Michael David Winery helps fund professor’s COVID-19 research with “Going Viral” Merlot

June 18, 2020 | UCSC | Dan White

Michael Phillips had been looking for an eye-catching, thoughtful way to honor the groundbreaking and lifesaving work of his daughter, the virologist Rebecca DuBois, UC Santa Cruz associate professor of biomolecular engineering.

That’s why he and his brother, David, decided last year to put a stylized picture of a viral protein on their new bottles of “Going Viral” Merlot.

“Capturing the atomic view of the fight between humans and viruses, ‘Going Viral’ embodies Dr. Phillips-DuBois’s passion in developing new vaccines and antiviral therapies to cure childhood infections,” according to their company’s website.

The design was a striking and refreshing alternative to the imagery of forests, antlers, and mountain glens that make so many bottle labels so sleepy, safe, and boring.

But the timing turned out to be a huge problem.

Just before they were going to release their “Going Viral” wine this year, the COVID-19 epidemic swept the world. Michael and David were in a bind. What if wine buyers thought the Phillipses were using the virus protein as a glib reference to a global tragedy? What if connoisseurs mistakenly believed the brothers were trying to capitalize on a pandemic?

“My family realized, there was no way they could release the wine,’’ DuBois said with a laugh. “The optics of that would have been bad.”

Bold idea

Then came a flash of insight and a bold new plan. What if the Phillipses went ahead and released the wine anyhow, with the same label and the name, but with a brand-new twist?

Instead of trying to disassociate themselves from COVID-19, they would donate all the proceeds from “Going Viral” to DuBois’s lab, which is developing a serological test to measure the levels of antibodies in people who have recovered from the coronavirus or in people who are taking experimental vaccines.

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