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Gay-friendly: Progress in the wine industry, but a long way to go



Years ago—it has to be at least ten—I wrote an article for Wine Enthusiast about the emerging gay market for wine, and how important it was proving to be. I was seeing more wine advertisements aimed at gay people, and a handful of wineries was reaching out to them, albeit quietly.

At the time, I knew quite a number of gay people in the wine industry, among them winemakers and P.R. folks, but they were mainly in the closet. The wine industry is generally a pretty open place, but there are pockets of conservatism, and many gay people did not feel comfortable enough to come out.

My oh my, how that has changed. As American attitudes towards gay people (and we’ve now expanded that to the acronym GLBTQ) have softened, the presence of gays in wine, always there but largely invisible, has become clearer. It is due to a generalized spirit of welcoming that inspired the wine community, but it’s also recognition that the gay community has a lot of disposable income—and gay people like to drink wine (according to The Daily Beast, Gay people drink 16 percent more than straight people”).

I’ve never been one to lump Americans, though, into separate-but-equal identity groups. It seems to me that, since we’re all in this together, we ought to find ways of association that transcend things like gender, race, religion, age, ethnicity and sexual orientation—even political persuasion, which sometimes can be the most difficult difference to bridge. But that’s idealistic, I’m sure; the truth is that we do tend to feel binding ties with people who are like us, and I suppose that’s good, as long as it doesn’t make us so chauvinistic that we forget that we’re actually tied to everyone.

I don’t think, even when I was younger (when such an event would have been unthinkable), that I would have gone to Out in the Vineyard’s recent Gay Wine Weekend, held in Sonoma County. And now, when I’m old enough to be most of the attendees’ father, I’m not sure I would have been comfortable had I gone. But I sure am glad Out in the Vineyard exists, and I’m super-glad that Jackson Family Wines, exemplified by La Crema, supports it. This company is strongly pro-GLBTQ, a progressive stance I wish more California wineries shared.

Some wineries feel that being too closely identified with GLBTQ issues—which remains contentious among some unkind people in America—will hurt their bottom line. The wine industry, like most industries, constantly keeps tabs on how it’s perceived. Wineries don’t want to be thrust into the position of being on the backlash end of a homophobic boycott, as Wells Fargo recently was when the celebrity-preacher, Franklin Graham, exhibited narrow-minded and hateful behavior in criticizing Wells for having the temerity to put on a gay-friendly T.V. commercial. Graham, who seems not to understand the direction of history, or perhaps just doesn’t care, no doubt instilled fear among some winery proprietors who, personally, have no problem with the GLBTQ movement, and might even privately support it; but who fear the wrath of a popular religious leader whose admonitions are obeyed by millions.

One can hardly blame wineries for being afraid of such pressure; I cast not the first stone. But it does make me even prouder of gay-friendly wineries, not only Jackson Family but also J, Windsor Oaks, Sebastiani, DeLoach, Francis Ford Coppola, Ravenswood, Gary Farrell, Iron Horse, Lynmar, Korbel, E&J Gallo and many, many others. That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that wineries (like most U.S. corporations) still tread exceedingly carefully using obviously gay people in their marketing and, especially, their advertising. Rev. Graham, and people like him, unfortunately have succeeded in getting their threatening message across: The stifling of free speech.

  1. Does Franklin Graham work for _The Onion_? His was a laughable effort at hapless homophobia. I certainly hope US wineries don’t choose to align themselves with such bumbling close mindedness. Sounds like this “religious” person hasn’t really absorbed the message of compassion and love his savior Jesus Christo attempts to deliver in the NT. With my blog, we definitely go on offense against homophobes in the fine food industry. For example, one of our local olive oil producers that went out of its way to post a “Yes on Prop. 8” sign with their business billboard will enjoy deafening silence from our site. Tell your wavering friends in the wine industry that we actively punish such losers. We don’t want to ever reap the financial rewards of catering to the least common denominator mindset of our stupidest fellow Americans. These intolerant douchebags should check in with that pizza joint in Indiana to see how hate tastes. Every foodie homophobe (!?) should avoid our index of exceptional, sustainable Central Coast food & drink that we freely offer via our site. Enjoy your Chick-fil-A, suckers.

  2. Bill Stephenson says:

    Rachel, I get the “Bumbling closed-mindedness” but you follow that with “losers”, “stupidest fellow Americans”, “intolerant douchebags”, and “suckers”

    Who’s being intolerant here?

    I recognize that my GLBTQ friends have worked very hard for equality. I also recognize that they were not alone in achieving that goal. For most straight people in CA it’s not an issue anymore. Can you do your job? Can you be a good neighbour? Are you fun to hang out with? These are the character issues that matter.

    Just as with the race issue there are two sides. During my time in the restaurant business in the 80’s I experienced Heterophobic behavior as most of my co-workers were gay or lesbian and some militantly so.
    When someone tells me I don’t understand their struggle, I agree. I don’t.
    When that same person sticks their finger in my chest and calls me names because of my sexual preference I point out their hypocrisy, just as I’m calling you on yours.

    “go on the offense” against people who express thoughts counter to your own?
    “Punishing” people who don’t agree with your agenda?
    You’re putting up barriers to dialogue with such a hard line

  3. I am happy to say that as a gay man who visits the CA wine country every other year or so, I have always felt welcome everywhere I went. I guess it never occurred to me that a winery should market to me as a sexual orientation, but rather that they should see me as a potential consumer, wine club member, and maybe even brand evangelist — just like everyone else who walks through their tasting room door. Perhaps the issue of homophobia is less central to the wine industry because homophobia was never a big problem to begin with. The fundamentalists who follow Graham are unlikely to be wine drinkers anyway, the culture of the wine regions in the US have always appeared to me to be pretty open minded and even encouraging of people who don’t necessarily “fit in” everywhere else, and everyone is so into the wine that there is little time to worry about who a person likes to sleep with.

    With all the problems facing LGBTQ people in the US, I would strike a positive note. While I certainly can’t speak for everyone, this gay wino has always felt welcome to visit, taste, and imbibe up and down the West Coast. Keep it up!

  4. Rachel, tolerance is a two way street. You represent a faction of the gay rights movement that causes it to lose many supporters. When it’s OK that tech executives are fired for disagreeing with you, but it’s not ok for a religious leader to defend traditional marriage, it’s obvious where the hate is coming from.

    Across the country hearts are being changed. You don’t have to bludgeon those who aren’t changing fast enough for you. And every time you do, your cause is set back.

  5. It is amazing to me that we are having this conversation. I came from a small town when I went to art school in LA. We had a couple of gays in high school and it was not a big deal, they were smart and they were quiet and probably scared. We all were harmless. When I was at art school I met many gay men and women. It was kind of mind boggling to meet a pretty girl that had zero interest in guys! The reason that I am joining in this conversation is that I found my new gay friends in art school to be the most interesting, polite, creative and intelligent of all my friends. From there I got into advertising in the Mad Men days as an Art Director for Max Factor and Revlon, again there were plenty of gays in the biz. I count myself fortunate that I had that experience and it has served me well as a label designer for the wine industry. Being gay is a non issue for me and as a straight guy I just am amazed that there are still people who are afraid and hate filled. Great progress is being made and I am really happy for that and relieved for my nephew who is gay and living now in LA.

  6. Dear Ed Penniman, thank you so much for your thoughtful post. It is wonderful to hear your memories.

  7. Dear Ed Penniman, thank you so much for your thoughtful post. It is wonderful to hear your memories.

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