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Reds and whites turn green

SIP a pinot, save the planet? That's the thinking behind a number of wineries teaming up with environmental organizations to raise funds for trees, seas and the land. One of the latest releases is Clean Coast wines, the brainchild of California winemaker Susie Selby.

The owner of Selby Winery in Healdsburg, Selby created the wines, available online and in Mississippi and Louisiana, with the goal of raising awareness of the Gulf Coast recovery effort.

"I spend a lot of time in Louisiana. It's just a place that's near and dear to my heart," Selby said. After the 2010 oil spill she decided she wanted to do something to help the area on a long-term basis, so she came up with Clean Coast wines.

"I'm inspired by the way the people of New Orleans and Louisiana choose to handle crisis. They love each other; they make the most of it and they frequently do it with a great meal in front of them and a glass of wine in their hand," she said.

The four wines - pinot noir, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and merlot - carry labels decorated with marine creatures. Four dollars from every bottle sold online is donated to the Greater New Orleans Community Foundation.

Another wine-to-water link is being made by Flying Fish, which makes wines from grapes grown in Washington state's Columbia Valley.

"We thought we'd like to really honor the waters that are home to the fish that are featured on the label," said Karmen Olson-Stevens, brand marketing manager.

Since launching in 2004, the winery has donated a portion of proceeds to Ocean Conservancy, for a current total of nearly US$70,000. The money is earmarked for the organization's annual international coastal cleanup and last year went to the Gulf cleanup efforts.

Other wineries are branching out in different eco-related charitable directions.

Pine Ridge Vineyards in the Napa Valley has announced it will donate US$1 to American Forests for every bottle of the chenin blanc-viognier wine sold from April through June to help plant up to 5,000 trees.

And Root 1, produced in Chile, is a long-standing partner of Global ReLeaf, a branch of American Forests. By the end of 2011, winery officials estimate Root 1 and Global ReLeaf will have planted more than 40,000 trees in forest restoration projects around the world.

Hess Winery in the Napa Valley takes a back-to-the-land approach to eco sips.

Every year they hold a chardonnay month during which 1 percent of profits on sales of chardonnay are donated under the 1 Percent for the Planet environmental advocacy program. Year-round, the winery donates 1 percent of profits from its Hess Small Block Series limited selection wines.

And Hess, which is in its fourth year of participating in the project, recently made grants of US$10,000 to The Land Trust of Napa County and another US$10,000 to the Napa County Student & Landowner Education and Watershed Stewardship program.

The charity-wine connection is a natural fit for an industry that seeks to connect with consumers on a personal level, Olson-Stevens notes.

"First of all, we do it because we care about the oceans and rivers and we're committed to making a change," said Olson-Stevens. "But it also gives us a story to tell our consumers." Wine is known for starting conversations, and having an environmental tie-in is one more thing to talk about along with where the wine came from, how it's made and how it tastes, she said.


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