The spirit of innovation runs in Mark Winovsky’s blood. He and brother Michael co-own Valley View Winery, one of the oldest wineries in the Rogue Valley, originally established by pioneer Peter Britt in Applegate Valley in the 1850s. The property closed when Britt died in 1906. But the name lives on today, carried on by wine pioneers Frank and Ann Winovsky, who planted a vineyard and reopened a tasting room there in 1972.
When the Almeda Fire tore through the small communities of Talent and Phoenix in the Rogue Valley in September, Mark Winovsky knew he had to do something to help the special place he’s always called home. The numbers were overwhelming: 42,000 people in the Rogue Valley were displaced; more than 2,400 homes were burned; 4,000 adults and children were suddenly homeless with an immediate need for shelter and food. Nearly 70% of children attending some of the local schools had lost their homes.
“We wanted to work as directly with those affected as possible, and that meant going through the school systems,” Winovsky says. “We wanted to go outside the norm and reach families who would not normally get funds and didn’t have insurance. It had to be simple and substantial.”
Winovsky and Racheal Martin, owner of nearby Red Lily Vineyards, got together and started brainstorming about ways to help. “The community is very much in our hearts,” says Martin, whose two estate vineyards just outside of Jacksonville focus on producing Tempranillo and other high-quality Spanish wines.
They had done different fundraisers for small, local causes, but this required a larger effort. Wisnovsky reached out to the team at Rogue Valley Vintners, which soon put together a name, logo and website for the fundraiser, and helped secure 24 wineries to contribute $10 for every wine sold for fire relief to help affected families.
Between Oct. 1 and Oct. 26, Rogue Valley Wine Country Cares raised over $56,000, 100% of which will go to those families in need. “It was much greater than we could’ve ever imagined, because of the collective effort of all of the wineries,” Martin says. “What I feel proudest about in Southern Oregon is the cohesiveness and camaraderie of the wine businesses.”
The fire happened during peak harvest season, which is typically “a really celebratory time,” Martin notes. “We were all scrambling to pick grapes.” The fact that so many partners and supporters joined forces was key to the success. Of the funds raised, about $37,500 came from winery sales and more than $19,000 came from cash donations. “This was a lot,” Winovsky says. “I’m glad people jumped on board. I’ve always known people rise up.”
Gina Bianco, executive director of Rogue Valley Vintners, wishes to extend a huge thank you to the 24 contributing wineries, including the top six contributors — who generated more than half of the winery sales contributions. They include: Plaisance Ranch, Red Lily Vineyards, Cliff Creek Cellars, Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden, RoxyAnn Winery and Schultz Wines. Many of the participating wineries also made additional cash donations.
Much gratitude as well goes to the major sponsors of the event, including The Oregon Wine Experience, Rogue Valley Winegrowers Association, Troon Vineyard, Bar-Gem Vineyards, Quady Winery in California and Michael Donovan Consulting.
To distribute the funds, Rogue Valley Vintners is partnering with nonprofit Our Family Farms, which is working with the Talent and Phoenix school districts and others to identify the highest-need families for relief. They’ll provide 100% of the funds to those in need, leveraging the “Cares” funds to serve the most people.
Check it out:
Through Dec. 31, 2020, check out how you can continue to support fire victims through Rogue Valley Wine Country Cares — The Giving Season campaign. You can make a cash donation directly to nonprofit Rogue Food Unites or purchase discounted wine from participating wineries to help to feed children and families giving them three nutritious meals every day until they are back on their feet. Your donation also helps restaurants stay in business and continue to employ workers, many of whom also are victims of the Southern Oregon fires.
Photo of Valley View Winery, Jak Wonderly/Travel Southern Oregon