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Winemaker to the Rescue

By Judy Farah

The female hiker had been missing for nearly four days. Josh Bendick and his partner from the El Dorado County Sheriff Search and Rescue team were determined to find her in the rugged Sierra Nevada forest. They had enough supplies in their backpacks to spend the night if necessary. Then, there she was. Just as they were swooping in for the rescue, so was a Black Hawk helicopter from the California National Guard. Bendick and his partner told the pilot to land. Instead, the pilot said, "No, we're going to hoist you guys." The chopper sent down a cable and the three were lifted to safety—"which is even better because that's part of the fun," Bendick said.

Bendick's days typically aren't spent with chopper lifts. He's co-winemaker at Holly's Hill Vineyards in Placerville with his wife, Carrie. He became involved with the search and rescue group about nine years ago, after he heard about it from neighbors who were part of the horseback team.

"At one point, it just hit me: I want to go," he said. "I wanted to do the search and rescue thing. I joined and it ended up being way more fun than I thought it would be."

An outdoorsman, Bendick said he wanted to give back to the community. He volunteered and began extensive training, which included man tracking—identifying footprints and directions of a person's travel on the ground—and, after a year, began to go out on searches.

Bendick has conducted searches wearing snowshoes in blizzards and avalanches, with hydration packs and water filters in summer heat, and with GPS radiophones in remote areas. He estimates he's been called out more than 100 days in all, including four days in Paradise after the deadly 2018 Camp Fire.

Bendick is able to juggle his two duties because his wife is also a winemaker. Her parents, Tom and Holly Cooper, developed a love for wine after they sipped Châteauneuf-du-Pape on their honeymoon in the Rhone Valley of southern France. The bride got her wish of starting a Rhone-style vineyard at their hillside property. Their daughter, who learned winemaking from a nearby winemaker, met Bendick, who majored in international relations and minored in viticulture at the University of California, Davis, at a wine event.

Holly's Hill grows nine varietals of Rhone winegrapes on 25 acres, including syrah, viognier, mourvedre and grenache. The winery also bottles its own version of Châteauneuf-du-Pape called Patriarche, which is a blend of four fruit-forward red wines fermented together. Bendick said he enjoys winemaking because he's always doing something different, from checking irrigation lines and blending wines to pouring his blends for visitors on the weekend. He said he looks forward to his personal time with his wife and three daughters: "I'm definitely a homebody. I like to be home before dark."

But he calls his volunteer work with El Dorado County Sheriff Search and Rescue his passion. "I really enjoy the community service aspect and excitement that comes from my hobby," he said. "It's one of the things in my life that I find very rewarding and exciting."

Judy Farah

Story first published in California Bountiful January 2021

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