Like many around the world, Michael Dorf, founder of City Winery, a nationwide collection of urban wineries and venues based in New York City, was eager to support Ukraine in the wake of Russia’s invasion on February 24, 2022.
“We all have been so moved from the beginning about the war,” says Dorf. “We just wanted to do something.”
For the team at City Winery, the call to action feels personal. Ganna “Ania” Fedorova, City Winery’s national sales director, was raised in the Lugansk region of eastern Ukraine, went to college in Kyiv and moved to New York at age 22. She has friends and relatives across Ukraine and Russia, and her parents still live in Kyiv, where they recently returned after initially escaping to the western part of the country.
“It’s quite complicated,” says Fedorova of how she identifies, having a Russian mother, Ukrainian father and upbringing steeped in Russian language and culture. “I am adamantly politically Ukrainian. I always took great pride in being Ukrainian.”
Many in her homeland feel similarly, she says. “Whatever hesitancy that Ukrainians had about their national identity, it really forged over the last eight years.”
Seeking to host a fundraising concert, City Winery’s programming team asked Fedorova which performer she thought would be apt. “My first thought was Gogol Bordello, this fantastic band with Ukrainian roots,” she says. “I saw them back in Kyiv when I still lived there. I thought they would be great advocates and headliners for this benefit.”
The band readily agreed to what became a sold-out concert on March 10, 2022, and the winery developed a Cabernet Sauvignon with a striking blue-and-yellow fist label to boost fundraising. “It was not that difficult for us to assemble this and do it,” says Dorf.
Proceeds go to Come Back Alive, an organization that Fedorova helped to select. “It’s a fund that supports the Ukrainian military, but not with weapons, rather with things that help them fight more safely and more efficiently,” she says. “We know the funds are going directly to the frontlines.”
Dorf believes the concert’s success went beyond its financial impact. “Having 400 people in the room dancing together in support of Ukraine, all in unison, saying, ‘F*%! Putin!,’ that was cathartic and powerful,” he says. “We did something that was very special.”
Other U.S. wine professionals feel similarly connected and eager to support Ukraine. At Nocking Point Wines, a club-based company based in Walla Walla, Washington, it’s part of a longstanding commitment to charitable giving.
“A big piece of the Nocking Point brand is all about impact,” says spokesperson Eve Godat, explaining that one of the company’s clubs typically features one to three fundraising bottles. During the peak of the pandemic, Nocking Point—which was founded a decade ago by actor Steve Arnell and his friend, Andrew Harding, whose twin sister, Sarrah Harding, runs operations in Walla Walla—teamed with celebrities Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis to create a wine called Quarantine. It raised $1 million for COVID-response organizations.
“That paved the way for us to continue to do what we do with Ashton and Mila,” says Godrat. Together, they started a line called Outside Wines, in which the beneficiary of a customer’s purchase is revealed as the wine is emptied from each bottle. The initial charities receiving support were Kutcher’s Thorn, a nonprofit that fights child sex trafficking, and The Skatepark Project, skateboard star Tony Hawk’s initiative to build recreational facilities around the country.
In March, Kunis, who was born and lived in Ukraine until she was seven years old, launched a GoFundMe campaign for her homeland. Nocking Point supported the effort by putting Ukrainian flag stickers on a 2019 blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. “We now call it Outside Wine: Support for Ukraine,” says Godrat. “We’ve raised $60,000 already and hope to reach $100,000 by the end of May.” The overall campaign has raised more than $36 million so far.
California winemaker Scott Shapley lived in Russia and Ukraine in the 1990s, when his wife, Laura Hoover, worked on post-Soviet business development. This connection makes the war in Ukraine “very poignant,” says Shapley.
Upon returning to Sonoma County in 1999, Shapley was hired by Adam Lee and Dianna Novy as the first employee of Siduri Wines. When the war broke out earlier this year, the trio decided to “get the band back together” and create a three-barrel blend of Pinot Noir from each of their own Central Coast brands.
It’s called Tryzub, which refers to the trident, a powerful symbol in Ukrainian culture that combines a cross and anchor. The label was handled pro bono by LP/w Design Studio and corks were donated by Scott Labs.
Proceeds from the wine, which will be bottled this summer and released soon after, will go to World Central Kitchen.
“That was a good way to support refugees and their needs,” says Shapley. “Even when the war ends, there’s going to be a lot to be done for refugees and recovery.”