Windsor couple raising fire relief funds with wine caps

Drink wine, seal a bottle with a reusable CapaBunga spill-proof cap and help raise funds for local fire relief.

That simple premise has earned $40,000 for a local fire relief fund - one $5 #SonomaSTRONG silicone wine stopper at a time.

Back in October, Windsor residents Walt Averill and Máire Murphy brainstormed on ways they could help make a difference in the wake of the region's devastating firestorms.

“We're in the Wine Country, we have these caps we can give away,” Murphy said.

The husband-and-wife team owns CapaBunga, the Windsor-based mostly wholesale business that produces custom-branded wine and champagne caps and other fun-and-functional entertainment products like wine glass identifiers, storage vaults for artisan cheese and caps that preserve cut loaves of crusty bread.

The company's first (and namesake) product seemed a likely item to raise money for the North Bay Fire Relief Fund created by the Redwood Credit Union Community Fund in partnership with Redwood Credit Union, The Press Democrat and state Sen. Mike McGuire.

By imprinting their snug-fitting silicone wine caps with the hashtag #SonomaSTRONG, and relying on the support of local wineries and businesses to display and sell them, Averill and Murphy were hopeful the public would respond.

They've produced some 9,000 caps since then, with the campaign going strong. Averill and Murphy hope to continue the effort at least through the end of the year.

Although the North Bay Fire Relief Fund recently concluded it efforts - distributing more than $32 million and directly assisting more than 6,500 people - the couple will direct their donations to another fire relief group that also covers all administrative costs. They are researching possible beneficiaries.

Though proud of their campaign, the unassuming couple takes little credit for their fundraising success. Instead, the small business owners single out the more than 90 locales and countless wine drinkers for sharing in a community effort.

From the start, “It was like this lovely sense of camaraderie,” Murphy said. “It was a collaborative effort in the true sense of the word.”

Averill and Murphy initiated the fundraiser within a few weeks of the fires. Although most of their manufacturing is done in China, the couple wanted to respond immediately, so reached out to employee Elizabeth Harris to begin branding #SonomaSTRONG caps in-house.

They started with five colors and now have a rainbow of 19 hues, randomly packaged in display boxes of 24 caps. The full 100 percent of donations goes to fire relief.

“People love the caps,” said Harris, who has printed, “baked” and cured all of the fundraising caps with tedious finesse.

Averill and Murphy and their small staff have been scrambling to keep up with the demand, even recruiting the couple's 13-year-old daughter Roisin to help fold packaging boxes.

Averill said people have expressed their gratitude as he's made deliveries, sharing their stories about evacuating or losing homes during the fires.

“Honestly,” he said, “it was emotional.”

The couple is among the more than 41,000 individuals and organizations from 23 countries that donated to the North Bay Fire Relief Fund, that did everything from sending checks to hosting bake sales, putting on concerts and fundraisers, or selling artwork, jewelry and T-shirts.

“We've been inspired by how our community has come together to support fire survivors and relief efforts, and CapaBunga's #SonomaSTRONG effort is a great example of one of the more creative ways local businesses and organizations have partnered together to raise money for the North Bay Fire Relief Fund,” Matt Martin, vice president of community programs for the Redwood Credit Union, noted in an email.

Averill and Murphy said their own campaign has support from near and far. Their CapaBunga website also sells the fundraising caps. “People are buying them from across the country, who've had some connection to Sonoma County,” Murphy said.

Additionally, retailer Total Wine & More is taking 8,400 caps to display in its 175 stores across the country, a gesture to show support for those in the Wine Country. Every cent of the profits will be donated for local fire relief.

Among the Sonoma County locations where #SonomaSTRONG caps can be found: gift shops, breweries, a bed-and-breakfast inn, a nail salon, an automotive shop, an optometrist's office, banks, markets and a dog grooming business.

St. Francis Winery in northern Sonoma Valley has seen the strongest CapaBunga sales, bringing in nearly $1,600. Hook and Ladder Vineyards and Winery in Santa Rosa and Kozlowski Farms in Forestville, known for its pies and preserves, both have collected some $1,500 for fire relief.

“And we're not done,” Averill said.

He said the campaign is a win-win, with consumers, in return for their donation, getting a wine stopper that so tightly hugs a wine bottle mouth that it's spill-proof even when lying on its side.

Averill invented the CapaBunga after pondering a better way to seal wine and prevent leaks.

He woke up one night, jotted down the idea and went back to sleep. The next day, he shared his design with Murphy.

The couple, with a collective 50-plus years experience in the wine industry, developed a prototype within six months and established CapaBunga. They initially used the caps for their own label, Rua. By 2011, they'd journeyed into a new career that's since gotten national mentions from the “Today” show and “O, The Oprah Magazine,” among several others. Their consumer line, launched in 2012, includes caps with catchy slogans and graphics, like the popular double-pack “Me Time” and “I earned it.”

CapaBunga's newest product is an ergonomic corkscrew with a redesigned, wedge-shaped “worm” that makes it easier to pull out corks. It recently was named a finalist for an innovation award by the International Housewares Association.

The CapaBunga fire-relief campaign came about during the company's busy harvest season, while preparing for trade shows that send the couple across the country, and while planning their launch of “THE Corkscrew.”

They jumped in, figuring there was no option but to help. They know numerous people affected by the fires; Averill's brother and sister-in-law lost their home in Fountaingrove, and close friends lost theirs in Rincon Valley.

“You can't live here and not know people who were affected by the fires,” Averill said.

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