When it comes to lands of leisure, the Santa Ynez Valley must rank near the top, with equestrian days on the foothills fading into epicurean nights amid the vineyard. But not every resident is a retired movie star, Silicon Valley mogul, or otherwise wealthy exec-turned-winemaker—or as Dean Palius recently put it, “Who do you think performs all the work?”
As head of the nonprofit organization People Helping People (PHP) for the better part of two decades, Palius has the job of reminding us all that there are thousands of people from Los Alamos to Gaviota who live at or just slightly above the federal poverty level. More critically, it’s Palius’s job to help these folks, many of whom live with their families on the ranches where they work. Each year, PHP serves about 3,700 of them, providing as many as 14,000 separate services altogether.
The multiplication is because PHP does a little bit of everything. “For human and social services in the Santa Ynez Valley, we are it,” said Palius, explaining that his organization is like Santa Barbara’s Family Service Agency, Healthy Start program, Foodbank, Catholic Charities, and Domestic Violence Solutions “all rolled into one.” Though the main office is in Solvang, PHP has outposts at schools throughout the region, and anyone in need of services can simply walk right in and request them, whether that means getting extra food, money for rent and utilities, counseling services, education for parents, homework help, health insurance, dental care, or school scholarships. “We’re a one-stop shop,” said Palius, who started working with the organization one year after it was founded in 1992. And during the recession, there’s been a rise of senior citizens seeking services, as well as people who live permanently in motel rooms, and the food program alone has jumped 70 percent in just the past two years.
Like all nonprofits, PHP relies on donations and volunteers to keep its $1.8 million annual budget afloat. Unlike most nonprofits, however, the organization finds itself surrounded by world-class wineries. So for the third straight year, Palius and crew are tapping that network to put on the Vino de Sueños event at the Marriott in Buellton on Saturday, November 6, from 3-6 p.m. That’s when 17 wineries will be selling specially crafted wines adorned with labels that feature the original art of Santa Ynez Valley artists, complete with tastings of each selection and exquisite nibbles provided by New West Catering.
This year, the all-star list includes a 2008 cinsault-grenache-syrah rosé from Panky, with artwork by Lily Nathan; a 2008 Longoria syrah, artwork by Nancy Yaki; a 2007 Kalyra blend of Spanish and Portuguese varietals called “Metralla Red,” artwork by Christina LoCascio; a 2006 Foxen “Volpino” blend of sangiovese and merlot, artwork by Jim Farnum; and a 2005 Di Bruno sangiovese from Stolpman Vineyard, artwork by Jenny Diaz. The other wineries involved are Alma Rosa, Au Bon Climat, Buttonwood, Carhartt, Cold Heaven, Fiddlehead, Hitching Post, Makor, Qupé, Rideau, Riverbench, and Vogelzang—truly, a who’s who of winemaking in the Santa Ynez Valley. The bottles sell for between $13 and $36, and the art can sell for anywhere from $300 to $5,000. In addition to the sales on November 6, the wine will also be served at three wine dinners throughout the rest of the year, and those will be held at the Full of Life Flatbread Company in Los Alamos and Aru Japanese Restaurant and the Hitching Post II in Buellton.
The Vino de Sueños program has had phenomenal growth since the it started in 2008, when, with the help of Diana Longoria, Palius was able to rope in six wineries. Though it was a challenge at first to get more wineries on board, Palius credits the Longorias, Richard Sanford of Alma Rosa, Felipe Hernandez of Feliz Noche Cellars, and the folks at Buttonwood Winery, Clos Pepe, and Foxen for pushing this idea along. Just three years in, Palius—who said the inspiration for the event came from Talley Vineyards up the coast, which hosts something similar called Mano Tinto—is proud to explain, “Wineries are now volunteering to get involved.” And you should, too, because it’s probably the tastiest way to give back ever imagined.
The third annual Vino de Sueños fundraiser for People Helping People goes down on Saturday, November 6, 3-6 p.m., at the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott. For tickets and more info, call 686-0295 or visit vinodesuenos.com.