Local church creates wine from surplus and donated grapes to help immigrants in need
–Highlands Church in Paso Robles has manufactured a wine using leftover and donated grapes to benefit local people in need. Over the past two years, they have actually harvested grapes, processed them, and turned them into 600 bottles of wine.
“When we first had the idea, we knew it was radical. But, that’s how we knew it was the perfect idea for us,” says James Baird the Lead Pastor at Highlands Church. “It all started back in 2017 when I took the staff to a local vineyard for an alternative meeting location. At the end of our meeting, the winery owner asked if we would like a tour. We said ‘yes’ immediately.” James tells that the vineyards were being harvested that day by local immigrants working in the fields. As they gathered the grapes, they left huge clusters hanging on the vines. The winery owner, Cindy Steinbeck, explained that these were available for anyone who wanted to harvest them. “Maybe you can bring your congregation here and pick the grapes for charity.”
A year went by and James gathered together a team of members who worked in the wine industry. He wanted to see if making a wine with leftover grapes to benefit local people in need would be possible. By the end of the day both Steinbeck Vineyards and Hammond Vineyards offered to donate three tons of grapes. Pastor Baird says, “These were not the extra grapes that were being donated. These winemakers were giving the best of their crop. We were in awe of how everything was coming together.”
One of the people Pastor Baird invited to help was Ryan Render, a local winemaker well-known for Rendario Winery. He offered to coordinate the entire project from start to finish using his label, license, and contacts to ensure the dream would come true.
On Oct. 4, 2018 the grapes were delivered to McPrice Meyers winery to begin to be processed. Pastor Baird describes that as a magical moment when he saw the dream coming to life.
“We knew we were a part of something really big. It was a story that would be told at dinner tables all over the world. We were going to show people that anything is possible.” says Baird. “But, we actually didn’t know who should be blessed with the money raised at the fundraiser. We knew it needed to be something very special. So, we prayed about it and during that prayer I envisioned the hands of the immigrant farmworkers I first saw picking the grapes. I knew it had to be them, their families, and their fellow immigrants.”
When Pastor Baird opened scripture to see what it said about vineyards and immigrants and said he was stunned. Reading Deuteronomy 24:21-22, “Again, when you pick the grapes of your vineyard, don’t pick them over twice. Let the leftovers go to the immigrants, the orphans, and the widows. Remember how you were a slave in Egypt. That’s why I am commanding you to do this thing.” Baird pauses and explains, “My mom was an immigrant from Scotland. Life is hard when you’re living in a foreign country. I could only imagine how hard it would be if you were penniless and seeing hard times.”
When 2020 pandemic happened, the church sanctuary was closed and services moved online. By the summer local businesses were really starting to suffer. The local social services agency the church works with asked for help feeding families who had run out of food. On Wednesdays at noon, the church turned its empty sanctuary into a food distribution center. Volunteers would gather together to pack up big boxes of food and supplies. They would then drive the boxes to addresses given to them by the social services agency. Every week the demand grew. And, they were surprised by what they found. Most of the families hit the hardest by the economic downturn were immigrants. As Pastor Baird says, “It felt like an answer to prayer. For years we had prayed that the funds from this project would make a big difference in people’s lives. Now we can see it’s literally going to help people get through one of the toughest years.”
100-percent of the donations given will go to support local immigrants in need through programs such as the weekly food distribution coordinated by Highlands Church. Anyone who would like to donate a receive a free bottle of wine is encouraged to go to the church website www.highlandsadventure.org and to make their donation there. For every $25 someone donates they will be gifted with a free bottle of wine with a maximum of 6 bottles per household.
On Friday, Sept. 18 from 6 pm-8 pm, Pastor Baird and other members of the church will be distributing wine to anyone that donates to the fundraiser from the church parking lot.