Tis the season to be thankful— and wineries in the Willamette Valley take gratitude seriously. After the harvest, more than 150 wineries open their doors and invite guests in for free tastings and activities as part of Wine Country Thanksgiving. They also open their cupboards to collect food for the annual Willamette Cares Food Share.
Every year, from November 1st through December 31st, more than 85 Willamette Valley wineries and partners team up to provide emergency food for and support for fresh food programs through the Oregon Food Bank Network. In 2015, the program donated 67,500 meals to food banks in the surrounding communities. This year the goal is 75,000. We talked with Emily Nelson, Associate Director of the Willamette Valley Wineries Association to ask about the food share, friendly competition and what it feels like to give back to the community.
What year did the food share start and where did the idea originate?
The food share began in 2014. Our association’s Community Relations Committee wanted to come up with a region-wide project that could help engage wineries and their customers in giving back to our neighbors. Many of our wineries prioritize donations to food and hunger causes, particularly given our connection to land, farming, and our communities. So this project came about as a way to collaborate together and make an impact.
We hear there is some friendly competition between wineries to collect the most food – any creative examples of efforts from past years?
Yes! The friendly competition is mostly internal, as a way to help get more wineries engaged in the project. One winery has done an internal staff competition for the past few years between their production team and sales team to see who can bring in the most donations. Other wineries offer great prize drawings or discounts during the drive. One winery did a “bingo card” with most-needed food items and awarded a prize for completing the card. One of my favorite efforts was a winery that organized a volunteer day with their staff to go and help out at the food bank where they were donating their food. The food banks definitely need extra help this time of year to sort and bag all of those donations!
Finally, how do the holidays inspire local wineries to collaborate and give back to the community?
We talk about this as an opportunity to “share our bounty.” Oregon and the Willamette Valley especially are amazingly fertile and green and bountiful. Following a wonderful harvest like we’ve had the past few years, it feels right and good to show gratitude and offer something back to our communities. Wineries especially are tied to the land in which they grow their grapes and the people who work in the vineyards and in the cellar. The holidays mark the end of a year, the completion of another growing season, and as the vines go to sleep for the winter, we get to take a breath and be thankful and generous.
Share the bounty! For a list of wineries that offer discounts, tastings, or sweepstakes drawings to support the food share, visit the Food Share Specials webpage.