Oregon’s ¡Salud! Program: The Power of Passion, Pinot, and People

Willamette Valley’s pioneering ¡Salud! program illustrates the power of passion, pinot and people. ¡Salud!’s mission is simple: provide quality health care services to seasonal vineyard workers — the only program of its kind in the nation. ¡Salud! derives its name from the traditional Spanish toast meaning “To Your Health,” and began in 1991 as a collaboration between Tuality Heathcare doctors and Oregon wine makers wanting to help the migrant worker community.

Left to right: Leda Garside, Lindsey Coon, Maria McCandless, Nancy Ponzi
Left to right: Leda Garside, Lindsey Coon, Maria McCandless, Nancy Ponzi

Recently Palate Press sat down to discuss ¡Salud!’s success with founding member Nancy Ponzi of Ponzi Vineyards, ¡Salud! Services Foundation Manager Maria McCandless, Events Coordinator Lindsay Coon, and Outreach Coordinator Leda Garside, RN, BSN.

While ¡Salud!’s mission is simple, migrant health care is not. Most vineyard employees work seasonally, so they do not qualify for full-time benefits. It’s up to ¡Salud! Services  Outreach Coordinator Leda Garside and her staff to screen potential applicants for entrance into the ¡Salud! program. Participants must work in the vineyards for at least part of the year. Once approved in the program, participants receive a card that allows them access to qualifying community-based clinics for that year. ¡Salud! is not insurance.

A vivacious Costa Rican native, Leda joined ¡Salud! Services in 1997. Named 2012 Distinguished Nurse of the Year by March of Dimes, she also serves on Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber’s Health Care Evidence Review Committee, a committee garnering national attention for its health care innovations.

Leda laughs about the current trend in health care reform. “¡Salud! was practicing health care reform way before today’s movement!”


Photos courtesy ¡Salud! Program
Photos courtesy ¡Salud! Program

¡Salud! focuses on early intervention and prevention. Leda and her five-member team utilize a three-pronged strategy of education, empowerment, and access with vineyard workers and their families to achieve these goals. She and her bilingual, bicultural staff engenders trust among workers because they all share a common language.

“Leda and her staff have worked really hard to build up the trust of the seasonal workers.,” explains Maria McCandless, ¡Salud! Services Foundation Manager. McCandless ensures that the Foundation runs smoothly; overseeing staff, volunteer committees, and fundraising efforts.

“I learn as much from my clients as they learn from me,” Leda admits. “That’s how I find out about a lot of other programs and services out there — our clients let us know. Our workers are our best ambassadors for the program.” It’s that dialogue that helps Leda determine needs, and adjust the program accordingly.

Each spring, ¡Salud! dispenses CPR and first aid certification and workplace safety training to workers at work sites.

In summer months, ¡Salud! visits vineyards via mobile Wellness Clinics, screening for vision, cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure, administering flu & tetanus vaccinations, and conducting cancer awareness and women’s health care outreach.

Leda observes that dental issues prove particularly endemic to the Hispanic population. Poor dental health impacts physical health, which impacts productivity.  Thus, in addition to health care, ¡Salud! partners with Medical Teams International, regional dental schools, and private providers to deliver dental care.

Year-round, ¡Salud! juggles case management and patient advocacy in addition to outreach duties. Leda and her staff expedite navigation through the medical system’s maze of paperwork and payments, assist in scheduling follow-up appointments and treatments, verify family member eligibility in the Oregon Health Care Program and other social services, and allocate medical grants when necessary.

She also enjoys robust working relationships with private providers and government agencies. Because of Leda’s strong collaborative efforts, ¡Salud! provides $3 in services for every $1 spent, a remarkable statistic.  In contrast The Affordable Health Care Act mandates providing $.80 in service for every $1.00 spent on individual health care.

“Leda is the biggest collaborator I know,” says Maria McCandless. “Leda works together with others, creating relationships.” This includes linking with other medical programs and academia, such as Pacific University’s School of Dental Health, Lane Community College, and the School of Dentistry at Oregon Health Sciences University.

Leda contends that successful migrant health care requires the ability to ask the right questions, and patience to work through the layers of complexity. On any given day, she and her team wrestles with needs as diverse as heart conditions, abscessed teeth, sinus infections, child care, counseling, and nutrition.

“I think the biggest surprise about working for the ¡Salud! program over the years is the privilege I’ve had to mold a health care program to the needs of the community.”  Leda admits. Smiling, she adds, “ I never dreamed in all my years of nursing school that I would get the opportunity to use my medical, social, and political skills all in one arena.”

[learn_more caption=”2012 ¡Salud! Services at a glance”] Content

  • 234 vineyards, wineries & contractor participants
  • 4,135 individual registrants
  • 829 mobile health screens
  • 495 flu vaccinations
  • 214 mobile dental cleanings and exams
  • 121 CPR & First aid certifications[/learn_more]

“The local health care community respects the ¡Salud! program because it keeps workers out of the emergency room,” explains Nancy Ponzi.  Nancy also points out, “In all the years of ¡Salud!’s existence, we’ve never had anyone abuse the system.”


Photos courtesy ¡Salud! Program
Photos courtesy ¡Salud! Program

While some may consider Leda the heart of ¡Salud! Services, and Maria its logistical ‘brain,’ Nancy Ponzi may be its soul. Nancy and her husband Dick moved to Oregon’s Willamette Valley in the 1960‘s, establishing Ponzi Vineyards (ponziwines.com). As an accomplished community cornerstone, Nancy Ponzi proved instrumental in helping found ¡Salud!, along with Steve Vuylsteke of Oak Knoll Winery, Paul Hart of Rex Hill Vineyards, Dr. Robert Gross of Cooper Mountain Vineyards, and Tuality Community Hospital doctors Laurence Hornick and Jim Ratcliff.

hoteldieu4This core group embraced Burgundy’s Hospices de Beaune auction concept for funding the ¡Salud! program. But while both auctions fall in November, and both present their best cuvées for that year, similarities between events end there.

Burgundy’s Hospices de Beaune dates back to 1443, when Nicolas Rolin, the Chancellor for Duke Phillip the Good of Burgundy, founded the Hôtel-Dieu (House of God), a hospital for the needy. After the French Revolution, Hôtel-Dieu changed from a private to a civil organization, Hospices de Beaune. Since 1859, funding flows from an annual wine auction. Today, the wine auction benefits various charities and the three (3) entities comprising Hospices de Beaune: the Hospital, the Hôtel-Dieu (now a museum), and the Hospices de Beaune vineyards (60 hectares/148acres). The Hospices de Beaune vineyards derive from land bequeathed by Burgundian wine families over the centuries.  Hospices de Beaune vineyard manager and winemaker Roland Masse crafts the auction cuvées.

Unlike Burgundy, Oregon’s ¡Salud! Pinot Noir Auction includes select cuvées from individual winemakers. A selection committee chooses each winemaker associated with the auction. Only 40-45 winemakers participate each year, partly due to space restrictions, and partly due to the ‘exclusive’ nature of the event. Producers chosen must exhibit a deep commitment to community, marketing, and quality cuvées.ddo5

The ¡Salud! auction spans two nights each November: a Friday night wine tasting, hosted by Domaine Drouhin Oregon, followed by a Saturday night gala dinner and auction held at the Governor Hotel in Portland.

The Friday night wine tasting at Domaine Drouhin Oregon allows winemakers an opportunity to gather together socially for the first time after harvest. The gathering utilizes all levels of the impressive gravity-fed facility, including the tank and barrel rooms.

“Domaine Drouhin Oregon has been a fabulous partner with ¡Salud!.” Maria McCandless says. “When they first came to Oregon from Burgundy, visits to their tasting room were by invitation only. They made an exception for the ¡Salud! event, opening their doors to us. And they’ve opened them every year since!”

“My family has been involved in Hospice de Beaune for a very long time, so when we were asked to host the barrel auction at our winery, it was a pleasure to say yes,” says Veronique Drouhin-Boss, winemaker for Drouhin labels in Oregon and France. “Like the Hospice de Beaune, the event raises a lot of money. Beyond this wonderful charity is also an incredible tasting opportunity.  Salud is the first and best way to get a feeling for the new Oregon vintage.  I hope everyone comes to taste, and to support Salud.”

The Saturday night event at Portland’s Governor Hotel includes a formal dinner and live auction proffering one-of-a-kind packages from local vintners, artisanal vendors, and luxury resorts. The 2012 ¡Salud! auction raised over $640,000.

“What’s really great about the ¡Salud! auction is that we can use all the funds raised to directly benefit the people who need it most — the vineyard workers,” says Nancy Ponzi.

¡Salud!‘s Auction Service Advisory Committee oversees program funds distribution.

While the ¡Salud! program relies on its annual ¡Salud! auction for primary funding, additional sustainable funding also comes from Compañeros de ¡Salud!, a collaborative partnership comprised of Oregon Wine industry members.

These partnerships include tasting fee and bottle sale donations, a winegrowers program, ¡Salud! logo licensing fees, and proceeds from special events such as a winery-wide Tin Capsule Drive, McMenamin Edgefield’s Celebration of Syrah,and the International Pinot Noir Celebration’s (www.ipnc.org) Thursday night dinner. No other wine region in the nation boasts such a distinctive, industry-driven funding format.

In addition, the Leda Garside Endowment Fund, generously established by  Compañeros de ¡Salud! participant and WillaKenzie Estates (www.willakenzie.com) co-owner Ronni Lecroute,  ensures a stable source of program funding.


Despite ¡Salud!’s diversified funding sources, health care costs continue to rise. ¡Salud! faces the dilemma of maintaining quality service amidst increasing costs and demands for those services.

This means working not only harder, but smarter. Future plans include choosing more centrally located service sites, enabling ¡Salud! to reach more people in less time. Also inviting more vineyards to participate in hosting work site visits, and increasing public awareness of the program in hopes of inspiring more private donations.

Asked what inspires her about ¡Salud!, Leda responds: “The community. The people. That we’re doing something very positive to fix the complexity of the health care system. Working with these people to help make their lives more manageable makes me think how privileged I am … it puts everything in perspective. It’s a privilege to provide these services and treat these people with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

Maria McCandless concurs: ”There’s a feeling here … let’s work together as a community to help the people who help us make these beautiful products.”

Maria sees the same ‘culture of collaboration’ in the third generation of winemakers — the sons and daughters of those who built ¡Salud!.

Nancy Ponzi sums it up best: “This isn’t a charity. These people aren’t asking for a handout. They aren’t asking for anything. As winemakers, we have an obligation to help members of our community who help us.”

AIbEiAIAAABECN3lm4f_1Oj89gEiC3ZjYXJkX3Bob3RvKihlOGI3OTk5ZWNmYTQwMmRiNzg2NjM3YTQxYTVhMDBjYWVkZDE3MWQzMAGL09Wcn1lXztY4hgfPwKDO4bG7fQThank you to all who generously contributed to this story:

  • Nancy Ponzi of Ponzi Vineyards, Ponzi Tasting Room/Dundee Bistro, and ¡Salud! Board of Directors.
  • Veronique Drouhin-Boss and the staff of Domaine Drouhin Oregon.
  • Maria McCandless – ¡Salud! Services Foundation Manager, Lindsay Coon – ¡Salud! Events Coordinator, and Leda Garside – ¡Salud! Services Outreach Coordinator.
  • Estelle Bidault – Hospices de Beaune.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://palatepress.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/LMArcher.jpg[/author_image] [author_info] Terroirist, foodie, and author of binNotes.com — ‘a blog for those who consider wine an art, not just a beverage’ — L.M. Archer holds the French Wine Scholar designation from The French Wine Society, membership in the Society of Wine Educators and Pacific Northwest Writers Association, and a B.A. from Smith College.[/author_info] [/author]