Like many others, Fred and Andy Schweiger were stunned at the devastation wrought by the recent Camp Fire in Paradise. The Spring Mountain vintners, though, decided to do something about it: Re-release 400 cases of their Schweiger Vineyards 2014 Chardonnay and donate 100 percent of the sales to help fire victims.
“When you think about it, we’ve had fires here,” Fred Schweiger, father of Andy, said. “We did help out for the Tubbs Fire and Nuns Fire victims last year. But think about a whole town, a community of a butcher, baker and candlestick maker, and maybe a newspaper, churches, stores gone. People don’t have anyplace to go to work. It’s going to take a huge amount of funding” to help rebuild the community, Fred said.
Winemaker Andy Schweiger said he saw a photo that was “very chilling. There’s a Lutheran church up in Paradise and it’s completely down to rubble, except for a cross and cross stand in the parking lot.”
The Schweigers hope to raise $100,000 for fire relief and will donate proceeds from the sale of the wine to Tri-County Bank in Paradise, which is handling fire relief funds. “That’s the most efficient way to send money, because the bank is going to see who has the most need and it is going to be donating to charities that have little or no overhead costs,” Andy said.
The 2014 Chardonnay is selling for $35 a bottle and $420 a case and is available on the winery’s website, schweigervineyards.com or by phone, 707-963-4882.
“We all know friends who have lost their homes from last year,” Fred said as he and his son were finishing details to sell the fire relief Chardonnay. “And it hasn’t gotten any easier for them. Even though they might have had OK insurance, the family is scared to death, they don’t want to move back. The whole town might rally and say, ‘We can do this.’”
The idea of how to donate to Camp Fire Relief first came when Andy was in Atlanta visiting his son, Jerry. He heard that Sierra Nevada was creating a beer called “Resilience Butte County Proud IPA,” and donated the wort to hundreds of breweries across the United States. Suppliers donated the rest of what was needed to brew the beer, which will be available in cans and by draught at participating breweries.
Fred said he wanted to use the name “Resilience” for Schweigers’ Camp Fire Relief wine, but the name is copyrighted by Schilling Beer Co. in New Hampshire, which has allowed breweries, but not wineries, to use the name for this special project.
He added that the winery’s staff brainstormed in the kitchen for a couple of hours and came up with the name Camp Fire Relief. “Let’s try that,” Fred said, “And before you know it we sold a couple dozen cases right away.”
Andy said the winery wanted labels for their Chardonnay, but added that when he orders labels from his supplier, it’s usually two or three months in advance. “We probably looking at $1,200 in printing costs and Dad and I want to sell this wine this week,” Andy said.
He had a conversation with his sales rep, who went to the company’s general manager, who put a rush on the job and turned the labels around in a week. “I’d really appreciate it if you could mention Tapp Label in Napa,” Andy said, who said that when he got the receipt, it was marked paid.
“Andy came in with the invoice and I said that’s swell, we’ve got to spend money to give money away,” Fred said, before he knew about the donation. “It really makes you feel good when someone is willing to join in and be a partner with us.”
The Schweigers bought the property in 1961, Fred said, cleared the land in 1979 and planted it in vines from 1980-81. “The first 10-12 years of our vineyard life, we sold all of the fruit, but little by little I built an area down in the shop with an eight-foot ceiling and put in a residential air conditioner to make wine. That’s where we started in 1994,” Fred said.
Then he pulled out an article from the St. Helena Star from November 1965. A small story told about the beginning of a volunteer fire department on Spring Mountain and a photo showed two men, Fred and his father, Anton, with a 1952 Dodge pumper they had bought. That was a year after the Hanley Fire, which swept from Calistoga to Santa Rosa, much like the Tubbs Fire did in 2017. Fred served with the statewide fire agency in the 1960s and with Kenwood Fire in the late 1970s. They have had a fire engine on the property for some 20 years and respond to fires in the area, with Fred driving and Andy manning the hose.
“Needless to say, we’ve always been fire-conscious, especially with the Hanley Fire that blew through here and then last year with the Tubbs and Nuns Fires,” Fred said. “We were surrounded on three sides.”