By Sandra M. Klepach
A paint splatter. A pink cow and a moon. Cut-out paper flowers. A sailboat at sunset.
Behind the beautiful labels for bottles of Austin’s Red and Austin’s White wines are 3-year-old Michael, 11-year-old Anthony, 16-year-old Ryan and 8-year-old Ethan — bound by autism spectrum disorder and Grand River Cellars Winery in Madison.
Now in its third year, the winery’s annual art contest challenges children and adults with an official diagnosis of autism to design labels for its two “wines for autism.” Bottles with the winning artwork will be available for purchase at the winery, and featured at a wine-tasting fundraiser March 31 at Gavi’s Restaurant in downtown Willoughby.
A portion of the varieties’ proceeds benefit the Northeast Ohio Autism Group, which provides grants to the local autism community through schools, programs and services.
Winery President Cindy Lindberg, a founding board member of NEOAG, created the wines to thank her regular label designer and NEOAG president, Marianne Linfante Seaman, whose son Austin has autism.
As a former school psychologist in Mayfield, Lindberg began working with Austin when he was 3 and very low-functioning. Now 15, though, he’s been mainstreamed for years and sometimes helps in Grand River Cellars’ kitchen, said his mother, who prefers Austin’s Red.
“The first year (we had wine for autism) we used a local artist who has a daughter with autism,” Lindberg said. “But then my husband, Jeff, suggested a contest, and these kids have so little that’s exclusive to them, I thought it was a great idea.”
Previous years have attracted 50 entries each, submitted by teachers or parents of qualifying artists. Four finalists are typically scanned, shrunk and put onto sample wine labels to help in the difficult selection process.
“The artwork needs to be something that, when it’s shrunk down to the size of a wine label, it still looks good,” Lindberg said. “We actually decide, once it’s sitting on a bottle of wine, which looks the best.”
Submissions can be as unique as their creators, however.
“There’s a saying that once you meet one kid with autism, you’ve met one kid with autism,” Lindberg said. “They’re so different.”
Resigning from education when “an opportunity came about” in Madison, Lindberg grew up in the Grand River Valley wine region and opened the winery, which now has 14 varieties, in late 2005. She describes Austin’s Red as a dry blend, usually with some berry character and smokiness, and Austin’s white as a semi-dry blend of chardonnay, pinot gris and vidal blanc.
“They sell well, and each year we’ve been able to donate about $5,000 to the NEOAG,” Lindberg said. “It could for be a school that needs AV equipment or a therapy group that needs some type of sensory equipment. It’s cool to see what different things are going on in the community.”
Since 2008, NEOAG grant recipients have included Crossroads, Deepwood Foundation, Fieldstone Farms, The Fine Arts Association of Willoughby, Geauga County Public Library, Geauga Family First Council and Willoughby-Eastlake Schools.
This year’s contest deadline is Jan. 31. To submit artwork, visit www.neoag.org for an entry form and mail full-color, 8.5-by-11-inch artwork to Grand River Cellars, c/o Cindy Lindberg, 5750 Madison Road, Madison, OH 44057.
Artwork will not be returned. However, this year’s two winners will receive $100 cash prizes and be called and listed at www.neoag.org. Call Lindberg at 440-231-0991 with questions.