How to “celebrate” Michigan Wine Month in the middle of a global pandemic?
Brian Lillie took inspiration from an “All In” campaign to help end hunger that he saw earlier this spring to come up with a solution. Director of hospitality operations and distribution at Chateau Chantal near Traverse City as well as a Michigan Wine Collaborative board member and chair of its Michigan Wine Month Committee, Lillie proposed the #MichiganWineMonthChallenge.
And the idea took off.
The Wine Month Challenge has about a dozen Michigan wineries offering 15 packages that are up for bid, with proceeds going to The Michigan Hospitality Industry Employee Relief Fund. The fund was created by the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association (MRLA) to provide grants to hospitality industry employees whose livelihoods have been affected by COVID-19.
Amanda Smith, executive director of the MRLA Educational Foundation and MRLA executive vice president, says the MRLA launched the fundraising initiative April 6 with $250,000 in seed money and has been collecting online donations since.
Some 4,000 hospitality industry workers applied for assistance through the fund in the opening 24 hours. Just shy of $400 was awarded to 600 recipients.
With the need so high, the #MichiganWineMonthChallenge was timely.
“One of the hardest parts of doing a fundraiser is covering costs,” Smith says. “And having the wineries all bring the experiences and the packages they did to the table saved us expenses.
“That way, we’re really holding to 100 percent of all of the money raised is going to the employees. It’s like a dream come true from a fundraising standpoint.”
All of the packages are available at the Wine Month Challenge landing page. Visitors to the site can bid on items in $10 increments; the more they bid on a particular package, the better the chance of winning.
“A person could potentially bid on three items and win all three items,” Lillie says. “Now, if they put $10 on one item, $20 on another and $30 on another, then their odds to win the item they put $30 on is more likely.”
All items are open for bidding throughout May. In early June, Michigan Wine Collaborative and MRLA officials will draw the names of the winners. They’ll then be announced on the MRLA and Michigan Wine Collaborative websites.
Lillie is excited about the potential for the Challenge to help out-of-work hospitality industry employees, including restaurant workers and those who may be laid off or operating on reduced schedules from wineries.
“We’re not going to make anybody rich by any means, but if there’s a person we can help out with an overdue bill based on this fund, or somebody might miss a car insurance payment and be at risk of not being able to drive to work, hopefully this fund would be able to help them,” Lillie says. “Basically, the Michigan wine industry wants to show the Michigan hospitality industry in general that we are behind them and we are in this together.”
The packages available for bid include:
Love Wines Winery of Ludington: $100 gift card and private winery tour, along with tastings and a cheeseboard.
Modales Wines: A meal for six with the family at Modales Wines on the patio.
Mawby Sparkling Wines: A private Table Four2 experience offering four unique food and wine pairings in the vineyard.
Amoritas Vineyards: A vineyard picnic for four with the owners in a gazebo overlooking the vines, and a gift bag of picnicking essentials, including a blanket and Freeze Cups.
2 Lads Winery: A barrel tasting and pairing dinner for six, along with wine club membership for a year and dinner for two at The Cooks’ House in Traverse City.
Fenn Valley Vineyards: A multicourse wine dinner with the winemakers in the winery’s vintage garden, a patio overlooking the vineyards.
St. Julian Winery & Distillery: 1: A private multicourse wine dinner for eight with the winemakers and owners/growers. 2: VIP-enhanced tour and barrel tastings for eight, with wine club membership for one year.
Left Foot Charley: A behind-the-scenes tour of the winemaking facility and barrel room, tastings of wines and ciders, and a Barrel Room Board.
Chateau Chantal: A multicourse dinner for four paired with Chateau Chantal wines prepared by the chef with founding family members.
Bonobo Winery: Wine pairings and a multicourse dinner for four in the vines with Todd Oosterhouse and Cornel Olivier.
Shady Lane Cellars: A self-guided bike tour from Suttons Bay Bikes includes lunch at Shady Lane, along with a vineyard tour and tasting experience.
Winery at Black Star Farms: An exclusive tasting with the winery founder and grower in his most prized vineyard.
Hawthorne Vineyards: A gourmet picnic lunch for four served with estate wines overlooking East and West Grand Traverse bays.