Sonoma Winery: Donating Wheelchairs for Wine

Being paralyzed I have certainly felt the trials and tribulations of using a wheelchair: parts fail, get broken or lost. Some days I just want to jump up from my seat onto my feet to grab what I need instead of going through the process of transferring, etc., and I know many can relate. But regardless of the pitfalls, our wheelchairs give us freedom; a way for us to be in the world. Imagine not having your wheelchair, it seems unfathomable almost inhumane. Have you ever considered how fortunate to have a wheelchair or what your life would be like without it?

All around the world are millions of people desperately in need of a wheelchair. Some don’t even know what a wheelchair is. Their entire lives have been spent crawling around on the ground or on the backs of loved ones and for those that don’t have the strength to crawl or someone strong enough to carry them then they are confined to a room. Can you imagine laying on a bed and looking at the same walls day in and day out for twenty years, what about forty or sixty years?

In Northern California the Wheelchair Foundation is working to change this. Since 2000, the foundation has made an incredible impact by distributing wheelchairs to those in need but cannot afford them, most commonly in developing nations. The total number of wheelchairs provided has surpassed 750,000 and the founder Ken Behring aims to reach a million in his lifetime. Recently, Behring has gained the support of a former Wall Street businessman turned winemaker, Gordon Holmes.

Holmes is a successful businessman who’s about taking action and building things.  He sets goals and makes plans to reach them. He hadn’t always dreamed of owning a winery but sometimes destiny takes it course. Being savvy in real-estate he purchased a beautiful piece of land in the Sonoma Wine Country, right on a ridge overlooking a valley. To him it all made perfect sense: a great space and place to make something grow. As a young boy he spent a lot of time on his grandfather’s ranch and was instilled with the appreciation of growing something out of dirt. Now as a financially successful adult his taste buds had developed a pallet for fine wine, so turning dirt into grapes to “make something pleasurable for people” was a natural fit.

For all of us, life makes unexpected turns. Some things are just out of our control, which I like to call fate. It so happens that the same year Holmes purchased the property in Sonoma that his wife was also diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. This life-changing event opened Holmes’ eyes to the world of wheelchair life. With his wife he was able to second-handily experience some of our frustrations, like a hotel bed that’s just too high or being promised a roll-in shower only to get a bathtub with rails. In light of this, Holmes set out to be a part of the solution, and therefore did not hesitate to partner with the Wheelchair Foundation in creating the ‘Wine for Wheels’ program.

Each case of current release wine from Holmes’ vineyard, Lookout Ridge Winery, provides a wheelchair to someone in need. The premium wines are hand-crafted by some of the best winemakers in the business who were meticulously selected by Holmes. These winemakers share Holmes passion of giving the gift of independence and therefore do not receive compensation for their contribution. Holmes only produces about 250 cases per varietal, making each special and rare. The wine is sold by the bottle or case and if you choose not to take the word of Holmes that his wine premium, comparable to a $500 or even $700 bottle of wine then make a trip to his ADA renovated winery and  taste for yourself. However, there is no public tasting room, anyone who wants to taste must call and setup an appointment. Otherwise, wine can purchased online.  

As Gordon puts it each bottle of wine contains at least two smiles, one from the tastiness of drinking the wine and other comes from knowing that you gave this incredible gift to someone. In fact there might even be a third smile when the bottle is long gone and tossed in the recycling can and you receive  a photo in your mail box from the Wheelchair Foundation of the individual who’s life you’ve change.  

Gordon has been fortunate enough to get to go on some of the distribution trips with the Wheelchair Foundation, including to Mexico, Belize and Ghana. Without a doubt “the experience transforms you,” Gordon explains, “one individual who received a wheelchair referred to it as magic.” These priceless experiences solidified Gordon’s philanthropic ambitions of giving the gift of independence and hopes that his winery alone will contribute 100,000 wheelchairs in his lifetime to this noble cause; improving the lives of many with ‘Wine for Wheels.’ 

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