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June 14, 2018
Habits

Charity by the bottle

Give to a good cause, and to your wine rack, with Vinomofo's Homeless Grapes Project - where all profits go directly to Hutt St Centre.

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  • Words: Johnny von Einem
  • Pictures: Supplied

Three years ago, on a Wednesday afternoon during vintage, McLaren Vale grapegrower (and whisky enthusiast), Jock Harvey posted an innocuous call out on Facebook asking for someone to find a home for grapes left on his vines he wasn’t able to pick.

Remarks

The Homeless Grapes Project 2017 McLaren Vale Shiraz is on sale now through Vinomofo.

Anyone willing to donate to the Hutt St Centre, he said, could have them.

Andre Eikmeier got in touch, and as the two got talking they realised, with the reach of Andre’s Vinomofo platform, rather than turning the fruit into a home project and a few hundred dollars for Hutt St, it could become something much bigger.

Andre Eikmeier on picking day.

By Saturday morning, a mob of volunteers descended upon Jock’s vineyard. The fruit was picked, and, following a few phone calls to friends in the region, it was fermented and bottled at no cost, and then sold, with 100 per cent of the profits going directly to the Hutt Street Centre.

“We ended up picking the wine up on [Vinomofo] as a deal: ‘Ok, we don’t know what it’s going to taste like, and we don’t know what it’s going to look like, and it’s going to take a year for you to get it, but would you like to buy the wine?’ And they did. It sold out overnight,” Andre recalls.

The next day, a novelty cheque for $36,000 was printed and presented to the charity.

The 2017 edition of the wine – a McLaren Vale shiraz – is set for release this Sunday, 17 June, and since its inaugural year the initiative has raised over $100,000 for Hutt St Centre.

“It’s just a good idea, and it’s a fun idea to participate in, and it’s fun to go and pick grapes on a Saturday morning for a cause, and it’s fun to drink wine and buy wine for a cause,” Andre says.

“It’s not painful for anybody and it’s really fun to do, and each of the participation points are fun, so therefore there’s a good energy about it.”

The winemaker behind this release is Alexia Roberts of Penny’s Hill, who says the “project represents a community working together.”

“There has been input from many different people and businesses along the way, each one donating a service to achieve a common goal. It’s been an amazing experience to be a part of,” she says.

The wine is sold at $20 a bottle, in cases of six, and charitable drinkers can expect “a pretty aroma of red cherry and blueberry fruits with hints of spice… [and] great drinkability with plenty of palate weight and fruit length.”

The label design, voluntarily contributed by artist Sarah Morris, depicts the eyes of a man named Norm, who was a client of Hutt St Centre and has since moved out of homelessness.

Sarah Morris’ label art, featuring Norm’s eyes.

“Norm’s portrait is made up of text from his story,” Sarah explains.

“It’s so easy to walk past hundreds of people throughout our day and make assumptions about who they are and how they got to be where they are, but sitting down and taking a moment to hear their story is one of the most powerful gifts we can give to another person.

“We all want to be heard, understood and made to feel significant. I hope that this project helps in some small way to be a part of this conversation.”

Like Sarah, who worked with homeless youths in London during her 20s, Andre was awakened to the cause of homelessness through personal experience. After participating in a touch football game organised by Hutt St Centre, he created videos for the charity that told the story of some of their clients.

“In all honesty, I reckon that 12, 15 years ago, I was one of those people, like a lot of people, where I didn’t really understand the problem,” he says.

“I… ended up filming the stories of some homeless people, and I think I just got over my arrogance, or my misunderstanding – to be kind to myself, but really it was arrogance, and it was naivety – and I think I started to understand how easy it could happen.

“And I understood that the depth of the impact of mental health issues, and I understood domestic violence and the contribution of that, and how many people are living in cars with kids and have fled violence, and then I went ‘Oh shit, wow.’”

The cause has since become “a pillar” of Wine For Good – Vinomofo’s charity arm.

As The Homeless Grapes Project 2017 vintage hits the digital shelves, the 2018 fruit is in the process of becoming wine, and the project has now expanded to the Yarra Valley and Coonawarra, with local homelessness charities to be the benefactors.

“It’s such a local problem, do you know what I mean?” Andre says.

“In Adelaide, it’s Adelaide’s homeless, so it needs an Adelaide [approach]. It’s not something that gets fixed by people like us, or communities getting together to raise money – somebody has to be there with the shelter, and the food trucks, and the counsellors, and the housing placement, and just the keeping track of and communicating with people, making somebody feel visible and like they’re cared about. That’s the hard work and it has to be done by somebody on the ground.

“This could be, genuinely, a thing that happens – this connection between wine regions and homelessness – around the globe. It doesn’t have to be just us owning it… It’s more important that it becomes an industry getting together to do something for a social problem. So I can really see that happening, I think it’d be really cool.”

To purchase the Homeless Grapes Project ’17 shiraz, head to Vinomofo on Sunday, 17 June. Keep an eye on Vinomofo’s social feed for information on future Homeless Grapes picking days.

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