ACB: Changing the World One Winery at a Time

by Marlaina Lieberg

You may well ask, “What is Marlaina talking about, changing the world one winery at a time?” That would be a reasonable question.  Well, sit back, get comfy, and allow me to share the answer.
On Sunday of convention week in Las Vegas, I participated in a tour of a winery in Pahrump, Nev.  Yes indeed, they do grow grapes in Pahrump!  As we traveled out to the winery on the bus, Michael Fulghum and his wife, Sherry, described the scenery to us: lots of desert, desert and more desert.  There was so much desert and highway, we all burst into song, singing “Born to Be Wild” as we headed for our destination.  I did not hold out high hopes for finding good wine at the end of the day, but anyone who knows me knows I am a wine enthusiast, so I simply had to do this tour.
After about an hour’s ride, we turned off the highway and suddenly were transported from the desert to a renaissance period Tuscan Italian villa, the Sanders Family Winery.
The Sanders Family Winery is nestled on the southern side of the town of Pahrump, and is bordered by the Spring Mountains to the east and the Nopah Mountains to the west.  As we drove through the gates, we were welcomed by the statue Teresa Lilianna, the wine pourer.  The main entrance to the estate is lined with tall Italian cypress trees, flanked by 2 full production vineyards.  The long driveway brings you through the vineyards to the main tower entrance, where the tour began.
As I exited the bus, I was greeted by a man with a wonderful smile in his voice who introduced himself to me as Jack Sanders.  Jack and all his staff, most of whom are family, guided us in from our bus one at a time to ensure we and our guide dogs were out of the 112-degree heat as soon as possible.
We were escorted into a wonderful function room which just the day before was the site of a wedding.  And then the fun began!  Jack spent nearly 3 hours with us, describing his wines, sharing his stories, and keeping us quite well entertained.  About halfway through, pizza arrived, and we were treated to as much pizza as we wanted.
Throughout his presentation, Jack asked if he could or should be describing things differently.  He indicated that he had no experience being with people who are blind or have vision loss. He described how to swirl the wine, sniff the wine and taste the wine.  Those of us who love wine know that the color of the wine is an important part of the wine experience.  Jack, unlike some folks who have no experience with vision loss, did not leave out descriptions of color as he discussed his wines.  He told us the color and hue of each wine we tried.  I remember thinking, “Gosh, this is audio description at its best.” 
By the end of our visit, all his staff were guiding folks around the villa and Jack himself took some folks who dared to brave the heat out to see the actual vineyards.  The winery is also the home of the Betsy Sanders Amphitheater for the Performing Arts.  Many theater productions and concerts take place there.  Had it not been so hot, I’d have loved to experience the amphitheater. 
Throughout the afternoon, Jack and his staff did whatever it took to make us feel welcome.  I visited the gift shop with Jack’s son, who was willing to take as much time with me as I wanted as we looked at the items available.  Not once did I have that feeling of “I’d better hurry, I’m taking up too much time.”
Many of us bought a bottle or two to bring back to the convention hotel, and some of us had wine shipped to our homes around the country.  A few days after I returned home, I phoned the winery to inquire about my shipment.  Jack himself answered, and amazingly, he remembered me.  After he explained that the current temperature precluded any shipment of wine and that he hoped the heat wave would break in the next 5 days, he thanked me for ACB’s visit.  He told me that he and his staff talked after we left and they all agreed that while they may have taught us something about wine, we taught them a great deal about an aspect of life they never experienced: living happily with vision loss.  Jack then said that as a result of our visit, he and his staff would be working differently with all customers in the future, making sure that his stories and descriptions are shared with everyone.  He said that the time he spent with us changed his perspective on many things, and he hopes we will come back to visit again.
This is the power of ACB: as independent folks who live with vision loss, we make a positive statement about who we are and demonstrate, by living our lives with grace and dignity, the fact that one’s loss of sight has nothing to do with one’s vision for and love of life.  Thanks to Jack and his staff, to Michael and Sherry, and other folks who made this tour possible.  It was a fabulous experience, allowing me to share a Sunday afternoon with long-time ACB friends, to make some new ACB friends, and to leave the winery knowing that the members of the Sanders family are now among those I call friends.  Indeed, changing the world one vineyard at a time is a grand thing! Cheers!