Singer Josh Groban teams with Sebastopol's Halleck Vineyard for charity pinot noir

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When you answer your cell, you never expect fame on the other end of the line.

Ross Halleck, a boutique winemaker in Sebastopol, was surprised to hear from Josh Groban, the singer whose first solo album went on to sell more than four million copies.

The call in 2016 set in motion a goodwill partnership between Halleck and Groban, with the duo producing a pinot noir to raise money for art programs in American public schools through the singer’s Find Your Light Foundation.

Halleck and Groban will take the stage at the foundation’s gala in Half Moon Bay this weekend to auction off the 2015 Halleck Vineyard, Find Your Light, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. In addition to Groban, Tony Bennett and Sarah McClachlan will be performing.

“Josh reached out because he tasted my wine in New York during his performance on Broadway of “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812,” Halleck said. “Josh said he has always wanted to make wine and wanted to learn, while benefitting his foundation.”

Groban, Halleck said, is hands-on in creating the blend.

“Josh has his fingerprints all over it,” he said. “He picked the barrel for the base-wine.”

Groban visited Halleck’s winery in 2016.

“We took a tour of the Sonoma Coast, drove through the redwoods along the Russian River, and had lunch at Willow Wood Market Cafe,” Halleck said. “Caterer Bruce Riezenman made dinner at my house that evening for Josh, his brother, manager, my sons, Jennifer and me. We smoked cigars around the fire pit under the stars until late.”

Halleck said he was drawn to the foundation, which has raised nearly $200,000, because his three sons are artists.

“When Josh reached out, I had two sons (Connor and Quinn) in universities across the country, specifically in film colleges,” Halleck said. “My third son (Adam) was also an artist, composing beats and performing hip-hop in venues around Sonoma County.

He worked for a small recording studio in Marin County focused on hip-hop. All went to Analy High School and now the arts programs there, as in all schools, are at risk. The video program in which both film sons participated is no longer offered at Analy. So this seemed a worthy cause, close to my heart and family.”

Halleck said the foundation could have an impact in his own backyard.

“Sebastopol Center for the Arts has submitted a grant to expand art education for children throughout the year, beyond just the summer camps currently offered,” he explained.

The vintner, who produces roughly 1,300 cases a year, said he’s happy his winery can contribute to important projects like Groban’s.

“Ours is a small family business, always cash constrained but fully engaged in making some of the finest wines in the world,” Halleck said.

Two Halleck pinot noirs –– the 2014 The Farm Vineyard, Russian River Valley and the 2016 Clone 828, Sonoma Coast –– won Best of Class in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition for 2019.

“The meaning is in the effort, not the financial gains, which are modest,” Halleck said. “This business has opened doors we’ve never dreamed possible and continues to surprise me.”

Wine Writer Peg Melnik can be reached at peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5310.

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