On a recent Saturday, Maria Raskin of Jacksonville was in the T-Bar Lounge at the Mt. Ashland Ski Area, sipping a glass of merlot and unaware that she was helping to pay to enhance the parking lot and the beginner's slope.
When she looked closer at the wine bottle's Mt. Ashland label, however, she discovered that her neighbor, Valley View Winery, had made the merlot. She later found out that the ski area was selling self-branded bottles to help raise money for improvements.
It's no surprise that winemakers donate wine to nonprofit organizations for fundraising efforts. Sometimes, they give to promote their label. But now, some wine producers are making the altruistic step of slapping a special label on unbranded bottles and selling the wine inside and outside of their tasting rooms.
In the Rogue Valley, people can sip Mt. Ashland chardonnay or merlot, Ashland Independent Film Festival sauvignon blanc and Rogue Riverkeepers' red blend.
All are made by local producers and traded for ski passes, outright given away or sold to raise a few dollars for a nonprofit group.
Chris Martin of Troon Vineyard in Grants Pass wanted to donate some of the sales from his wine while also paying homage to the winery's late founder. Dick Troon was a man of multiple trades, including once serving as a river guide on the Rogue.
This month, the winery released 2010 River Guide Red, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah that will be sold at the Ashland Food Co-op, Sherm's Thunderbird, Ray's Food Place and a few Albertsons stores.
Proceeds from the $16 bottle will benefit Rogue Riverkeepers, a group that protects water quality and fish in the Rogue River Basin.
But this isn't Troon's first special label. From 2006 to 2008, the winery released Spirit of the Rogue red and white table wines to raise money for the Art Along the Rogue Foundation. Labels featured the work of local artists.
After a wildfire burned nearly 500,000 acres in the Siskiyou National Forest in 2002, Troon launched its Fire Series to buy equipment for Applegate Fire District No. 9. Cabernet sauvignon was bottled under the 2002 Biscuit Fire, 2005 Blossom Fire and 2007 Humbug Fire labels.
Over the years, wine collectors and firefighter supporters have bid up the price of a 2002 Biscuit Fire bottle to as high as $700.
That makes it a bargain to buy the $20 Ashland Independent Film Festival Special Reserve Vintner's Select Sauvignon Blanc.
Festival supporters caught a glimpse of the potential festival moneymaker at last September's Reel to Rogue Event at the Lithia Springs Resort.
There, AIFF Executive Director Anne Ashbey Pierotti unveiled a wine bottle with a label inspired by the poster for last year's festival.
Standing nearby was Michael Moore, whose family owns Quail Run Vineyards as well as the South Stage Cellars wine label and a tasting room in Jacksonville.
Moore, a documentary filmmaker who serves on the AIFF board, came up with the idea of creating a special wine label as a new festival fundraising initiative. He says it's easy to ask supporters to write a check to buy cases of wine.
The white wine was made from grapes donated by South Stage Cellars and made without charge by winemaker Linda Donovan of Pallet Wine Co. in Medford. Winemaker Eric Weisinger of Weisinger's of Ashland has also given his time.
At the film festival's Oscar Gala on Feb. 24, guests will be able to taste and purchase some of the few remaining 50 cases of the 2011 sauvignon blanc.
Later this year, Moore hopes to release 65 cases of chardonnay and the following year, 65 cases of syrah with the special AIFF label.
The festival keeps all but a few dollars for the cost to buy empty bottles and print the labels.
Valley View Winery owner Mike Wisnovsky, who serves on the board of the Mt. Ashland Ski Area, came up with a similar, customized label idea.
For five years, he has traded cases of his Valley View-labeled wine for ski passes. Last year, he left his label off and put on a Mt. Ashland label.
"We already do a lot of private labels for other companies," he recalled thinking, "so why not for the ski resort?"
Valley View and other wineries sometimes bottle wine without labels — called "shiners" — and store them until restaurateurs, companies and individuals buy them and add personal labels.
The federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approves these vanity labels if they adhere to the guidelines. The labels must state the brand name, alcohol content, dominate grape, where the grapes were grown, when they were harvested and other consumer information.
The ski resort's development director, Rick Saul, designed the front of Mt. Ashland's labels to show a snow-capped mountain set against an orange sky and fronted by conifer trees.
Saul and the board liked Wisnovsky's suggestion to sell Mt. Ashland wine, since it's made locally, could raise much-needed cash and perhaps become a take-home keepsake for visitors.
Eventually, the board hopes to sell the wine in stores to increase revenues.
But for now, it's only available on the mountain.
Inside the T-Bar Lounge, merlot drinker Raskin, 43, said it was her first time tasting the Mt. Ashland brand, but not her first time tasting Valley View Winery's merlot.
"Really? This is made by Valley View?" she asked in her Brazilian accent. "I didn't know. I drink a lot of wine from there. It's my favorite."
Since her friend who was going to join her canceled at the last minute, Raskin ordered a $4 glass of the wine while she waited for her adult son to return from the slopes.
If she weren't alone, she said she would have bought a bottle for $15 and had been happier with a larger pour.
"The glass is pretty small," she said, smiling. But then she shrugged and pointed to a notebook sitting at the table in front of her.
"It's actually fine," she said. "Since I'm working on my nursing school homework as a I wait."
Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or email@example.com.