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The Story Behind Tribute Wine

Distant Cellars owner Drew Gaiser shares the story of how Tribute wine came to be

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Being a firefighter, working with my family to create this incredible wine, and being chosen by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) to partner is a huge honor. Now, in our third year of the annual fundraising release, I would like to share how Tribute wine came to be.

Becoming a Firefighter

Before understanding the story behind our wine, I need to give you a little background on myself. I am, and have been, a professional firefighter for just under 15 years in a suburb west of Denver, Colorado (this inspiration behind the name “Distant Cellars”). Just at the outset of my career, while I was still in the fire academy, in fact, my fellow recruits and I watched the Twin Towers come down immediately following our morning physical training. That day my training officer had us all at attention in front of the American flag for our morning lineup. But, instead of raising the flag and starting our training, we raised the flag and then lowered it to half-staff as our training officer paced the line dumbfounded with what to say. Finally, one came front and center and simply said, “Today a lot of firefighters died. Earn This.”

Four years later, I was able to watch a group of my fellow Colorado Firefighters organize the first ever 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb. What started as a small group of local firefighters grew over the years into a Nationwide event thanks to the NFFF.

Becoming a Winemaker

When I first decided to go into the wine business, I knew I wanted to find a way to tie it to my passion as a firefighter and the firefighting community. But the exact way to go about this wasn’t immediately apparent to me. After all, what does firefighting have to do with winemaking? It wasn’t until after our first commercial wine release in 2012 when the idea started to form. At this point, the words of my training officer came back to me and started to ring in my heart again. By this time, I had developed the skills of firefighting but I hadn’t done anything to better the community or “earn it” outside of personal development.

Giving Back

I reached out to a friend from the Memorial Stair Climb and asked to if he could introduce me to the NFFF. I had an idea; an exclusive handcrafted wine made as a tribute to fallen firefighters with 30 percent of the proceeds going to the NFFF. They were blown away by the idea and size of the donation, but there were obvious concerns about alcohol. Fortunately, they were going to be in our area for the California State Fallen Firefighters’ Memorial the next week and asked if they could come to the winery, see our operation, and taste some wines. Working in Denver, my father was the only one onsite, and he welcomed them and showed them our wines, labels, and gave the final pitch.

After the visit, they agreed to give it a shot, and we produced 300 cases of our first Tribute wine. We commissioned a painting for the first label and have continued to do so with every vintage, as a way to honor fallen firefighters. We are even able to auction the paintings at the Fire Department Instructors Conference to raise additional funds for the foundation.

The First Bottling Ceremony

While developing Tribute wine and setting a tone of somber respect for the program we invited both the CalFire Honor Guard and Lori Greeno, a local survivor whose husband died battling a wildfire, to participate in the inaugural bottling ceremony. We began with an honor guard performing a “Last Alarm” ceremony, followed by a moment of silence in honor of all the lost brothers and sisters. We then ran the bottling line and pulled the first bottle off the line and set it aside. All of the honor guard members, Lori, and her friends stayed and helped us bottle the entire first batch of Tribute. Afterward, we shared a wine country lunch on the crush pad and presented the first bottle to Lori. After lunch, the pipers felt the urge to play, and so they filled the vineyards with music until the day closed. It was truly a magical end to a great day.

It was an extremely special day, and one that will forever be remembered, by all that attended ,and I was pleased we were able to start off this program with the earnestness I wanted the Tribute ine to represent.

Our Third Year

Going into our third vintage, we had raised just under $50,000 for the foundation. We’re extremely proud of our partnership and each year are happy to be able to support such an amazing foundation. And at the time I’m writing this, we’ve raised an additional $16,000 since our third vintage released in November. It is our goal to raise a total of $30,000 by the end of 2015. It is my hope firefighters, their supporters, and their loved ones will consider adding the result of my second craft, winemaking, to their dinner tables and wine collections. And in doing so, help make 2015 another successful year for the NFFF’s fundraising efforts.

Yours,
Drew Gaiser
Firefighter
Owner, Distant Cellars