Thanks to COVID-19, it might be some time until we can gayly frolic through vineyards, sip chardonnay, and pose for Instagram. But that doesn’t mean we can’t go on a wine tour — from the comfort of our own homes.
With vineyards tucked into a backdrop of rolling hills, Sonoma County is one of the most diverse wine regions in the country. The area grows around 66 varieties of wine grapes, but seven varieties comprise more than 90 percent of the planted acres. Companies like Saperstein’s Out in the Vineyard and events such as Gay Wine Week are making it possible to access this wine wonderland virtually.
All you’ll need is your laptop, a cozy corner of your home, a glass, and the readiness to delve into the glorious world of wine. Virtual events like Being Black in Wine Country: A Conversation, Virtual Twilight T Dance, and Drag Queen Wine Auctions will transport you between the vines.
Saperstein’s LGBTQ+ event and travel company, Out In the Vineyard, which runs Gay Wine Week, began 13 years ago. At the time, Saperstein was in the restaurant business. Seeing a gap in the market where winemakers were not marketing specifically to LGBTQ+ folks, the company decided to cater to the growth of LGBTQ+ tourism and the uptake in his community of friends buying second homes in the region.
“No one was marketing to us,” says Saperstein. “Hello – the mecca of the Castro is only 45 minutes away from the region.”
Affable and energetic, I could feel Saperstein’s enthusiasm as he spoke of wine country and the LGBTQ+ community.
“I have always found the region to be gay friendly, even when wineries weren’t marketing to us,” he says. “I wondered at first if it were due to homophobia, but soon realized that it is because [the industry is] agriculture. They are farmers, not marketers.”
According to the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, some 75 percent of gays and lesbians were described as “current drinkers,” compared to 68 percent of bisexuals and 59 percent of heterosexuals. And lesbians out-drink gay men every time.
With statistics such as these, wine country was calling out for someone to tap into the LGBTQ+ wine marketing industry. The natural next step for Saperstein was to create the company Out in the Vineyard, “an experiential Wine Country Event and Travel company for out LGBTQ+ community and offering exclusive, luxury itineraries and events in Wine Country for the discerning gay traveler and our friends.”
For gay travelers in the region, connecting with a wine country insider such as Saperstein provides the best off-the-beaten-path places to visit.
“There are a number of ‘out’ queer winery owners, and vintners, who have a passion for wine,” says Saperstein. “The biggest trend at the moment [is] really the brands that are authentically marketing to our queer community.”
Now, in the midst of a pandemic, Saperstein had to get creative to bring new experiences to queer wine lovers. Cue: Gay Wine Week. Like the many other virtual events the world is seeing, the organizers of Gay Wine Week have some tips on what helps make a virtual event great.
Getting comfortable is the key. Saperstein recommends supporting local brands when you’re uncorking a bottle — or two — and ordering in or cooking at home.
The key for successful virtual events is immersion in every way you can. Order the same dinner or cook the same recipes as your friends across town. Send a loved one your favorite bottle of wine, that of course, you will also be drinking. By mirroring choices, you may find yourself feeling more connected to friends that you wish you were out in the vineyard with.
For the Twilight T-Dance he’s urging people to create their own dance parties.
“Get on Zoom and listen to the music and get up and dance,” he says. “We need that these days with everything going on. Just relax and enjoy!”
Saperstein himself will be opening one of his favorite varieties such as Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Grüner Veltliner, and Sauvignon Blanc — along with some Chardonnays.
Myself? Well, I think I’ll be opting for a local natural wine from my region: Felix Casper ‘s 2019 ‘Birdie” Cabernet Franc.
Register online now for Gay Wine Week.
Friday, July 17 — 6 p.m. (9 p.m. EST) The Colors of Wine Country
Being Black in Wine Country, a conversation with Black Vintners sharing their stories of working in a white-male dominated industry.
Saturday, July 18 —10 a.m. (1 p.m. EST) Virtual Wine Tour
Join us on our journey through Sonoma with visits to Chateau St. Jean Winery, WALT Wines, and Viansa Sonoma.
Saturday, July 18 — 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. (8 p.m. – 10 p.m. EST) Virtual Twilight T-Dance
Bring the signature event of Gay Wine Week into your home. It’s a Dance Party with DJ’s Corey Craig, DJ Christopher Berini, and DJ Pumpkin Spice. Ruby Red Munro, San Francisco’s infamous Drag Queen, hosts.
Sunday, July 19 — 10 a.m. (1 p.m. EST) Drag Queen Bingo, Bubbles, and Auction
Let’s have some fun and raise funds for Face to Face, the Sonoma County HIV/AIDS Network.