Ashley Trout has been in the Washington wine industry since 1999. She started her first winery (Flying Trout) in 2006, sold it in 2010, and went on to start Brook & Bull and Vital Wines simultaneously in 2016. “It made the best business sense to start them together,” says Trout, who focuses on high-end varieties and blends crafted with low oak.
Brook & Bull is a traditional wine business, while Vital Winery is a nonprofit dedicated to providing healthcare access to winery employees who wouldn’t otherwise be insured—100 percent of its profits go toward doing just that. “I grew up in a bicultural, bilingual household,” she says. “The wine industry is made up of a lot of seasonal workers and hospitality workers who aren’t expecting health insurance. Their basic needs aren’t being met. This is largely because the Washington wine industry is fairly new, and it takes at least seven years for a winery to become profitable.
“It was important to me, from the beginning, to help take care of these workers.” Vital Wines supports Washington’s SOS Health Services clinic, an open-door, free clinic that offers services with no questions asked. “When COVID-19 started, we felt we had a job to do, but we weren’t sure what it was. We knew that seasonal workers, paired with an ‘I can power through it’ attitude would be a big problem. Plus, if people are here illegally, they’re reluctant to be tested due to the paperwork.
So Vital Winery came up with a program to help prevent the pandemic spread. It’s called “A Day At Home,” and provides funding for those who cannot come to work for any reason. It’s 100 percent funded by donations, and offers $108 per day (the average wage for seasonal workers) to stay home rather than work.
“At first, people were afraid the recipients would be dishonest,” says Trout. “But it became clear within only a few days that no one was taking advantage. They have pride in their work ethic. The reasons they can’t or won’t come to work are drastically valid.
“We’re so happy we’ve been able to extend Vital Winery’s reach and provide help during this difficult time,” she adds.
Those who’d like to donate to A Day At Home can do so on Vital Winery’s website.