“Philanthropic Wine” Bursts Onto the Scene

By Hugh Powell
Visit burninghawk.com
Image courtesy of Burning Hawk Philanthropic Wines.

Each afternoon at 5:30 here at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, a crowd gathers in the back of the convention hall for the Kiskadee Cordial. People mill around eating hors d’ouevres, talking story, and – this year – drinking a couple of remarkable wines from Napa.

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They’re Burning Hawk wines, a new label created by Nick Papadopolous in May of this year. Up till then, Papadopolous had been a self-described “environmental conflict resolution mediator” with little experience in winemaking but skill at bringing people together. He was horrified by a local news story: a hawk had landed on an electrical tower, touched a live wire and burst into flames. This in itself might not have been newsworthy, but the hawk fell to the ground in a vineyard and set the grapes on fire. Cue the reporters.

What seems like a freak accident is tragically common, Papadopolous discovered. Hawks die by the thousands each year from electrocution, and many more die from collisions with power lines, according to a report by the Avian Power Line Interaction Committee. It occurred to him that a popular wine’s selling power might offer a way to raise money to help.

So he rallied some friends, designed a label, and less than six months later was pouring Burning Hawk for eager tasters at this birding festival (thanks in part to some early press by Eagle Optics). The wines, supplied by California industry stalwart Windsor Vineyards are a 2006 Bordeaux and a 2006 Chardonnay – only 1,000 cases of each, selling for $30 per bottle ($27 if you buy before Thanksgiving). Ten percent of total sales goes directly to raptor-protection causes, Papadopolous said.

It’s a boost for raptor conservation, but Papadopolous sees much more potential in the idea. He’d like to continue bringing together people whose motivations and abilities combine to help with needy causes – a role closely allied to his skills as a mediator. “The way I see it, if you have one great idea, you just have to tell one other person, and if they think it’s good, ask them to tell one more person,” he told me. “And you just keep doing that until people stop agreeing with you.”

So how do the wines taste? I’d give you my review, but the samples were all gone before I reached the front of the line. Seems like a good omen.

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