12/02/2009 10:55 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Using art to grow your community

In the sustainable wine world, we are often so focused on our commitment to environmental stewardship that our other efforts to maintain the sustainability triptych often feel less emphasized. However, since our work to maintain environmentally sound practices is often quickly reflected in the ever-growing natural beauty of the vineyards, it takes only a quick look out the window for me to be reminded that our world is an art that I live to share with other people.

Dr. Elisa Stephens, President of Academy of Art University in San Francisco, has a penchant for creative ideas and new programming which is nothing short of inspiring. My longstanding friendship with Elisa and our shared belief in transcending our silos to work towards a greater good has led to three joint projects over the last couple of years, each unique in concept, but shared in their goal of community-building.

  • In 2007, Boisset Family Estates sponsored a competition for Academy of Art students to repurpose the eco-friendly packaging from the French rabbit label into inspired artwork, much of which was displayed at a fashion show (see photos here). On top of building awareness about alternative packaging in the tradition-laden wine industry, a major element of Boisset's involvement was to sponsor scholarships for award-winning student artists - a direct investment in the future of the people of this greater art community.

  • In 2008, we worked with design guru Phil Hamlett's class of MFA students to create a multimedia presentation that I used to present at the CompostModern conference. Essentially, this project provided students with the opportunity to create practical real-world design solutions in the safety of a professor-supervised environment. Our marketing department especially appreciated the clever student-designed collateral (still in use today), but a partnership with a great design firm would have been a more efficient use of our resources. So why did we invest the time to work with students? We value our unique position to offer students professional development that an academic institution cannot offer independently. If more companies committed to similar arrangements across disciplines, our students would graduate with experience that makes them better prepared to enter the workforce.
  • Earlier this year, we invited students and professors across disciplines at Academy of Art University to visit DeLoach Vineyards and spend time among the same bucolic Russian River Valley vistas that inspired me, a second-generation vigneron from Burgundy, France - the birthplace of Pinot Noir, to believe that DeLoach Vineyards would become one of the premier producers of Pinot Noir in California. With DeLoach and the Russian River Valley wine country as the inspiration, the artists created more than 80 unique works that today adorn the walls of the winery. Each piece is available for purchase with the proceeds directed to the artists and the Academy of Art University's scholarship fund, transforming the winery into a gallery that supports a community of local artists and showcases their work to all of our visitors. You may view the gallery of works here.
  • Each of these partnerships has been an extremely rewarding collaboration between smaller communities within the Academy of Art University and Boisset Family Estates. At an organization focused on financial profit, however, these joint programs might have been denied funding or downsized significantly, as they required a not-insignificant investment of resources in order to achieve the levels of success that, in our opinion, make them worthwhile.

    For example, this fall, DeLoach hosted a private reception for art buyers to view the student and professors' work in its inspired setting. Since proceeds from the sale of the art goes directly to the artist and a scholarship fund, one could make the argument that it would have been more prudent for the winery to simply donate funds to these causes. But at Boisset Family Estates, we are driven by a more holistic approach; we value our ability to create opportunity - a gallery for the artists' masterpieces - and the opportunity to bring together like-minded individuals - people who appreciate the artists' work. We love creating a dialogue with our community. We handpick partners like Dr. Elisa Stephens and Academy of Art University - people and organizations who share these values and a willingness to invest their resources just as graciously; together we are able to build something that is more valuable than the sum of its parts.