Before suffering the wrath of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans was home to some of the finest fare in all of the country. Tourists and residents of the Big Easy sat in cafes and ate beignets, crawfish, and jerk chicken, and drank the best wines available, much of which came from the Central Coast. So when Katrina hit New Orleans last week, it also hit close to home for many local wine enthusiasts.
Only days after Katrina stuck the Gulf Coast, vintners and growers on the Central Coast conceived a relief plan: Their goal was to raise $100,000 during Labor Day Weekend. Vineyards and growers would help however they could. Some donated a percentage of sales form each bottle, some donated tasting fees, and some donated all of the profits from Labor Day, which happens to be one of the biggest days of the year for many local vineyards.
"There is a bond there," said Peachy Canyon's Doug Beckett. "In addition to the human disaster, businesses are shut down. It's about getting the necessities of life to the homeless."
For many Paso Robles vintners, friendships with distributors, restaurateurs, and fellow wine enthusiasts were forged back in March when the Paso Robles Wine County Alliance made New Orleans the first stop on its "National Grand Tasting Tour."
Katrina hit especially close to home for one Paso winery. Gary Eberle, found of Eberle Winery, formerly lived in New Orleans and still maintains close ties there.
"We were about three times busier than the normal Labor Day Monday," said Eberle. "Right now if I wrote a check it would be for $23,500.
"There's not a whole lot I can do. I'm 61, I'm not going to volunteer. I'm just happy I can donate. Things are good for me and I just see so many people hurting. I can't imagine what it's like down there."
New Orleans represents the biggest market for Eberle outside of California, said Sue Terry, office manager for the winery.
According to Stacie Jacob, executive director of the Paso Vintners & Growers Association, "This is really the beginning of the relief efforts to help the hospitality industry in New Orleans to rebuild from this tragic disaster." Jacob said last weekend's goal of $100,000 is the initial offering, but many vintners and growers will be continuing efforts and holding fund-raisers as well.
In New Orleans, much of the wine that was stored in distributors' warehouses "is cooked," said Beckett. "I want to emphasize that's a sideline; the focus is on the human [aspect of] disasters."
As of press time, relief totals had not been calculated, but Jacob said expectations were "well on their way to being met."
Staff Writer John Peabody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a list of participating wineries, visit www.pasowine.com.