The devastation of the Haiti earthquake has prompted people around the world to offer help to the victims of the disaster. Relief funds have been raised through time-honored ways, like a celebrity telethon, and new methods such as text messaging donations via cell phone.
The heartrending pictures beamed around the world from Haiti caused thousands of people to open their purses and wallets to contribute to disaster relief. In the United States and Australia people have opened their cellars - wine cellars, that is.
Winemakers in the U.S. and Australia are contributing bottles of some of their finest wines to a special online wine auction to raise money for quake victims.
The auction, dubbed Wine for Haiti, is the brainchild of David Honig, an attorney and publisher of the online wine magazine Palate Press. A former resident of Miami, he lived through Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and has many Haitian friends.
He says the response from the winemaking community has been astounding.
"When I started off I thought, we will collect a few bottles, maybe we will put a case or two together, and send a couple of hundred dollars to the Red Cross," he said. "I think between our site, and the Australian site that is a member of our ad network that is doing it as well, we have got about $45,000 in contributions - in wine contributions - so far," he added.
Winemakers are contributing older vintages and rare large format bottles, like three- and six-liter sizes.
Charity wine auctions are not a new idea. Jeff Stai, owner of Twisted Oak Winery in California and a contributor, says winemakers are often approached to contribute bottles to charity events.
"One good news about wine is that it is something that you can put out there and bring in some cash for an organization," he said. "Actually, every week I will get probably anywhere from six to 12 requests from different charitable organizations looking for a wine donation for a silent auction or something like that. And then you kind of have to pick and choose which ones you are able to support. But wine has that ability to do that kind of stuff," said Stai.
But an online auction for disaster relief is unique. In the Wine for Haiti auction, buyers vie for the bottles until the bidding is closed. Honig emphasizes the winning bidders send their funds directly to the American Red Cross. Once payment is verified, the wine is then released.
"They [the buyers] go to the Red Cross' [web] site, they make their contribution directly to the Red Cross," explained Honig. "They fill out all of their own information except for their email; they put my email, (email@example.com). That way I receive a verification that contribution was made. So there is no issue of some guy online getting money and will he really send it where it goes. I do not see the money. I do not touch the money."
On the other side of the world, a sister website to Palate Press in Australia is doing the same thing. For Marc Jardine of BoozeMonkey.com - a website linking wine consumers and winemakers - the Haiti earthquake brought back unsettling memories. He lived through the massive 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan.
Jardine says he saw how Japan has the resources to cope with such a disaster, and how Haiti does not.
"For the [Kobe] survivors there was medical help, there was food, there was water, there was safety, there was a bed to sleep in, there was a roof over their head," he said. "It struck me that Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world. They do not have any of that. They have got no chance at all. They do not have food, they do not have medical supplies, they do not have great infrastructure, they do not have an army that is going to come in and clear all the things away. It really is a much worse disaster," Jardine said.
Like Honig, Jardine has been startled at the response from the wine community. The first day he had pledges of wine from Australian winemakers worth about $10,000. He says that he was even contacted by the maker of one of the world's most prestigious wines, Penfold's Grange.
Jardine and Honig are engaged in a little friendly cross-global competition to see who can raise the most money for Haiti. Collectively they look to raise at least $100,000, but harbor hopes they can exceed that. If they can raise that kind of money, then it can truly be said that wine has the ability to ease pain and soothe suffering - even indirectly.