A new wine honors and supports those who toil in the fields - just
think of it as the fair trade choice for oenophiles.
By Chris Macias
Published: Wednesday, Nov. 05, 2008
"No uvas/No grapes!" was once the boycott cry of the United Farm Workers.
Now comes Black Eagle Wines, bottled under the blessing and licensing
of the United Farm Workers, the labor union co-founded by Cesar
Chavez. The wine company isn't owned by the United Farm Workers, but
its signature "huelga" eagle is stamped on each bottle and proceeds
go back to the union. The wine's motto: "Celebrating justice.
Supporting farm workers."
Black Eagle Wines has bottled three wines in this inaugural vintage,
which were released on Cesar Chavez Day this past March 31: cabernet
sauvignon ($30), merlot ($27) and a sauvignon blanc ($25) that
received 92 points in Wine Enthusiast magazine.
The grapes in each wine were harvested in the Napa Valley and
produced under United Farm Workers contracts. Think of Black Eagle
Wines as the fair trade coffee for the oenophile set.
"We're turning boycotting on its ears," says Marva Diaz, the chief
operating officer of Black Eagle Wines. "Instead of focusing on the
negative – that had its day and purpose – today's consumers really
respond to a kind of social consumerism. Where you choose to spend
your money can promote social responsibility. We want to showcase the
quality of what can be produced by farmworkers. You can have a union
contract and have a quality good."
Black Eagle Wines was conceived by Richie Ross, the Sacramento area
political consultant who's also lobbied for the United Farm Workers,
as a way of raising money for the union's organizing efforts. Ross'
son Joaquin acts as the president of Black Eagle Wines.
The actual wines are produced and bottled at St. Supéry, a winery in
Rutherford. And these prices aren't meant to compete with "Two Buck
Chuck." With prices fetching $30 for Black Eagle Wines' cabernet, a
grape picker would have to work for about three hours to earn enough
for a bottle, according to figures from the State of California
Employment Development Department.
The priciness of Napa grapes – a ton of cabernet grapes commands more
than $4,000 – along with honoring union contracts that guarantee
worker protections and benefits also factors into the price point for
Black Eagle Wines.
About 2,000 cases of Black Eagle Wines were produced, and
approximately $5 from each bottle sold goes toward the United Farm
Workers. The late Chavez would probably have said "cheers!" to the whole idea.
"Cesar Chavez had an entrepreneurial spirit with his Radio Campesina
(radio network) and his own printing press," says Diaz. "He was
always looking for ways to raise money for farmworkers. In talking to
people, I think he would've been very proud of this way to spread a
message and raising funds for the organization."
Bottles of Black Eagle Wines are available at a single store,
midtown's 58 Degrees & Holding Co. Orders can also be placed at Black
Eagle Wines' Web site (www. blackeaglewines.com), and $65 gift sets
are available that include two bottles wrapped in union-made bandannas.
Black Eagle Wines are also being poured at political functions and
fundraisers around Sacramento, and were served at an event during the
Democratic National Convention last summer in Denver. But now the
company is looking ahead to its sophomore vintage.
"We're hoping to get licensed in as many states as possible and get
into the consciousness of people," says Diaz. "When you choose to
celebrate in your life, think of what these grapes represent: justice
in the fields."
Call Bee food and wine writer Chris Macias, (916) 321-1253.