Making the world a happier place
Nov./Dec. 2015 California Bountiful magazine
Story by Joyce Mansfield
Photos by Matt Salvo
Winemaking for a cause
Craig Senders is an ear, nose and throat physician and surgeon who also makes wine—and donates his winery's profits to worldwide surgical outreach to repair cleft lips and cleft palates in underserved areas.
Senders Wines in Yolo County puts smiles on faces around the world—literally.
The award-winning winery donates its profits to local charities for surgical outreach to repair cleft lips and cleft palates for children and adults in developing nations.
Cleft lip and cleft palate are facial birth defects that can usually be corrected surgically in the first few months of life. But in underserved areas and regions outside the reach of modern medicine, surgical intervention isn't necessarily available or affordable.
That's where Dr. Craig Senders, owner and winemaker of Senders Wines, comes in. Senders is an otolaryngologist, more commonly known as an ear, nose and throat physician, and surgeon and director of the Cleft Lip and Cranial Facial Team at the University of California, Davis.
Dr. Senders, shown here in the Philippines, and his colleagues have helped thousands of children and adults receive free health care and surgery for cleft repair. Photo courtesy of Senders Wines
Beyond his day job at UCD Medical Center, Senders just completed his 32nd trip—this one to the Philippines—to provide cleft repair at no cost to the patients. For the past three decades, he and his colleagues have organized hundreds of these endeavors and helped thousands of people in more than 25 countries.
"It feels really good, almost like you get an endorphin rush from helping people—and one of the reasons people go into health care, whether it be doctors or nurses, is a desire to help your fellow man," Senders said.
Karen and Craig Senders opened their winery in 2005 and combined it with their longtime passion for helping those in need.
While Senders has always provided his surgical expertise pro bono for cleft repair programs, he and his wife, Karen, initially raised funds to help cover the cost of supplies, anesthesia and related items by hosting and coordinating events. They enjoyed entertaining, cooking and wines—and began dabbling in winemaking with friends.
Craig Senders found he had a knack as a vintner.
"Craig's specialty as an ear, nose and throat surgeon goes hand-in-hand with winemaking as far as the chemistry and being able to produce a nice, palatable, enjoyable wine," said Karen Senders, co-owner and marketing director of the winery. "All that goes along with tasting and smelling; it just gravitated into winemaking."
People asked for more of his wine, so the couple launched Senders Wines in 2005. Within a year, they decided to meld their passion for winemaking with their passion for supporting surgical outreach efforts.
"It occurred to us that we should direct our profits toward what I've given my career to in medicine," Craig Senders said. "It made such perfect sense."
Karen Senders added, "It's fabulous to see how this is something that is truly Craig's talent to go there and be able to change this little kid's life in a matter of an hour-and-a-half. To have wine that you know helps fund these outreaches, it's great to be able to combine both passions."
Craig and Karen Senders have a hands-on approach to making wine, including frequent visits to inspect grapes in the vineyards, such as these pinot noir grapes growing in Sonoma County. Photo courtesy of Senders Wines
Senders Wines offers pinot noir made with grapes from the Las Brisas Vineyard in Sonoma County and cabernet sauvignon with fruit from Napa Valley vineyards owned and operated by the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology. Senders also makes sauvignon blanc, syrah, petite sirah dessert wine and a Bordeaux blend.
Craig and Karen Senders visit the vineyards weekly through the growing season, monitor sugar levels before harvest and check barrels frequently during fermentation. They destem, crush and ferment some of the grapes at their home winery in Davis each year, where they also host events and offer winetasting by appointment.
"We always produce one lot at our home. This lets us have a very personal experience each year," Craig Senders said, explaining that the rest of each year's grapes are custom crushed in Napa. "When I say custom crush, I mean that I use the winemaking equipment, facility and staff of another winery to make my wine."
Senders Wines currently produces about 500 cases per year and looks to increase production to up to 5,000 cases annually. That volume would still allow the hands-on approach, but also help more children and adults have cleft repair surgery.
"Many of these kids, if they have unrepaired clefts, they drop out of school because they're ridiculed and they can't talk and be understood," Craig Senders explained. "I look at some of the older patients that have severe deformities, and can really appreciate how it's changing that life.
"And when you do surgery on a child that's 3 months of age and you prevent that," he added, "that's also powerful because they haven't had to suffer."
Now, that's something we all can smile about.
Winetasting 1, 2, 3—from the ENT
As an ear, nose and throat surgeon and winemaker, Craig Senders knows a thing or two about using the senses to rate wine. There are many scoring systems, he said, but they can be confusing for those just learning to experience winetasting and wines.
"So I break it down to three simple components," Senders said. "Then when you're done tasting, it's easy to add up the scores to see which you liked best."
Senders' three steps include:
- What does the wine look and smell like while it is still in the glass?
- What does it taste and feel like in your mouth?
- What does it taste like after you swallow it?
Some examples include smelling fragrances of fruit, oak or spice and noting creamy, light to deep red colors. You may taste tannins and fruits, and feel texture and body when the wine is in your mouth. After swallowing, how does it finish? Does the taste linger and is there any aftertaste such as caramel, butterscotch, fruit or oak?
There aren't right or wrong answers, Senders said, and the list of descriptors runs long. But with practice and a simple system such as this, beginners learn to identify—and then recognize—the many attributes of wine.