Monday, May 23, 2011

Reposting: Casual Wine, Serious Goal

Posted by Michael Franz on May 23, 2011 at 9:05 AM

Casual Wine, Serious Goal

I’ll admit that shoes and wine don’t generally come to mind as typical made-for-each-other partners.  The best-known historical example of the two things working together has to do with drinking Champagne from a lady’s slipper.  Sweet, but does anyone do that kind of stuff these days? I recently learned about a more contemporary merger between shoes and wine, which struck me as a story worth passing along.
Soles4Souls is an international charity dedicated to providing free footwear to people in need.  It was founded in 2004 by a man named Wayne Elsey, who was at that time an executive in the footwear industry.
“I was home in Nashville Tennessee one day, lying on my couch watching the TV coverage of the tsunami disaster in Indonesia,” Elsey told me over lunch in Manhattan last week.  “Suddenly there was a picture of a single child’s shoe washed up on the beach.  When I saw that something just snapped in me.  I knew I had to do something.”
What Elsey did was to start calling friends and colleagues in the footwear industry asking them to help him raise donations of shoes to send to the devastated country.  Then, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans Elsey went into action again, but he knew this time that it wouldn’t be a one-shot effort: From now on he was going to devote his life to getting shoes to the millions of people across the globe who cannot afford them. 
There are more than 300 million children in the world who are shoeless, Elsey explained, adding that the risk of going barefoot includes the obvious problem of infections brought on by external injury, but also the risk of infection by hookworm and other parasites.
He told me that Soles4Souls distributes one pair of shoes somewhere in the world every 7 seconds. He also mentioned that flip-flops are the most purchased style of shoe globally--and this is where the wine connection comes in.
Flipflop is the latest label launched by Underdog Wine Merchants, whose portfolio also includes Cupcake Vineyards and Big House. In early 2011 flipflop entered into a partnership with Soles4Souls, with the goal of donating one pair of flip-flop sandals for every bottle of wine purchased.
Flipflop winemaker David Georges (whose resume includes a stint at Davis Bynum winery) told me that his goal at flipflop is to make wines that “maintain good varietal character, are expressive and well balanced, and are affordable to people at all economic levels.  I want these to be wines that reflect today’s casual lifestyle.”  
After tasting each of the wines I would say that Georges had pretty much achieved his goal. I particularly like the appely/lemony Chardonnay, with its discreet wisp of creamy oak, and the Pinot Grigio, which is relatively fruity and fleshy (and, incidentally, is delicious with grilled seafood).
The Merlot is plummy and soft, with enough character to remain interesting through an entire meal, the Cabernet has varietally authentic hints of dark fruit and spice, and the Pinot Noir has more genuine personality than most run-of-the-mill inexpensive California Pinots. Approximately $7 a bottle, with screwcap closures and bright-colored labels, these are casual wines to have fun with at casual events, and you might like them even more knowing that each bottle you purchase helps put shoes on needy feet.
And if you really want to put your own best (flip-flop clad) foot forward, Elsey suggests you take a look at all the shoes cluttering up your closet.  Ship the ones you don’t wear (no matter how beat-up they might be) to Soles4Souls, which also runs a global micro-enterprise program designed to provide people in developing nations with the resources to start and maintain their own business reconditioning and selling old shoes.
“All those old shoes in your closet could help a mother of five in Haiti support her family,” says Elsey.  I’ll raise a glass of flipflop Chardonnay to that!

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