That winery creates wines which are all donated to local hospitals, schools and foundations.

Currently, Greg La Follette makes Van der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir for Lookout Ridge. I tasted the curent (2006) vintage of that wine. It offers aromas of spice, cola, tea, cherry and sandalwood. Flavors are much the same, with cherry, spice, cola and dried herb being dominant. It’s smoothly-textured with an above-average finish. I highly recommend the wine but think it will be best with at least one year in your cellar.

I also tried the 2005 Lookout Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon made by Marco DiGiulio (MarcoWine, Lokoya, Vintage Wine Estates). That wine is medium-plus ruby with pigmented legs and a nose of red currant, currant leaf, carob and dry herb. It has a generous body with powdery tannins and a medium-plus finish. I tasted red currant, cocoa, coffee and walnut. It’s an elegant wine which I highly recommend. Drink it now through 2016. Di Giulio also makes the Lookout Ridge Estate Syrah.

The other current releases from Lookout Ridge are a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from Kronos Vineyard made by Cathy Corison (Corison Winery), a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from Gerhard Reisacher (Delectus) and a 2005 Red Wine from Andy Erickson (Favia, Screaming Eagle). The latter wine is made in very small volume and is therefore only available when purchased as part of a mixed case.

While the donation of a wheelchair for every bottle is obviously a testament to the generosity of Gordon and Kari Holmes and the winemakers, it would not be possible without the benevolence of many others. The corks, capsules, e-commerce software and storage are also donated. Much of the grapes come from the estate vineyards, but some of the other vineyards also provide free or discounted fruit. (Similar deals on bottles and labels would be very welcome, please contact Lookout Ridge if you can help.)

I would like to thank fellow wine writers William Allen and Katherine Parker for inviting me to join them on their visit to Lookout Ridge. Stay tuned to their sites for additional words about the winery from them.

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This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved. Photographs courtesy of Lookout Ridge Winery.

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