'Tasting in the Dark’ with Hoby Wedler to benefit Earle Baum Center
Born blind, Dr. Hoby Welder has always experienced food and drink a bit differently than most.
“Eyesight can be distracting,” he said.
Imagine sitting at an outdoor restaurant patio over a delicious meal. While tasting, your eyes focus on the fly buzzing about the table, the server passing by, traffic on the street, your dinner guests. All these things that distract the brain from experiencing the flavors of the food.
Without eyesight, “You’re able to taste attentively. It’s more vibrant,” Wedler said.
It’s an experience he’s eager to share with others. In 2011, at the request of Francis Ford Coppola, he held the first “Truly Blind Wine Tasting” at Coppola Winery, during which participants were blindfolded, and guided only by the taste on their palate.
“When Francis Ford Coppola asks you to do something, you just say yes and then you figure out how you’re going to do it later,” he joked.
With his effervescent charm, the series took off, becoming a regular event at Coppola and other area wineries. He created a similar experience for famed chef Thomas Keller’s team at The French Laundry.
“I like to expand what people experience with wine,” he said.
This month, he’s using that experiential wine tasting to help raise money for a cause close to his heart. Based in Santa Rosa, the Earle Baum Center supports thousands of sight-impaired people in Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake, Napa and Marin counties. As a teenager, they helped Wedler adapt to his classes at Petaluma High School.
“We help folks move forward with their lives after vision loss,” said Bob Sonnenberg, CEO of the Earle Baum Center. That includes everything from learning how to use a cane, to finding adaptive technology to enhance a person’s remaining vision, to social activities like yoga. Each client’s unique needs are addressed by experts at the center.
“It takes learning a new way to do things,” Sonnenberg said.
The nonprofit partnered up with Balletto Vineyards down the road, which is offering buyers 5% off every purchase, along with donating 5% of all proceeds of online sales that use the code: EBC. The tasting is free to attend on Zoom, but participants will need to buy the Balletto Vineyards 2019 Rose of Pinot Noir, 2016 RRV-Chardonnay and 2018 Pinot Noir-RRV. All wines can be purchased online and shipped. Wedler said participants don’t have to be blindfolded, but it does add to the fun.
Growing up in Petaluma, fresh local food and wine was always of interest to Wedler. Although his parents weren’t big drinkers, he was particularly fascinated by the acres of vineyard that studded the area.
“There were these grapes all around me, I always thought about that,” Wedler said.
At UC Davis, he got his PhD in organic chemistry, although he was always fascinated by the school’s famed viticulture program. Ultimately, his love of food and wine overpowered his interest in chemistry, and he co-founded Petaluma’s Senspoint Design, a marketing firm focused on the food and beverage industry that has big name international clients.
He sits on the board of both the Earle Baum Center and Petaluma Educational Foundation.