Home X Away wine partnership

If you think tickets to a Pearl Jam concert sell out quickly, wait until you hear about the Walla Walla wines made especially as a fundraiser for the Seattle band’s upcoming shows at Safeco Field.

Winemakers, friends and Pearl Jam superfans Mark McNeilly and Trey Busch were tapped to collaborate with the band on its first Seattle concerts in five years.

“The Home Shows,” already sold out at Safeco Field for Aug. 8 and 10, are a massive campaign to raise funds and awareness of Seattle’s burgeoning homelessness and affordable housing dilemma. Through dozens of community partnerships with businesses, corporations, nonprofits and government agencies, it has already reached its goal of $10 million in committed funds with roughly another month to go.

McNeilly, founder of Mark Ryan Wines, and Busch, Sleight of Hand Cellars’ co-owner/winemaker, bottled a limited quantity of their Idle Hands wines. The 2015 Washington blend of 90 percent syrah and 10 percent cabernet sauvignon from the Red Heaven Vineyard on Red Mountain, was already a cult favorite from their joint venture, The Underground Wine Project.

Together, they bottled enough wine for a specially designed box set named “Home x Away.” The box set includes four bottles, each with a different label designed by the band, and packaged in a custom printed box. The labels reflect the different cities where Pearl Jam performs this year — “Home” in Seattle, plus Chicago, Boston, and Missoula, Mont.

Priced at $150 each, the 450 box sets were marketed July 10 in a mass email to subscribing fans of the band. Within about 12 minutes, it sold out, solidifying at least a $67,500 contribution from Busch and McNeilly through their joint venture, The Underground Wine Project.

Busch, who was in Kansas when the sale went live, spent the next five or so days responding to about 500 emails from people who wanted to know if there was any more wine left to buy.

Actually, there may be. Another 50 cases with just the “Home” label will be stocked in Seattle’s Ethan Stowell Restaurants, another of the dozens of business partnerships in the mission. During the week of the concerts, the wine will be available for sale at the restaurants, where a portion of proceeds from diners will be dedicated toward the cause. Some large-format etched bottles will also be given to Pearl Jam to auction, along with another five extra boxes.

For McNeilly and Busch, the chance to partner is far more than a connection to a band they both love. It’s also a chance to help with what’s described as among the biggest health crises to hit Seattle, a place where both have some roots.

McNeilly grew up in Seattle and continues to call it home. Busch moved there in 1992 from Athens, Ga., working at Nordstrom in downtown Seattle.

“We donate a lot of wine anyway as part of our philanthropic efforts,” Busch said of that first conversation with McNeilly over the partnership. “If we’re going to do this, let’s do it for a cause we can get behind.”

He said some of their partners in the industry helped offset expenses. The label company, for instance, made the labels for free, while the box manufacturer offered services at cost.

The Home Shows are a program of Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy Foundation to address Seattle’s 40 percent population growth over the past 28 years. Now home to the third-largest homeless population in the country, Seattle has more than 12,000 residents living without shelter on any given night, the organization said. Information on the effort is at pearljam.com/thehomeshows/seattle-wa.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at 509-526-8321, vickihillhouse@wwub.com or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/VickiHillhouse.

Vicki covers business and economic development, including tourism, the Port of Walla Walla and the Strictly Business column, as well as features. She has been reporting for the Union-Bulletin since late 2001.