Senders in the News
Even Father Bong Rojas at St James’ Catholic Church in Davis recognizes the quality of Senders Wine, having commissioned winemakers Craig and Karen Senders to produce a barrel of Petit Syrah for the parish’s sacramental wine.
The husband and wife team, based in Davis, began as many boutique wineries do, as wine collectors. The pair progressed to making home wine in 1997, and finally went commercial with their Cabernets, Pinot Noirs and Syrahs in 2005. They were recently distinguished at the 2010 California State Fair with gold, silver and bronze awards for their 2007 Pinot Noir, 2006 Napa Cabernet and 2006 Stags Leap District Cabernet, respectively.
Besides the layered flavors in each bottle of wine, what’s especially easy to swallow is the fact that a portion of all Senders Wine sales goes directly to children’s charities dealing with repairing cleft lip, cleft palate and other craniofacial deformities.
Craig Senders is a professor of Pediatric Otolaryngology at UC Davis where he specializes in treating facial birth defects like cleft lip and cleft palate. He has served as the director of the Cleft and Craniofacial Program at UCD for more than 20 years and is also the director of the residency training program in Otolaryngology.
The doctor has participated in pro bono surgical outreach trips to many third world countries, from Honduras to Russia, to repair children’s cleft lips and cleft palates for more than a quarter century.
In the early 1990s, Craig helped to spearhead the birth of the nonprofit organization Face to Face, part of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, which provides educational and surgical outreaches to children with facial birth defects throughout the world including China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Ecuador, Honduras, Egypt, Russia and Croatia. The medical team also works with and trains native physicians and nurses.
Approximately two thirds of children born with a cleft lip also have a cleft palate. The obvious repercussion is physical, but the problems go beyond mere appearances.
“We understand that intuitively, but it’s a big deal,” Craig said. “Food, liquids and air comes out of your nose when you don’t want them too. (A cleft lip or palate) affects speech, swallowing, teeth, hearing and language development. There are a lot of disadvantages if the condition is left alone, and in a lot of these countries it is.”
The professor, who chaired Face to Face for several years, participated in one of the first medical outreaches to Russia after the wall came down. He worked alongside Russian doctors to repair children’s cleft lips and palates.
“Each culture is different in how they treat things,” Craig said. “In Russia, if a child is born with a cleft they are given to a cleft orphanage and taken back by their families when they are ‘fixed.’”
Out of the 92 cases Craig worked on his trip, all but four “orphans” were taken back by their families or adopted out to new families.
In other countries, families will walk miles to treat their children and even sleep on the hospital floor.
“When you practice medicine (in America) it’s not pure because it’s contaminated by money and insurance and other things that get in the way of helping people,” Senders said. “It hardens you in some ways. But when you go (on an outreach mission), everything is about helping. There is no money or insurance to deal with. You work long hours and everyone pitches in.”
Craig takes one two-week trip annually and experiences new challenges in each country. He has worked in places with different electricity, bad lighting, operating rooms missing equipment, places with no recovery rooms, less sterile than American standards, and not enough space.
“There are a lot of things that require you to adapt, but it’s good to adapt because it makes you a better surgeon overall,” Craig said.
Craig’s most recent mission was to the Philippines in February. His daughter, Julia, 18, accompanied him for the first time. The Davis High School graduate collected toothbrushes from area dentists and raised funds for stuffed animals to give to patients and siblings on the trip. Craig and Karen also have a son, Parker, 16.
“The trip really opened her eyes,” said Karen. “It was life changing. It was definitely a point in her life that confirmed she wants a career in medicine.”
Craig and the outreach team, together with local nurses and physicians, performed surgeries for more than 80 children with clefts.
“As a parent, you look forward to sharing things with your child,” Craig said. “To take my daughter (to the Philippines) and watch her grow made me feel good because I feel I’ve instilled values in her to help other people.”
As the director of the UCD residency training program in Otolaryngology, the outreach trips also offer Craig’s residents training opportunities with an abundance of hands-on experience. One out of 600 children born in the United States has a cleft. An otolaryngologist might come across 50 cases in a career, but will come across the same amount in one outreach trip.
Under the same umbrella, Face to Face also supports victims of domestic violence in the United States with a network of 200 physicians nationwide who donate their time to offer care to the patients.
Senders Wine links Craig’s passion for healing children and his passion for winemaking by appropriating portions of each wine sale to a children’s charity to support the medical outreach missions.
“There’s a lot of chemistry that goes into winemaking that comes intuitively to me as a physician,” Craig said. “Being an ear, nose and throat specialist helps me better understand what it is about a wine that gives a person their perception of flavor.”
“Craig has a great palate,” Karen said. “His background in science and chemistry helps with blending and developing a smooth wine with a lot of depth and layers.”
The Senders specialize in handcrafted small-lot Pinot Noir from Carneros and the Sonoma Coast along with Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
“Making Cabernet is like making a wine dressed in a large baggy sweatshirt; making Pinot Noir is like making wine dressed in a negligee,” stated Craig. “With Cabernet the fruit and structure cover subtle flavors, whereas, with Pinot every nuance shows through. I love making Cabernet as it is the classic red wine, but making Pinot Noir is truly exciting.”
The Senders have always made their own Rosé for personal consumption, and are now selling it commercially for the first time.
“Rosé is making a big comeback right now,” Karen said. “It’s a French-style Rosé, meaning it’s completely dry with no residual sugar, but it still has a lot of fruit in it.”
The Senders use a technique called “saignée,” which is a French term, meaning “to bleed.” During the process, the grape skins stay in contact with the juice for eight hours, extracting the color and flavor.
“The flavor truly comes from the skin,” Karen said. “The Rosé is especially nice to have chilled in the summer. It’s very versatile; it goes with spicy foods and nearly anything, just like Champagne.”
Each bottle of Senders Wine bridges the family’s passion to heal children and make exceptional wine, without compromising on either.
“Individually, we can’t live on forever, but we can live on through our children and the values we instill in them,” Craig said. “Another way to live on is by teaching residents and other doctors.”
And, perhaps, the Senders will also live on through their bottles of small-lot crafted premium wines.
Senders Wine is available locally at Nugget Markets, Valley Wine in Davis and online at www.senderswines.com Davis’s The Mustard Seed and Seasons restaurants also carry the bottles.