The Organization Turning 'Mines To Vines' In Ukraine's Vineyards

Headlines about the war in Ukraine tend to focus on tragic casualty numbers and the most recent Russian attacks on Ukrainian cities, but that's not the whole story, of course. Founder of the humanitarian nonprofit organization Roots of Peace, Heidi Kuhn, is not only illuminating another pressing problem facing residents of Ukraine — she's doing something about it.

Heidi Kuhn, according to Wine-Searcher, had been looking for a cause — something powerful she could champion after surviving a stage 4 cancer diagnosis, an endeavor that would change and ultimately save lives. Raising a glass at a 1997 fundraising event to promote the removal of landmines, Heidi toasted, "May the world go from mines to vines," and she knew she'd found her mission.

In one of Kuhn's most publicized initiatives, she visited Croatia's minefields in 2000 with her daughter Kyleigh and Croatian-born winemaker Mike Grgich of Grgich Hills Estate. With the support of Grgich and other donors, Roots Peace transformed more than 500,000 square meters of mined land back into safe vineyards and has helped make Croatian wine regions magical tourist destinations, with an enormous impact on the local economies. 

CBS News reported that Heidi returned to Croatia in 2004 and sampled some of the grapes from a vineyard that had once been a minefield. "We ate the grapes," Kuhn said. "We tasted peace."

Removing landmines and UXO from the Mykolaiv region

On December 2, 2022, Heidi Kuhn and Violet Grgich, President of Grgich Hills Estate, announced the launch of a new initiative to rid the Mykolaiv region of Ukraine of landmines and unexploded ordinances (UXO), according to a press release

San Francisco Consul General of Ukraine, Dmytro Kushnerek attended the event and said, "These explosives are affecting our communities – especially children and civilians not involved in the fighting. Huge land parcels have seen substantial growth of explosive devices planted by Russian occupation in fields, villages, and towns."

Heidi explained via email that she and her partners, Rotary e-Club of Ukraine, Rotary Odessa, and Rotary Las Vegas WON, along with local Mykolaiv vintners intend to begin their important work in the spring of 2023. As they wait for the snow to melt and the ground to thaw, plans are underway to produce a Roots of Peace Mines to Vines Cabernet Sauvignon from SliVino Family Winery. 

The back label of the wine expresses the urgency of turning mines to vines, saying, "Together, we seek to eradicate landmines/UXO in the Mykolaiv region of Ukraine where grapes have flourished for thousands of years prior to the Russian invasion. May we transform minefields into thriving vineyards as we plant the Roots of Peace in Ukraine." The wine's front label features a bunch of grapes atop a deadly landmine, a symbol of the vital work ahead for Roots of Peace in Ukraine.

Roots of Peace spread far and wide

Spring 2023 will see Roots of Peace add Ukraine to the list of countries in which it's labored to make vineyards and farmland safe to work. With the support of public, private, and corporate donors, Roots of Peace has removed landmines and supported agricultural and economic development in Serbia, Croatia, Angola, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Guatemala, and Israel.

In Afghanistan, Kuhn explained, she and her partners have planted more than seven million fruit trees, nurtured vineyards that yield table grapes, rather than wine grapes out of respect for the Muslim culture, and have impacted more than a million farmers and families. Roots of Peace plans to use the very same approach in Ukraine: not only making the land safe to work, but also cultivating profitable agriculture to sustain residents of areas that have been devastated by war. Readers who wish to support the Roots of Peace mission of "cultivating peace through agriculture" can donate via the website.