His proposal is to harvest the grapes left on the vines after the fires that are no longer suitable for making wine and instead use them to produce a special edition of his crunchy, shelf stable snack Wine RayZyns that can help feed and raise money for victims of other natural disasters.
Cates explains how he came up with the idea for the Fire RayZyn Rescue Project as he surveyed the destruction of his and neighbors’ farms, and how he believes that even though the fires shut the door on hopes for a 2017 vintage, it opened a window for his nearly two-year-old start up The Wine RayZyn Company.
“It has been somewhat surreal, and going back and looking at the destruction. I mean, to be honest … where I lived it looks like Mars. It is just utter destruction. It is worse than it has really been portrayed in the media,” Cates told Foodnavigator-USA. “The fruit has been severely impacted, where as it is not suitable for wine making.”
But it, along with fruit left on the vines of neighbor vineyards, can be used create a nutritious, and Cates says, delicious snack as part of the Fire RayZyn Rescue Project.
The project centers on collecting the still edible fruit from damaged vines and using it to create crunchy, nutrient dense raisins, or as Cates calls them Cabernayzyns. While neighbors and others impacted by the fires have already donated a ton of grapes for the projects, Cates says he knew he could not pull off the rescue project on his own, which is why he has teamed with The Food Recovery Network.
Cates explained that the Food Recovery Network will help with the project on the “back end,” by connecting potential buyers and distributors, including potentially the American Red Cross, FEMA and other noni-profits focused on helping those in need in the wake of a disaster.
In addition to help from the Food Recovery Network, Cates says he also needs funding to process and pack the grapes, which is where the public comes in. Cates recently launched a Go Fund Me campaign with an ambitious goal of raising $500,000 to help the Wine Rayzyn Company achieve four clear goals.
“We want to reduce food waste. We want to put farmers back to work. We want to use this product that we are creating to directly affect and help hurricane victims and fire relief victims and then also bring awareness around the byproduct of one natural disaster and almost ironically delivering that back to people in need from those disasters,” he said.
The fundraising effort will be “the conduit for taking product that is hanging on the vine in fields, paying farm workers … processing the fruit, packaging the fruit and then ultimately getting it to distribution,” he explained.
Cates also is working with banks to secure bridge funding to ensure that the project can happen in a timely fashion.
Building on a strong foundation
The Fire Rescue RayZyns are a twist on Cates’ existing Wine Rayzens, which he explained were developed two years ago out of the same idea of not letting anything go to waste.
“A couple of years ago … my dad and I were walking through we noticed three to five percent of the fruit was left on the vine” because it was slightly dehydrated and could cause problems with wine making, he said.
Nonetheless, it was perfectly edible and nutritious and Cates didn’t want it to go to waste so he created a process of sweating out the water, caramelizing the skins and seeds and creating a snack.
Aside from the destruction of the family vineyard, Cates says The Wine RayZyn Company is doing well and is gaining distribution in part thanks to its clean label and positioning as a healthy snack.
Reflecting on the challenges and opportunities ahead for both his vineyard and his snack company, Cates is optimistic.
“It is overwhelming,” he acknowledged, but he added, “my goal is to rebuild and it is going to take a long time. … But you know, I am not one to give up easily.”