Raise a GlassIt's not every day you meet a 25-year-old who starts a wine company and donates half of its profits to charity. Kristen Senseman of Scottsdale is one of the rare exceptions.
By Kendall Wright
SPENDING VACATIONS IN NAPA VALLEY with her parents, long before she was old enough to drink, might have cultivated Kristen Senseman's interest in wine, but for the 25-year-old Scottsdale resident, who is co-owner and vice president of Hope Wine in Southern California, she says she fell in love with grapes in June 2007. That's when she and her seven partners — all under the age of 30 — launched their company, which is based in Newport Beach.
Hope Wine is among a new breed of businesses that promote social responsibility, along with the products they're selling. In this case, Hope donates half of its profits — $75,000 to date — to charity, with each wine geared to a different cause. Specifically, its Chardonnay benefits breast cancer research, its Cabernet Sauvignon benefits autism research, and its Merlot benefits AIDS research.
And that's just the beginning. Later this year, Hope, which is partnered with winemaker David Elliot of Sonoma Wine Co., is releasing a Zinfandel to support the families of fallen troops, and a Sauvignon Blanc to benefit environmental research.
"Wine goes with charity like it does with cheese," Senseman says.
The idea for starting a cause-motivated company came to Senseman when she and her partners were working at E.&J. Gallo Winery after college.
Senseman, a graduate of the University of Arizona with a degree in marketing, noticed that whenever companies such as Yoplait engaged in cause marketing, their sales increased.
"I thought the initial idea was great, but I wondered why a company couldn't do something like that all the time," she says. "I guess wine's just one of those perfect products for something like this, because no matter if times are good or bad, people are going to buy it, and they might as well feel good about it."
In addition to money, the seven members of the company also donate their time, whether it be weekly to the charity events around the country or the seven-day, 545-mile bicycle ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles to benefit AIDS research. Senseman took that ride in June, and says she's inspired each time she gets to connect with the people helped by her company.
"We always get people coming up and telling us their stories," she says. "When I think about it, it's exciting and overwhelming to think how many people are affected."