WEOS Finger Lakes Public Radio

Finger Lakes Winery fights food insecurity one bottle at a time

Apr 30, 2020

During the coronavirus pandemic, food insecurity has become a top of mind issue across the country. Food banks are facing unprecedented demand as the economy has ground to a halt. 

Original painting by Beth Whybrow Leeds
Credit Red Tail Ridge Winery

For one Finger Lakes winery, a commitment meeting the challenge of food insecurity has been a part of their business all along. Red Tail Ridge Winery on Seneca Lake produces around 9,000 cases annually. Their largest volume wine is an estate Riesling called Good Karma. The name is appropriate. For ten years, 10-percent of the profit from every bottle goes back to a food bank in the state where it’s sold.

Co-owner and winemaker Nancy Irelan says it’s part of the Red Tail Ridge commitment to sustainability, which she says is kind of a three-legged stool.

“Economic or business sustainability for the winery, its environmental responsibility, and there's always been another component for community support and good neighbor.”

Red Tail Ridge’s first partner was FoodLink in New York, but it wasn’t long before their distributors in other states expressed interest in support for their own communities.

“The feedback that we got was, well, you know, we would really love to support this, particularly if you could send the support back to where we live. And so we talked about it and they agreed to help us out and they helped us identify those other charities. And now we have our own network of people that we've been working with during the pandemic.”

During the pandemic, one distributor, M.S. Walker, is matching Red Tail Ridge’s donations in New York and New Jersey.

All told Red Tail Ridge is working with food banks in 12 states and the District of Columbia. Over 10 years, the total distribution has topped more than $40,000.

I couldn’t let Nancy Irelan go without asking how Red Tail Ridge is faring during the pandemic.

“To be honest with you, day to day work, when we look at grape growing and winemaking, nothing has changed. I mean, Mother Nature has not changed her approach to the seasons and you know what happens in the vineyard. So as farmers, we really are just trying to maintain our day to day activities, which for us I think is incredibly helpful because it gives us something to focus on.”

Of course, the retail side has been affected. The emphasis is currently on online orders. Red Tail Ridge wines, including Good Karma, can be ordered online at www.redtailridgewinery.com.

This story has been updated to reflect that M.S. Walker is matching donations during the pandemic in New York in addition to New Jersey.