Budge Brown’s Nevada ranch provided the inspiration for his newest wine. “I got a creek running through the middle of two rounded hillsides. So, Cleavage Creek Wine. You know, it just really fit my ranch,” Brown says.
Wine is a serous business for 77-year-old Brown who owns several vineyards and a winery in the Napa Valley. His Cleavage Creek 2006 Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006 Reserve Petite Sirah and 2006 Tracy Hills Reserve Cabernet-Syrah are all award-winners, but special for more than that. Each label features a gorgeous, smiling woman. And every one of them is a breast-cancer survivor.
October marks the 25th anniversary of National Breast Cancer Awareness month, and “Cleavage Creek” is a tribute to the women who battle the disease every day, awing those around them with their courage and optimism. Brown put survivors on the label because he wanted them to know “that they are beautiful and loved.” Each woman’s story is told on the Cleavage Creek website, and Brown gives ten percent of gross sales to funding breast cancer research. “Not profits, because they can be off some years,” he says, “but 10 percent right off the top.”
Brown lost his beloved wife of forty-eight years, Arlene, in 2005 after a seven-year fight with breast cancer. He channeled his overwhelming grief and anger into something positive. “Wasn’t any grand plan,” he recalls. “It all just came together. A lot of wines have forgettable names, but people remember ‘Cleavage.’”
Theresa Larson, the face of Cleavage Creek’s 2007 Secret White, says that “giving back is perhaps Budge’s most important criteria” for choosing models.
Larson was diagnosed a few weeks before her 50th birthday and just prior to her son’s wedding. Her lumpectomy, sentinel-node biopsy and subsequent battle were chronicled in The Lodi News-Sentinel newspaper in Lodi, California where she was an administrator.
“You get people telling you how sorry they are and giving you support. That’s great. But I wanted to hear from other women saying, ‘I’ve been through it and I beat it.’ That’s what the newspaper articles let me do.” Theresa and the newspaper turned the series into a free booklet. More than 9000 copies have gone out so far.
Five months after a friend made her fill out the model application on Cleavage Creek’s website, Theresa left for an all expense paid photo shoot in Palm Springs. “Me, a model! With Photoshop, a lot of make-up and false eyelashes, they took off 20 years. I love it. I’ve already told my family: ‘I don’t care if I live till I’m 90, that’s the photo you’re using.’”
Pattie Daly Caruso, of the 2006 Reserve Chardonnay and the 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, was initially wary. “I wasn’t sure. I mean, ‘Cleavage Creek?!’ But then I thought about it and it made all the sense in the world. Budge is out there for us and our daughters and granddaughters. And he doesn’t have to be. His gift is awareness.”
When Pattie was diagnosed twelve years ago her first thought was, “Lord, I want to be a Grandma.” Her next was to be strong, brave and find humor, lessons she learned from her husband whom she had lost to cancer. “I’m from a long line of Steel Magnolias so there were two things I had to do: fight and win.”
Her unwavering faith in God sustained her through a mastectomy and reconstruction. “I didn’t have chemo or radiation. That was the right path for me. If it happens, get all the information you can from sources you trust.”
Indomitable Pattie was back at work in three weeks and has been raising money for breast cancer ever since and living out Cleavage Creek’s motto: Live to Love Life. “I eat good healthy organic food, lots of salads, fruits and veggies. I’m remarried. I’m a grandmother. And that photo-shoot was one of the greatest days of my life.”
Brown donated $40,000 raised from Cleavage Creek to launch an Integrative Oncology Research Clinic at Bastyr University in Kenmore, Washington. “It’s a start,” he says.
“The big places get lots of money. The smaller ones need us,” he explains. Integrative medicine, which combines traditional and alternative medicine, is a priority. “If Arlene had had access to this type of treatment she would still be alive today.”
The rest of the money, some $20,000 so far, funds cancer treatments for women who can’t afford them.
Brown says that Arlene would be pleased with Cleavage Creek. He is currently creating “Arlene’s Garden” at the vineyard. A place filled with the flowers Arlene loved, “where people can come and sit and be quiet and look at all the pretty flowers.”
So the next time you want something nice for dinner, don’t feel embarrassed to check out some Cleavage.