For Jon Mack, saving animals went from a hobby to a full-blown addiction.
The actress, musician, producer and lifelong animal lover, who has spent her life helping animals, has launched a new organization meant to help protect animals from illegal poaching across the world.
“I'm from Michigan, and I was born and raised on a 180 acre farm," says Mack. “I was an only child so my whole life was animals. I always had a bond with them, and they were my friends as a kid."
Mack eventually uprooted from her bucolic background, where she had dogs, cats, chickens and pigs as pets, and moved to Los Angeles to follow her dream of acting and music. Once in California, she began to rescue cats and soon realized that there were so much work to be done to help animals live better lives.
“I would humanely trap and release cats and I learned more and more about how animals there were out there without homes," says Mack, who adopted two stray kittens from the street. “They were few weeks old hiding in tree. They were feral so at first you couldn't even touch them. Now they are the biggest babies. I've had them for nine years, and they are what got me into helping more animals."
Mack, who is the lead singer for electronic rock band, Auradrone, says she soon found herself addicted to animal rescuing. She next became involved in Heaven On Earth, which was founded by Seth McFarlan's mother, Perry, who is also a passionate animal rescuer.
“They take in every cat, old or young and are no-kill," says Mack, who sits on the organization's celebrity board. “I have been an ambassador for Heaven on Earth for several years now. Not only have I adopted some of my own from them, I have helped also raise awareness for the great work they do. I love that they will take high risk cats and give them forever homes regardless of their health issues or whether someone adopts them or not. These are good people doing good things."
Mack's desire to help animals intensified in 2012 when she visited Thailand and spent time with elephants. During that trip Mack said she was horrified at seeing beautiful rare animals for sale at the market. After doing research, Mack became more aware of the poaching crisis over the past few years and decided to do something about it.
“I really bonded with elephants in Thailand and one in particular I took care of for several days. This is where I saw the majesty and high intelligence in these creatures," says Mack. “I've traveled to many places with colorful eco-systems and varied wildlife such as Brazil, Costa Rica and Bali to name a few. Part of my incentive to take any trips these days has to do with what kind of wildlife there is and what I can learn from it."
The more Mack dug, the more she saw the corruption that is deeply embedded in countries where poaching is at record numbers.
With only between 2,000 and 3,000 rhinos left in the world as of 2016, Mack is focused on working with various animal-protecting organizations in South Africa, which is the worst offender in the poaching industry, to develop new technology that would help protect rhinoceroses. Mack is looking to raise funds to help this and other charitable initiatives.
“The South African government refused to publish numbers this year," says Mack. That means it's bad and they know it's bad. Everything has gotten so corrupt. It's such a huge trade. These countries demand the ivory or rhino horns for 'medicines' that don't actually work. It boils my blood. It's all for superstition or little knick knacks no one needs. They are getting more sophisticated. There is big money behind them. They are basically militarized."
According to Mack, just one rhino horn can go for $20K to $40K and possibly much more on the black market, which traffics them from countries like South Africa into countries like China.
“I thought I want to do something against poaching and trophy hunting," says Mack. “ If nothing is done we will lose rhinos and elephants in five to 10 years. The governments turn a blind eye to it. Poachers get a slap on the wrist."
“I'm so concerned that we are going to lose these species that we take for granted; that our children and grandchildren will only see them in picture books. That scares me."
In order to fix this immense problem which plagues our world, Mack is focused on education and exposing the trade.
“I think education is the number one thing that needs to happen now," says Mack. "People in South Africa know what is happening but people don't realize how bad it is. I want to educate people so that they realize how serious it is."
Mack, who has two films, MindBlown and Doomsday Device, coming out later this year, also has released a music video for her band, called Weapon Of Choice, meant to help raise awareness. Mack says she worked with a director to come up with a concept about poaching that could ring true to people who watched it.
“The video puts people in the place of animals," says Mack. “We did the video I thought this is powerful and different. I wanted to make an impact with art."
In 2015, Mack took her love for animals a step further, by creating and launching her own organization, Defending The Endangered, which she describes as a “collective of artists" who donate their time and money to protecting and rescuing animals. Throughout the year members help raise money for various animal-oriented charities like the Rhino Rescue Project and the Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit. On March 25, Mack will throw her first charity's first celebrity gala, meant to celebrate those making a difference in the lives of animals, and to raise more capital to support organizations that do.
“I wanted to gather creative and compassionate people together and use all of our unique talents to raise awareness as well as donate our gifts to raise much needed funds for various charities working to protect and rehabilitate endangered animals," says Mack. “Defending the Endangered is all about joining together creatives, passionate animal lovers and thinkers all over the world to make art and create events that will not only raise awareness, but celebrate those who have gone above and beyond in their own way to protect threatened species on this planet."
According to Mack, who describes herself as heartbroken by what has happened thus far, yet hopeful that a new generation will step up to the plate, is especially focused on investing in technologies that will help.
“We are working with Rhino Rescue Project at the moment and they have created a new dye that is injected into the rhino's horn without harm to the animal," she says. "This dye makes the horns set off radiation detectors so this makes is much more difficult for even higher level travelers to smuggle horns out of the country. This will be a deterrent and hopefully save several rhinos from being sought out for their horn and murdered. This has to stop and it has to stop now."
Universally loved, and, (especially at this time of year) drunk merrily and in excess, wine is the answer to much if not all our prayers, on a regular basis.
The wine industry also happens to be home to some major female leaders, and it's become apparent, that the barriers to entry women face in almost every other industry don't apply here, as long as you've the work ethic and brains behind your operation.
"This is a people's business," says Delia Vader, CEO of Viader Wines, who's vehement about the gender neutrality of the wine industry, and hopeful for it's future, (even with the hefty factors of global warming, and recent wildfires, contending with the grape-producing vines).
Naturally, we were all too excited to sit down with five leaders in the industry working throughout the globe, that are innovating and shaping the future vintages from California to Italy and beyond. Below are five such women, ranging from vineyard to store owners, and one woman who's completely shifting the way we think about wine consumption.
Francesca Planeta, Wine Director, Planeta Wines
Francesca Planeta has been a rising star on the Sicilian wine scene for the last few years. Planeta is devoted not only to promoting her own vineyard, but promoting all the wines of Italy's largest island, which is most famous for the wonderful, Nero D'Avola.
Sicily's wine scene veritably boomed around Planeta as she was growing up. So when she finally began working on the Planeta Wines vineyard in her early twenties, she quickly learned the nuances of the land and the grapes she would ultimately come to produce. “I had begun to help out at the winery, using a graphics studio to create the logo and the first labels, and then I returned to Sicily, during the time of that first harvest. (This) was the moment when I decided that I would take on the challenge of working with the business that bore our family name."
Given that the business was family owned, Planeta did not encounter any barriers to entry because of her gender, but instead made sure that women are integral to the process on the vineyard. “Women have a fundamental role in our business," says the winemaker. “They are entrusted with many responsible positions; from wine making to directing exports and from the hotels to the entire marketing and communications office."
A worrying factor for both Planeta and the women at the vineyard however is global warming, something which has plagued wineries across the globe in recent years. Given that the taste and production of wine depends heavily on its “terroir" (or, surroundings), changes in environment are immediately a factor for anyone in the industry to consider when its coming to harvest season. “It generally seems to us that global warming presents not only a problem of warming in itself," she comments. “But in extremes of weather phenomena, with heavier rainfall – when it occurs, and rather longer periods of drought. (However), living and working in the centre of the Mediterranean gives us better conditions and the last twenty years have shown greater climatic stability."
Selling upwards of 2.3M bottles of wine a year, her chief markets (apart from Italy), are the United States, Germany, England, and Russia, followed by Canada, Switzerland and Japan. And she recommends that for the chillier months, if you're drinking a Sicilian wine, to go for Merlot, Syrah, or Burdese.
Delia Viader, CEO, Viader Wines
Argentinian-born Delia Viader was in the midst of an M.I.T degree, with three children at home, when an opportunity arose to purchase a vineyard in Napa Valley. “The timing was perfect for relocating my very young family," she says, who quickly got to grips with their new surroundings as their mother began constructing a powerhouse wine team to launch Viader Wines.
It hasn't always been easy for Viader and her team however. Before the financial crash of 2008, Viader was sold in every state throughout the U.S, and exported to 24 countries abroad. Since the crash, and an arsonist fire at a warehouse of theirs containing the entire 2003 vintage, they've changed their business model drastically. Now, they sell 90 percent of their collections direct-to-consumer, with the remaining 10 percent sent abroad or to the bigger markets of New York, California and Texas.
She has also become naturally concerned by the Californian wildfires of late, and their threat to both the vines, and the warehouses where the barrels are kept. “The biggest impact on our vineyard has been the change of weather pattern we have been experiencing for the past 35 years that we can speak of," says the CEO. “We are learning a lot about how resilient affected vines can be, and how wine made from those grapes needs to be processed to perhaps reshape stylistic performance of the resulting wine. The winegrowers as an industry will be learning a lot from this."
Learning and innovating are at the core of Viader's vineyards, where her son, Alan is championing new ways to irrigate their 92-acres of land, and fine tuning an understanding of “the exact optimal time to harvest at each vines' peak ripeness." And while she may be the CEO, she heavily depends on him for his expertise and blending capabilities. “I am the owner and CEO but I call myself the wine mother because I am the mother of the vines (I had them planted myself, my way); the mother of the wine (I 'created' our Cabernet-based wine to be highly influenced by the terroir with a high dose of Cab franc and remain, highly influential at the final assemblage-blend); and I am the mother of the winemaker, my son Alan Viader."
What is Viader most likely to be drinking at this moment? “I am very susceptible to a vibrant Pinot Noir from Burgundy most times," she says. “But my choice really depends on two variables: the food I am going to have and the company, the people I am going to share that bottle of wine with. I love harmony in the wine, the food pairing and the conviviality that springs from sharing a great wine."
Julia Jackson, Propietor, Jackson Family Wines
As one of the largest family-run wine groups in the U.S, The Jackson Family has garnered quite a name for itself. Leading the way within the group is Julia Jackson, daughter of mother Barbara Banke and Jess Jackson who built the group up from the ground, which is now worth an estimated $2.3 billion.
Today, their portfolio boasts wines from 52 wineries throughout the world, and integral to that is building relationships from within and amalgamating abroad. For Jackson, that means working in almost every facet of the business in order to cover all the projects she wishes to pursue. “I wear a few hats in my family business," she comments. “I'm spearheading my first acquisition project in another country, (and) I work with our international sales team to be one of the faces for Jackson Family Wines." On top of this, she's also involved with the group's environmental and philanthropic efforts, which, given the wildfire situation in California, will be work much needed in the years to come. “All my philanthropic efforts are focused around our environment and I created a charitable program that gives grants to women within the eco-space through our Santa Maria based winery Cambria."
Jackson's favorite wine at this time of the year? Gran Moraine from Willamette Valley Oregon.
Hortense Bernard, General Manager, Millesima Wines
Hortense Bernard was working with global industry leaders Moet Hennessy Diageo in Paris as a brand manager before she made her big move to the U.S. Now, she stands as one of the youngest female General Managers in the world of a large international firm, atop the Millesima USA group.
Millesima, a leading retailer in Europe, who branched into he U.S in 2006, owns upwards of 2.5M bottles of fine wine that are housed in the company's cellars in Bordeaux, France, (which is also the largest AOC vineyard in the country).
Bernard, who had her first glass of wine at eight years old, works primarily with direct-to-consumer retail and educating the U.S market about Bordeaux wines from their shop on the Upper East Side here in New York. "My goal is to educate as much as I can," she says. "In store, we speak about Bordeaux, and try to explain (because Bordeaux wine can be really complex), the wine."
"When I arrived here, I didn't know anything about American consumption," she laughs. "So it took me quite a bit to learn about it and understand how Americans see wines, and what they mean when the ask for a Chardonnay."
On top of chatting with customers, Bernard plays host to a lot of cultural events throughout the city, accompanying her wines whenever there might be a chance to express the history and significance of the wine for both France, and the industry at large.
So naturally, when asked what she'll be drinking on the celebratory occasions of December, it will be a big full-bodied Bordeaux " because that always takes me back (home)."
Marian Leitner, Founder, Archer Roose
Once it dawned on Marian Leitner that Millennials were drinking more wine than beer, she saw an opportunity to modernise the way we purchase, consume and enjoy wine.
"In the U.S, you actually pay more for the shipping and the packaging than you do for the wine itself," says Leitner. "So I started to ask why and learn more about the alternative packaging market."
Branching away from bottles, Leitner looked to packaging wine in every way beer is packaged - from cans and kegs, and then also, in boxes.
"You have to separate consumers into two buckets - the super high-end collectors, who make up less than 1 percent of the population, and then you have people who are drinking, "value" wines. And then the rest of America are basically beer drinkers."
Upon the realization that Millennial wine drinkers are more than beer drinkers, she also came to understand that they're also very brand-loyal. Brands that represent qualities and values they share, are the ones they're consuming the most. "So we decided to leverage the alternative packaging movement (which is keg, can and box), to cut through all the noise of the bottles in the wine store, and really connect with consumers." In doing so, she launched the company, Archer Roose Wines.
This move means, that apart from the ultra-hip way the wine is presented, you're also economizing. One box of Archer Roose wine contains the equivalent of 4 regular bottles. And inevitably, the kegs contain a huge volume.
Wine kegger, anyone?