Sonoma Stories: The lifesaver that Ron Rubin wants to see at every Sonoma County winery

Vintner Ron Rubin survived a potentially fatal cardiac emergency and offers to pay to make others safe.|

A shocking little machine saved the life of vintner, purveyor of premium tea and ex-marathon runner Ron Rubin. He now wants to boost the likelihood that one of the devices is nearby should your survival depend on it.

Rubin yearns to see automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, placed at each of Sonoma County’s 450 wineries. The objective is so critical to him that he offers to have Ron Rubin Winery in west county’s Green Valley pay for the $1,700 instruments, which send an electrical shock to a heart in crisis.

“They can save somebody’s life,” said Rubin, who’s 68 and a survivor of a potentially fatal cardiac incident. “Is there a higher calling?”

Rubin chose to make his free defibrillator offer to the county’s wine industry in part because of the vast numbers of people it employs and attracts as visitors, and because it’s the local business he knows best. He started his winery near Forestville in 2011 amid his success with The Republic of Tea, which he purchased in 1994.

Rubin has learned much about sudden coronary malfunctions since he collapsed in 2009 while training in Marin County for what would have been his eighth marathon.

He survived the sudden onset of ventricular tachycardia, in which aberrant electrical signals cause the heart to beat faster than normal, because his son, Todd, was at his side.

Todd, now president of the Novato-based The Republic of Tea, at once dialed 911.

An emergency room crew at Marin General Hospital administered electric shocks to restore Ron Rubin’s normal heartbeat.

A implantable defibrillator was subsequently placed in his chest and connected to his heart. The device, which will be with Rubin forever, automatically emits an electrical impulse when he begins to go into ventricular tachycardia, which can lead to cardiac arrest.

“It saved my life four times,” Rubin said. “I have a sentimental attachment to my defibrillator.”

The mission to get portable defibrillators into all Sonoma County wineries came to him as he pondered the commitment by Sonoma County to become, by 2019, the nation’s first 100 percent sustainable wine region.

Typically, discussions about sustainability in the industry focus on principled land stewardship and farming practices, and on preserving local agriculture and family farms.

Rubin took note that the declaration on sustainability by Sonoma County Winegrowers includes the necessity “people are trained, safe and treated with respect.”

To his ear, that aspect of sustainability requires necessary training and equipment be in place in wineries and vineyards should an employee, visitor or someone else by felled by cardiac arrest or the onset of serious irregular heartbeat.

A 2007 study by Johns Hopkins University found that a good Samaritan’s use of an AED doubles survival from sudden heart attacks and each year could save at least 552 lives in the U.S. and Canada.

Rubin’s offer is this: His winery and foundation will purchase an AED for every Sonoma County winery that agrees to have its staff trained by the American Red Cross in CPR and the use of an AED. He calls his initiative Trained for Saving Lives.

Rubin has teamed with the maker of the Zoll AED and with the regional Red Cross organization in Santa Rosa, which will provide the training for $60 per person, and for classes of six or more will send a trainer to the winery.

The training takes six hours. Current generation automated defibrillators use voice commands and graphics to instruct the operator, and the machines determine automatically if an electrical shock is necessary.

So far, 66 wineries have taken Rubin up on his offer. The first was Hamel Family Wines of Sonoma Valley.

George Hamel III, the winery’s managing director, said he heard Rubin speak on the necessity to access an AED within minutes when someone suffers cardiac arrest or another potentially fatal coronary episode. Hamel said it got him thinking, “Why the heck don’t I have one?”

There are now four AEDs at the winery and vineyards, he said, and all employees have been or will soon be trained by the Red Cross. He said the October fires served as a reminder of the importance of being prepared for an emergency.

“If you don’t act,” Hamel said, “you are doing your employees, your guests and your colleagues a disservice.”

Chris Smith is at 707-521-5211 and

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