Charity clean water

Drinking for a Great Cause: Wine Enthusiast's Red and White Bash

Friday, June 20, 2014 Rob Samuelson

Nonprofit Wine To Water partnered with Wine Enthusiast Magazine to host the second annual Red and White Bash, a Prohibition-themed fundraising and wine tasting event Thursday night on Chicago's north side.  As a dyed in the wool beer guy and known sayer of things like "wine is icky," I had a long way to climb before being convinced to try some of that alcoholic grape juice.  But live music from the Tin Pan Alley-inspired eight piece Brooke and the Nice Things, free cheese and crackers, and a little thing called improving the lives of people in third world countries have presented me with enough evidence to at least say wine can be used for something wonderful in this world.

Courtesy of Justin Barbin.

Let's start with the world changing stuff.  Joshua Elliott, Wine To Water's Media Coordinator, says the proceeds from the event go to four ongoing projects to bring clean drinking water to people in Haiti, Uganda, Cambodia, and their newest venture in the Philippines.

"With the [November typhoon] in the Philippines most recently, we've been trying to get some water over there.  We've been using filters called Sawyer filters ... which is based on kidney dialysis," he says of the water purification systems much like those used in this TED Talk by Michael Pritchard.

While the immediacy of disaster relief takes precedence, Elliott says longer term projects are also of huge importance to Wine To Water.

"At the moment there is no infrastructure [in the Philippines], so we send in Sawyer filters, which is really geared toward that disaster relief," he says, but "that's opposed to somewhere like Haiti, where we do ceramic water filters," which run water through pores in ceramic jars to purify it of dirt and bacteria.

In Haiti, he says Wine To Water started a factory, which is now run entirely by local citizens, where they produce "about 600 filters a month."

Elliott on the right. Courtesy of Justin Barbin.

Elliott says he has personally spent time in Peru, Haiti, and his most recent trip was to Colombia.

"They do well drilling on the Amazon, where we travel by boat and we have a well system," he says.  "We drilled two wells in a place called San Juan and San Antonio."

Of course, all this costs money, but Elliott says the amounts are relative.

"We broke it down to actually $1 can give water to someone for an entire year," he says.

Certain products in certain places can cost different amounts, but they are vastly cheaper than the infrastructure projects you may have noticed on I-90 lately.

"We have projects where a ceramic filter is $35.  Out in Ethiopia, it costs $12,000 to build a well because of how harsh the conditions are," he says.  "The smallest amount [given] can make the biggest difference around the world."

But the event wasn't just about saving lives.  It was about having a blast with a bunch of wine enthusiasts.  Jacqueline Strum, Director of Communications for Wine Enthusiast Companies, says the Prohibition theme came about as part of the publication's attempts to inject some fun and a sense of the illicit into what are stereotypically dull, high brow events.

"We don't know why [the Prohibition themed party] hasn't really caught on with the wine community," the way it has for spirits in recent years, she says.  "They're both adult beverages.  They get used by people when they go out.

Courtesy of Justin Barbin.

"The wine and spirits community should be a little more tied together," she says.  "I think this event is trying to bring that inspiration from the cocktail community [where such parties are regular] to a wine space.  It's not just serious sip and swirl and sniff; it's also fun and a lifestyle."

This is all of a piece with the rebranding Wine Enthusiast has undergone in the past year, to a place that now covers things beyond wine, like spirits, beer, and most recently cider, along with the things that accompany drinking.

"Everything in and around your glass," she says.

To do that, she says Wine Enthusiast and its readers should strive for more events with a "transportive" experience, like the Red and White Bash.

"You feel like you're walking into another world.  It's not just white tablecloths.  One of my favorite things about it is the live music, which I think is important, but also having a hair and makeup station, making it a little more interactive, having some restaurants that are able to partake as well; really about bringing it more to a fun level while still having extremely high quality wines."

It's that "high quality" I remained skeptical about.  I confided in Strum my distaste for wine and asked her to sell me on the experience.

"Wine and beer are similar in the way that once you start really diversifying your palette, you want to go outside of it and try as many things as possible," she says.  "There's a lot of hybrids of both [beer and wine]," which she says would be a good place to start for me.  

Besides, Strum says, I should probably learn to enjoy something that is "probably [among] the most commonly consumed things on the planet."  

Courtesy of Justin Barbin.

"While beer is very interesting, there's an almost more infinite amount of things that can be different about wine," she says.  "You don't really notice the differences as much until you start drinking a lot of it.  There's just so much to learn."

I like learning!  Patrick Macellaio, a server for Boca Catering, which serviced the event, agrees with Strum.

"I think wine's amazing," he says.  "You can get things like dark chocolate and leather all the way to fruit."

"You don't need a sophisticated palette to enjoy it," he says.

All right, guys.  I get it.  My tastebuds are unsophisticated and need to get a good learnin'.  I'll do it, just not today.  And it's not even because of your admirable sales jobs.  It's mostly because my money will go to something to improve the lives of hundreds or thousands.

And you, dear Halfstack reader, can do the same.  Go to Wine To Water's website and donate whatever you can.

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