Talk to people in the beer, wine, and spirits business, and the three historically powerful hurricanes that devastated parts of Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico were severe, but they could have been worse. Spirited checked in with a handful of producers across the region to find out how they fared—and what’s being done to help those in need.
“We were pretty lucky,” says Ron Yates, whose family owns Spicewood Vineyards in the Texas Hill Country, which got as much as 10 inches of rain in three or four days—about one-third of the area’s average annual total. That’s because Hill Country harvest ended just before Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas Gulf Coast. In addition, only about 20 percent of the state’s grapes come from the Hill Country, the diamond-shaped region between Austin and San Antonio, further minimizing the mighty storm’s impact.
Haak Vineyards & Winery in Santa Fe, Tex. (between Houston and Galveston) suffered a flooded basement and one of its air conditioning units had to be replaced, says General Manager Cecila Haak Gabba, the winery was able to open within a couple of days: “In the big scheme of things, we had very minor damage.”
Many of the problems caused by Harvey and Irma in Texas and Florida came from the extensive flooding that remained days and even weeks after the storms made landfall. Many roads remained closed, with phone service and electricity spotty, which hampered relief efforts and made it difficult for companies to know how and where their employees were: Were they safe and unharmed? Were they still in their homes or had they been evacuated? And could they even get to work if they were still in the area?
In Florida, craft brewers up and down the state waited to reopen until the water receded, power was restored, and employees could safely get to work. Storm damage, luckily, was mostly minimal. Intuition Ale Works in Jackson reports the brewery was mostly OK even though water came up to its door. At nearby Bold City Brewery, streets were flooded but damage was again minimal. Wicked Barley Brewing’s beer garden and dock were under water, but it reopened few days after Irma passed through. In Tampa, power outages kept Coppertail closed despite minimal damage.
In the hours leading up to Irma’s landfall, Xpeditr wine shipping company had moved more than 20,000 bottles of rare wine from a variety of million-dollar collections to safety. A company spokesman reports collectors who had lost wine in previous hurricanes didn’t want to take chances this time.
The exception to this (relatively) good news is Puerto Rico. The island commonwealth was still reeling weeks after Maria, without enough food, water, or electricity for its almost 3.5 million residents. The Bacardi rum distillery, the largest premium rum distillery in the world, is one of the island’s largest employers, and Casa Bacardi visitor center is one of the most popular tourism sites in the San Juan area. Both were closed in the immediate aftermath of the storm, without solid plans to reopen. The Bacardi family, though the Bacardi Limited, pledged $3 million for disaster relief on the island, in the Caribbean, and in earthquake-damaged Mexico, with $2 million earmarked for Puerto Rico. (The Bacardi Visitor center reopened November 1, 2017.)
But that was just part of the alcohol industry’s largesse. As the floodwaters receded, stories of assistance and generosity began cropping up. Here are a few that caught our attention (to add your story, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org):
- Beweries in Florida opened their premises, where they had water and electricity, to storm evacuees. Swamp Head Brewery in Gainesville offered a pint of its beer to anyone who brought in unopened bottles of water for redistribution.
- Oskar Blues Brewery, with locations in Austin and Denver, stopped brewing beer and canned water for Harvey victims in Houston. Beer giant Anheuser-Busch stopped production at its Cartersville, Ga. brewery to can water, sending almost 13,000 cases to Louisiana and Texas in the first few days after Harvey.
- Three Tampa-area breweries collaborated on a storm IPA, using hop varietals that begin with “I-R-M-A” and donating the proceeds to their local food bank.
- Charles Butt, chairman and CEO of the H-E-B grocery store chain, made a personal $5 million contribution to the Houston flood relief fund organized by J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans football team.
- The Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Tex., which makes state favorite Shiner Bock, donated $100,000 to nonprofits supporting relief efforts in Florida following Hurricane Irma.
- Messina Hof Winery in Bryan, Tex., is bottling 600 cases of a dry red wine called Resilience; proceeds will be donated to groups like Feeding Texas for hurricane relief.
- Diageo, through its Guiness and Crown Royal brands, has pledged $100,000 to hurricane relief across all affected regions.
- The two largest alcohol beverage wholesalers in the country, Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits and RNDC, established relief funds for their employees in Texas and Florida.
- Twin Liquors, with 80 stores in Texas, pledged $20,000 to the American Red Cross to aid flood relief for Harvey, and gave customers a chance to add $1, $3, and $5 donations to their shopping totals.
- The Independent Beer Distributors Relief Fund announced a $30,000 donation to the American Red Cross to assist with disaster relief efforts in Southeast Texas for the thousands of people who have been impacted by Hurricane Harvey.
- In Portland, Ore., Ataula founders chef José Chesa and co-owner, and Puerto Rico native Cristina Báez, are launching PDX Feeds Puerto Rico, an entire week of culinary fundraising events benefiting Hurricane Maria relief efforts. It has been nearly two months since the hurricane devastated the small island and rebuilding efforts, medical support, food, water and supply distribution is still in dire shape. That’s why chefs like Rick Gencarelli of Lardo, José Chesa of Ataula, Gregory Gourdet of Departure, Peter Cho of Han Oak, Tyler Malek of Salt & Straw and more, have joined forces to raise money for the cause. Beginning Monday, December 4th through Sunday, December 10th, Chesa and Báez will launch a series of citywide events to raise funds to send directly to Puerto Rico, providing immediate help. With the help of Puerto Rican company Don Q they will be bringing chefs and stars from the coffee world from Puerto Rico to Portland for a special week of fundraising events. Tapping the incredible support and true collaborative spirit of the Portland food and beverage industry. For a first time in Portland you can eat and drink for a great cause throughout the city with a full on Puerto Rican flavors. From a tropical bar takeover filled with mojitos and daiquiris to an Asian-Rican night at Han Oak to a traditional Puerto Rican feast, to the Caribbean brunch of your dreams. All events throughout the week will raise crucial funds for Cosa Nuestra Relief Fund. PDX Feeds Puerto Rico will serve as a place to make monetary donations that will go directly to chefs on the island working to feed people in need NOW. Visit www.pdxfeedspuertorico.com
(Editor’s Note: This is a fluid story, and we’ll continue to update as necessary here and on our Facebook page. We’re already hearing stories of amazing relief efforts, collaborative benefits, and heartwarming fundraisers. If you have a story to share, please email me at email@example.com.)