Helping the Disabled and the Wine Industry

Santa Clara County agency going strong after six decades

by Jane Firstenfeld
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Hope "clients" scraping off Clos LaChance bottles for relabeling.
San Jose, Calif.—An organization founded in 1952 by concerned parents has grown and prospered, offering support, training and employment to developmentally disabled young people and adults as it provides production/packaging services to wineries in the South Bay and Central Coast.

With numerous locations on the Coast and inland from Half Moon Bay, Calif., to Monterey, Calif., Hope Services now brings life skills and career support to some 3,700 individuals with developmental disabilities including autism spectrum disorders, mental retardation, Down syndrome and other related conditions.

Currently working directly with 1.5-million-case J. Lohr, Clos LaChance, Cult of 8 and 100,000-case Concannon wineries, Hope had a booth tucked away in the second-floor exhibit area at the 2014 Unified Wine & Grape Symposium, where employment-development specialist Steve Garcia and colleagues introduced industry visitors to the agency.

Wines & Vines contacted Hope to learn what it delivers to wineries. (Editor's Note: Hope refers to its trainees/employees as “clients;” in this story, wineries that use the services will be referred to as customers or patrons.")

According to Dawn Hogh, Hope’s director of development and marketing, the agency has been working with wineries for almost 20 years, providing label removal, labeling, wine-club packaging and shipments, gift packaging and export labeling services.

“Hope has full-time employees at J. Lohr. Other customers are served through production sites in San Jose, Gilroy and Salinas,” she said. A dozen Hope clients are full-time employees at J. Lohr. On average, approximately 30 people are working on various winery-related jobs on any given day. However, she added, some 275 Hope clients area available for these and other production jobs, depending on demand.

How does it work?
Clients have various levels of disability, and the tasks at hand are equally diverse, but Hope has perfected its training regimen.

“Each job that Hope Services bids on is broken up into its various components; labor cost is estimated based on that. Hope’s rates are very competitive,” Hogh said.

“We create the job specs based on breaking down the tasks so that it will match each individual skill set. Then we work with engineers who can create jigs or fixtures so that our clients, depending on their disability, can perform the job.

“When clients aren’t working, they are taking classes about job readiness, resume preparation or other topics to help get them ready to take full-time jobs in the community. Clients progress from workshops to part-time or full-time employment in community-based employment.

“Hope Services currently supports more than 400 clients in full-time employment in the community,” Hogh said. The agency bids competitively for each individual job: For wineries, quotes are based on a per-case charge.

“Clients are paid based on their productivity,” Hogh said. “Employers do not get tax breaks, but they do get a very competitive, fair price for receiving excellent quality and on-time (service). As an added benefit, they also receive social impact from employing individuals with developmental disabilities.”

Among the packaging services Hope can provide to wineries (and the spirits industry as well):

• Assembly
• Shrink-wrap
• Re-pack
• Inspection
• Bagging
• Kitting
• Product disassembly
• Collating
• Folding & stapling
• Labeling
• Sorting
• Sealing
• Metering
• Material handling
• Wire cutting
• Stripping
• First Class and bulk mail
• Export wine stickers and custom labels

Because Hope Services is fully licensed as a bonded warehouse, the organization can receive wine without tax consequences.

Clients talk Hope
Hope’s bonded status makes a real difference to its winery patrons. “Because the bottles go straight to their warehouse, the process is seamless,” said Cheryl Durzy, director of PR and marketing at 60,000-case Clos LaChance Winery in San Martin, Calif.

For five or six years, she said, Clos LaChance has sent pallets of bottles to Hope for unlabeling and uncapsuling, breaking down and rebuilding boxes.

“In an ideal world, we wouldn’t want to do it,” she acknowledged. But for wines that don’t sell after they are bottled, labeled and sealed, or if clients want a specific wine for private labeling, it’s a necessary and sustainable process.

“We used to do it in-house,” Durzy recalled. Placing the bottles in a kiddy pool in the winery, soaking overnight or applying “Goo Gone” adhesive remover to soften the labels consumed time and space, always in short supply at wineries.

Hope has the pools set up, has hundreds of bins and provides fast turn-around at a $5-6 per case rate that provides clients a fair salary. “Our social enterprises help combat the 87% unemployment rate that individuals with developmental disabilities currently face,” Hogh said.

Cult-of-8 is a collection of wineries based in Monterey. Its sales and marketing division is Alc/Vol. With a portfolio of about a dozen wines and distribution in 20 states, mostly in the East, Midwest and Washington state, “We sell to distributors, not retailers,” according to marketing director Craig Boswell. A multi-label, virtual winery, Cult of 8 (“cultivate”) contracts for grapes, produces and sells the products, as well as representing cult favorites like Joseph Phelps’ blend Le Mistral.

“When we make wine, we dedicate some to shiners: They go into private labels, restaurants,” Boswell said. Sometimes we overstock. If we can’t sell it in its current state, we’ll redirect to private parties.”

In this event, Cult of 8 turns to Hope. “Hope has a soaker, a wonderful staff that is totally reliable.” After soaking, the old labels are scraped off; the bottles replaced in their shippers one pallet at a time. Because Hope is bonded, “Its no big deal,” he said. “They can strip a couple of pallets a day after the soak.” The process is highly organized, user friendly and not at all chaotic, he noted.

Durzy was impressed by a visit to the Hope warehouse, where one client proudly confided he is saving up to buy a new car for his father. Summing up her experience, she said, “Hope is amazing.

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