Camerata wine director Chris Poldoian (left) and Houston-based wine collector Raj Natarajan have teamed up to organize Wine Above Water, a fund-raising event to benefit Houston wine industry workers displaced by flooding during Hurricane Harvey.EXPAND
Camerata wine director Chris Poldoian (left) and Houston-based wine collector Raj Natarajan have teamed up to organize Wine Above Water, a fund-raising event to benefit Houston wine industry workers displaced by flooding during Hurricane Harvey.
Photo by Jeremy Parzen.

Wine Above Water Raises Funds for Wine Industry Workers Affected by Harvey

Camerata wine director Chris Poldoian and Houston-based wine collector Raj Natarajan have teamed up to organize Wine Above Water, a fundraising event to benefit Houston wine industry workers displaced by flooding during Hurricane Harvey.

The Sunday, September 24, gathering will be held from 12 to 8 p.m. at the popular wine bar Camerata, where leading sommeliers from across the city will pour donated bottles of "premium wines," according to the organizers' newly launched website. Local restaurateurs have already agreed to provide food for the $100-per-person tasting.

Money raised by ticket sales and an online auction that will run through October 22 will be channeled through Chris Shepherd's Southern Smoke foundation, which has redirected its fundraising efforts to Hurricane Harvey relief, as the Houston Press reported last week. Shepherd's charitable organization was originally founded to aid those living with multiple sclerosis but has now shifted its focus to Houstonians affected by the storm, which dropped as much as 50 inches of rain over certain parts of southeast Texas, including the greater Houston metro area, causing catastrophic flooding.

"We have worked with wineries, importers, and beverage professionals around the world," wrote Natarajan on his website, which he published late last night, "to offer a wide range of items and experiences. Magnums of collectible bottles, private tastings and dinners, wine club memberships, exclusive travel experiences."

The September 24 tasting will also mark the kickoff of Southern Smoke's own online auction, he notes on the site.

Tickets for the Camerata event should be available for online purchase as early as Friday, September 15.

Houston-area wine professionals face a mounting number of challenges as their employers reopen their venues. While most wine-focused businesses are up and running, fine wine sales have decreased markedly since the flooding. Many of the city's fine wine enthusiasts simply aren't visiting their favorite local wine bars and wine-focused restaurants as often, said Matt Pridgen, who manages the wine program for all of Shepherd's restaurants. As a result, check averages are down and so are the tips that many wine professionals rely on.

"We've also seen a big drop in out-of-town guests," he noted when the Houston Press contacted him last night.

Pridgen offered to let Natarajan and Poldoian piggy-back on Southern Smoke's tax-exempt status so that they could expedite the launch of their efforts.

Natarajan, a former restaurateur who makes his living in real estate and finance, said he was inspired to organize the event by Houston-based wine professional Jeremy Hart, who suggested that wine trade members were in need of assistance.

"I have the phone book and the capacity to make it happen," Natarajan told the Houston Press.

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