Posted on | October 23, 2014
Written by | Kristen Wolfe Bieler
Tigner Family launches 4 Foxes Sonoma Chardonnay to support Parkinson’s research
From 2003 to 2006, Tigner’s wife, Wendy, began experiencing slight tremors and frozen muscle sensations. Like many others, she was misdiagnosed for years before a local neurologist was able to figure out that she was suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. She was 45 years old.
“At first we were filled with denial and anger—we had so little information,” Tigner explains. While the medical community is far from finding a cure, there have been dramatic improvements in symptom-management medications, and Wendy was able to maintain her very active lifestyle and daily tennis. She soon connected with a community of sub-50-year-old women all over the country who regularly share tips on medications, coping strategies—and fundraising.
“We started to wonder how we could become more active in the Parkinson’s world, and after we met with Michael J. Fox—one of the most visible people living with the disease—we decided to host our first fundraising event,” says Tigner. It was 2010—the same year Tigner was named President of Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates—and in front of 150 attendees, Wendy got up on stage and announced she had Parkinson’s Disease. The event raised $80,000 for Team Fox, and it was, Tigner recalls, in many ways the start of their journey.
Teeing Off, Getting Real
The following year, Tigner teamed up with an established annual golf fundraising tournament, moved it to Sonoma and for the next three years raised upwards of $150,000 each year. “Events like these are as much about awareness as they are about the money,” Tigner believes. The Tigners took awareness to the next level when he was cast in the CBS reality series Undercover Boss, and Wendy had a cameo. “My wife became the poster child for Parkinson’s overnight—we were no longer behind the scenes,” he recalls.
Motivated to do more for the quest for the cure, Tigner took over the 4 Foxes brand from Don Locke, who had founded it, but didn’t know how to bring it to market. Tigner enlisted winemaker Tom Hinde, who has made wine at Flowers and La Crema, among others, as a partner. “I have been in the wine business for 30 years and know lots of people, but I didn’t want to pull any resources from my ‘day job.’ It is a purely independent project,” Tigner says. He redesigned the label, rented space at a custom crush facility, and registered the brand in all his early markets—tasks he is far removed from in his role as president (“I quickly gained a whole new respect for people who work in our compliance department,” he says).
“Cheers To A Cure”
Although all proceeds go to the Michael J. Fox Foundation (where Tigner is a now a board member), he is adamant that 4 Foxes is not a charity brand—the wine stands on its own as top-quality Chardonnay to compete with the best. “In order to have longevity, the wine has to be really good. We over-deliver on quality,” says Tigner. The debut 2012 vintage is 95% Russian River fruit, which is impressive for a $17 wine. The 5,000 case release rolled out in 15 markets, and Tigner plans to expand with a 2014 Pinot Noir. Many high-profile accounts have already taken note: San Francisco’s prestigious Michael Mina restaurant has 4 Foxes on its list.
“Because I’m doing this for the right reasons, I get a lot of support from everyone in the supply chain,” Tigner says. The Tigners’ children are also involved, and daughter Lisa is a full-time employee. “This really is a family operation in so many ways,” he notes. “We have to be a strong family to survive Parkinson’s Disease. The wine tastes great, and the cause feels great. As my wife says when she raises a glass, ‘Cheers to a cure.’”