• Two Thumbs Way Up
• Bright red berry aromas with a touch of earthy, espresso-like notes. Pleasant, gulpable flavors of ripe raspberry, strawberry and black cherry, but also subtle mineral notes and a leathery spiciness.
• Two Thumbs Way Up
• Intriguing aromas of crème brûlée, mandarin orange, mango, pineapple and poached pear. It has juicy flavors of pineapple, mango and preserved lemon with large pinches of cinnamon, clove, toasted almond, graham cracker and honey comb.
If you could lift up a good cause and make a little pocket change in the transaction, would you do it? Many companies, especially those in the wine trade, gladly take that bargain. Unfortunately, it’s not always clear how much lifting is done or how much pocket filling goes on in the name of charity.
And that rather skeptical view is the attitude I took when I came across ONEHOPE wines. The pitch for this operation based in Irvine, Calif., is that half of all profits go to a number of designated charities, such as support for underprivileged families coping with autistic children, breast cancer and AIDS research, environmental causes and support for military families.
Since its founding in 2007 by a group of former E. & J. Gallo Winery employees, ONEHOPE has become the cause célèbre of a number of bright and beautiful Hollywood types and rah-rah, feel-good celebrity events like the Grammy’s, the Sundance Film Festival and VH1 Save the Music. When I saw that Sharon Stone was on the VIP list at a ONEHOPE event, that made me even more suspicious.
So, before I even though about what the wine tastes like, I spent the better part of an afternoon trying to dig up some dirt on ONEHOPE. As minutes ran into hours, I found myself searching for even an unsubstantiated hint of shenanigans. I came up with nothing, not even on a number of wine blogs, which, at times, seem powered by contemptible vitriol.
What was not hard to find out is that ONEHOPE raises a lot of money for charities. More than $445,000 has been raised for good causes. These charities publically lavish praise on ONEHOPE’s operations. Jake Kloberdanz, CEO and one of the eight founders of the company, does not hide the fact that doing good is a powerful marketing tool. ONEHOPE cites a number of studies that show consumers will buy your stuff if you align your products a good cause, a tactic that can be used or abused. Kloberdanz makes it clear he plans to grow and keep his company in the black.
Kloberdanz got the idea for ONEHOPE while stocking supermarket shelves for Gallo in the early 2000s. He saw that every wine that promoted a charitable cause received prominent shelf space, a valuable tool when selling wine. While successful, these cause-oriented programs had a limited lifespan and soon saw more moderate sales following the promotion.
Around that time, Kloberdanz lost a 23-year-old friend to blood cancer. Harnessing his heartbreak, he set out to create a cause-branded wine company to fund cancer research. He avoided seasoned industry veterans for help with the start-up in favor of seven other 20-somethings. Perhaps more than the feel-good sales pitch, ONEHOPE owes it success (projected sales for 2011, 20,000 cases, almost double the production of the past four years) to its youthful, hip vibe, something the stodgy corners of the wine industry should take note of. More recently, ONEHOPE aligned with Michael Mondavi’s more mature FOLIO wine company to facilitate winemaking and distribution as sales numbers grow exponentially.
Each variety the company offers aligns with a particular charity, which is clearly stated on the bottle and hang tags. Cabernet sauvignon sales go to Autism Speaks and ACT Today!; sauvignon blanc supports American Forests; chardonnay toward the National Breast Cancer Foundation; zinfandel to the Snowball Express, which supports military families who lost loved ones on duty; merlot for AIDS/LifeCycle; and pinot noir sales fund the Children’s Miracle Network. If you buy their wines on-line, you can divvy up the charitable portion of your purchase to other causes, such as the ASPCA and the Wounded Warrior Project.
OK, ONEHOPE has everything going for it: terminal hipness, Hollywood endorsements and a seemingly legitimate cause-branded operation. But what does the stuff taste like? The touchy-feelies can only take you so far. If the wines taste like battery acid, repeat sales are unlikely. ONEHOPE sources its grapes throughout California, but focuses on the north coast, including excellent sites in Sonoma and Napa. ONEHOPE also uses a competent winemaking team headed up by Rob Mondavi Jr., Michael Mondavi’s son and Robert Mondavi’s grandson.
Ground-breaking wine? No, but I rather liked the pinot noir and the chardonnay. I’d call the entire lineup “safe wines.” The merlot tastes like a merlot; the sauvignon blanc tastes like a sauvignon blanc (albeit one from the Loire Valley in France), etc. Anything the wines lack in taste can surely be made up by the warm feeling you’ll get knowing that your money supports a company that supports a lot of good out there. And, Lord knows, we could use some more good these days.
Gil Kulers is a certified wine educator with the Society of Wine Educators. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Wines are rated on a scale ranging up from thumbs down, one thumb mostly up, one thumb up, two thumbs up, two thumbs way up and Golden Thumb Award. Prices are suggested retail prices as provided by the winery, one of its agents, a local distributor or retailer.)