Thursday, October 06, 2011

The Salud Auction; Cuvees for a Worthy Cause

Many will tell you that a good wine has complexity and depth that make it compelling. As we spend time with the wine, it unwinds an array of aromatics and flavors. The complexity that we find may come from a variety of complicated factors. It comes from the kind of growing season we had: a wet spring, warm summer, degree days; weather is complicated. It comes from the ripeness, structure and sugars during harvest; the fruit itself can be complicated. It comes from the selection of yeasts, fermentation, blending, or barrel selection; making wine is complicated. There are a lot of complicated factors that result in this complex beverage. Without a doubt however, one of the most complicated factors in winemaking is one that doesn't often get discussed: the workers in the vineyard. It's real complicated.

Many of the vineyard workers right here in the Northwest that play a vital role in the production of the wines that we love are not forgotten about in terms of just discussing the true complexity of the wine. They're often forgotten altogether. Vineyard work is hard and the wages are low. The romance that many of us attribute to the harvesting and making of wine goes right out the window when it comes to reality. The work, in addition to being difficult, is sporadic and is done in large part by seasonal workers, The National Center for Farmworker Health estimates that 70% of the agricultural worker population does not have health care.

In Oregon's Willamette Valley some of the greatest Pinot Noir is grown and bottled. The hands that tend to the delicate terroir-driven Pinot Noir grapes belong to vineyard workers who do seasonal, sporadic, physically demanding work. It was smarts and daring that led folks like David Lett, Charles Coury and Dick Erath to come to Oregon and plant Pinot Noir. It turns out it wasn't the only pioneering that has happened in Oregon's wine country. In 1991 some of the Willamette's most well regarded winemakers and their friends,including doctors on the board of directors at Tuality Healthcare, launched something just as smart and pioneering in ¡Salud!, crafted in some ways on the model created centuries ago by the Hospices de Beaune.

From Nancy Ponzi: "Twenty years ago a small group of winery owners and wine-loving doctors gathered to brainstorm the possibilities of creating a festival centered on Pinot Noir, health and community. We dreamed of a first class affair that could generate funds for a first class need: providing healthcare for the people who in turn care for the vineyards. After all, without their dedication and skilled labor, there would be no wine. We understood it was our opportunity and responsibility to make basic health care available to the workers. ¡Salud! became a reality. Its success continues to fill this void in the healthcare system for thousands of workers and their healthy families."

¡Salud! meets an enormous need for many of the vineyard workers in the Willamette Valley. ¡Salud! provides health care screenings, education and most importantly treatment access to vineyard workers throughout the Willamette Valley. In 2010 ¡Salud! saw 3,614 vineyard workers and their families register for services (still only 40% of the workers in the Willamette Valley), which included more than 7,500 medical or dental consultations or procedures. Those consultations may include wellness and educational clinics, dental screenings or major medical care that could include substantial hospitalization. The unique thing about ¡Salud! is that all of this is funded by wineries and wine. And nearly all of that from one annual event: the ¡Salud! Auction.

David Adelsheim calls
¡Salud! Auction Cuvees "the most amazing thing we put in a bottle this year" To say that it's not your average wine auction is to put it very mildly. The Salud Auction features some of the best Pinot Noir makers in Oregon making the best wine that they can - specifically and only for the ¡Salud! cause. Each winery selected is charged with making something unique, something that will be better than anything else they've done that vintage, and additionally, something for which serious Pinotphiles will pay handsomely. A ¡Salud! Cuvee is a serious responsibility. Sure, it's a wine, but it's not just a wine, it is a major part of the 3,159 dental procedures or the 1,257 vaccinations that iSalud! was able to give last year.

This year's Big Board Auction on November 11th at Domaine Drouhin will include 42 wineries barrel sampling their 2010
¡Salud! Cuvees. Auction goers will have the opportunity to quiz the winemakers on their cuvees before making any purchasing decisions. In each case, only 5 cases of each wine will be made available for purchase to the highest bidder. How's that for a small lot? That's minuscule. The following day at the Governor Hotel in Portland, ¡Salud! kicks off a party the likes of which you won't see too often. A black tie gala and silent and live auction with some of the auction lots guaranteed to make a pinotphile's head spin right off their neck. Last year's catalog included dinner with some Willamette Valley's legends, a complete 20 year vertical of Domaine Drouhin, a collection of 2008 magnums from every single winery in the Chehalem Mountain Winegrowers Association, and a trip for two to some of Burgundy's most storied chateaus with all the trappings.

¡Salud! Auction is one hell of a party, but make no mistake: the stakes are high. The 2010 auction raised $650,000 last year, which is an enormous sum. It's the engine that drives what ¡Salud! is able to do over the next year. There are other contributions and contributors to ¡Salud!, but none with quite the oomph of the Salud Auction. It's the bedrock for those 7,500 consultations and procedures, and the 236 vision exams and prescription glasses, the 1,414 medical clinic visits and the 238 major medical procedures for Willamette Valley's vineyard workers won't happen without the support from the ¡Salud! Auction.

If you're interested in more information about ¡Salud! or for tickets to what is sure to be one of the best parties of the season, click here.


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