Deb Stallings was more than a little surprised when she found out that budgetary concerns meant that residents of the veterans' home in the Napa Valley, one of the world's most renowned wine regions, were being served wine from — gasp! — out of state.
And not the good stuff, either.
"I'm sure that's against all the laws of nature," she said with a laugh.
But wine, usually served at the weekly Sunday lunches at the Veterans Home of California, Yountville, is a luxury item, so officials there were limited in what they could provide. And what they could provide wasn't particularly good.
"We thought that not only should we be able to ensure they got a bit of wine each week, it should be good wine and it should be provided by the people who live, work and play in this community," says Stallings, whose father-in-law is a resident of the home.
Calling on fellow members of the Unity League, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community service organization, Stallings helped put out an appeal to local vintners to donate wine.
And they responded. Since February, the volunteer effort known as Vintners for Veterans has made sure local wines made the menu every Sunday.
"Those of us in the Napa Valley learned about it said, 'We can do better than that,'" said John Shafer, of Shafer Vineyards as he watched his premium merlot being poured for veterans during a recent Sunday lunch at the home. "If they're going to have a veterans' home in the Napa Valley, they're going to have Napa wines."
A number of wineries have already participated, including Shafer, Staglin Family Vineyard — cofounder Garen Staglin is a Vietnam vet — and Opus One. An early ally was Unity League member Chris Edwards, general manager of WTN Services/Winetasting.com, who offered the use of warehouse facilities to store and transport donated wine.
Unity League volunteers are available to pour the wines, but some wineries are sending their own people in to pour and talk to the veterans, making a welcome change from routine.
As nice as it is to get good wine, one of the best things has been the community connection, said Marcella McCormack, administrator for the home. When Shafer, who flew B-24s out of Britain during World War II, visited, she got to introduce him to a table of vets who had flown the same type of plane.
How are veterans liking the upgrade?
"It's wonderful," said David Rosenberg, a World War II vet who served in the 78th Infantry Division.
Rosenberg was among those enjoying the Shafer merlot on a recent Sunday. And he was glad to exchange wartime memories with the vintner. "He was in the same area I was in, only he was thousands of feet above me," said Rosenberg.
Glass in hand, Rosenberg gestured to the sweeping green grounds that surround the home.
"I feel like a millionaire," he said.