When 1-year-old Fiona Murrie was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, her father, Jay Murrie, felt helpless.
The genetic disorder that can lead to chronic respiratory infections and malnutrition afflicts about 30,000 people in the U.S. Decades ago, children with cystic fibrosis didn’t live to enter elementary school, but today they can thrive into their 40s and beyond with daily treatment.
“I’m not going to go out and cure cystic fibrosis,” Murrie recalls thinking, “But what else can I do?”
As owner of Piedmont Wine Imports, he focused his skills as a wine seller and a force in the Triangle food community on raising thousands of dollars for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Murrie and his sister-in-law, Stephanie von Isenberg, a New York stockbroker, teamed up to stage two wine-tasting and fundraising events in Manhattan that raised more than $15,000 last fall. And on Jan. 21, Murrie will partner with Triangle chef Andrea Reusing to host an Italian dinner in the new event space attached to Reusing’s restaurant, Lantern, in Chapel Hill. Murrie is pairing the meal with 1971 Barolo and Barbaresco wines donated by a friend. (More on that later.) Tickets cost $250 per person, and organizers hope to raise $10,000.
The money is critically important: Since cystic fibrosis affects a small percentage of the population, Murrie said, there’s little financial incentive for drug companies to develop treatments. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation funds much of the current research. Some promising treatments are now being tested in clinical trials, including at UNC-Chapel Hill.
The foundation’s local chapter, which encompasses an area from Wilmington to Winston-Salem, hopes to raise $1.4 million this year. Every dollar counts, said Kay James, executive director of the Raleigh office of the foundation’s Carolinas chapter. In 2012, researchers discovered a drug that treats the disease at a cellular level, James said, but with more than 1,800 mutations of the cystic fibrosis gene, it only works for about 4 percent of patients. The breakthrough did lay the groundwork for researchers to explore other combinations of drugs to help more patients.
“We’re very excited about the possibilities,” James said. “The only obstacle we have with this are the research funds.”
That’s where Murrie comes in. If you are a wine lover in the Triangle, you probably know him. For years, he sold wine at Chapel Hill retail stores, Southern Season and 3Cups, and worked part-time as beverage director at Lantern. Two years ago, Murrie and some partners started their own business, which focuses on Italian wines.
It was Murrie’s love and knowledge of Italian wines that led to a fortuitous connection that is making these fundraising events possible.
Murrie is friends with Alessandra Trompeo, an Italian native who has spent the past decade living in Durham and working as a cheesemaker. Trompeo’s father was a doctor who over the years amassed more than 200 bottles of wines from Italy’s Piedmont region – the focus of Murrie’s import business. A mutual friend brought Murrie and Trompeo together, and Murrie offered to help Trompeo figure out whether it was possible to sell the collection.
Willing buyers were not easy to find in Italy, where these wines are common. But when Murrie asked Trompeo about donating some wines to his fundraising cause, she was more than willing – in part because it would be a way to continue her father’s work in the medical field. Even after his death, his wine collection could help fund a medical breakthrough to help children with cystic fibrosis.
“I don’t bring flowers to the cemetery, but at least I did this for my dad,” Trompeo said.
Weigl: 919-829-4848 or email@example.com; Twitter: @andreaweigl