It’s harvest time among the vines of Sonoma County, just outside San Francisco.
And ripening alongside the grapes is a new concept that embraces the LGBTI loves of fine living, travel and, to be honest, drinking – Out in the Vineyard.
Gary Saperstein and Mark Vogler are drawing tourists and locals out of gay mecca and over the Golden Gate Bridge to spend some time in the birthplace of the Californian wine industry.
It takes a while to clear the city’s sprawling suburbs but soon enough field after field of pristinely-kept vines line the road.
They twinkle like diamonds and rubies, thanks to the tinselly ribbons tied to them to keep small birds off the grapes. But that’s not enough to scare flocks of turkey vultures who wheel around in a great blue sky, seeking out the small critters who are the vintners’ other enemy.
Gary and Mark have found huge friendship for gay wine lovers here and took us to visit three of the winemakers who have been among the most supportive of their LGBTI events.
We start our tour at the vineyard of a Hollywood celebrity. John Lasseter is famous for his Pixar animations but he and his wife Nancy’s other passion has also born fruit.
Wandering among their vines, we learn how the great quality of soil and the varying different microclimates of Sonoma allow them to grow a range of grape varieties successfully. Those needing warmer temperatures bask on sunny slopes, others are naturally air-conditioned by breezes coming through the Mayacamas Mountains.
The results are some impressive blends, particularly the Bordeaux-style combination of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. And, as you would expect from Lasseter, their charm is added to with whimsical names (L’Ame Du Sage; Soul of the Wise Man) and stylish labeling, created by their favorite local artist.
We stop for a picnic lunch at Muscardini’s, another boutique winemaker whose love of Italian varietals and skill at producing big, bold reds has won him medals at the California State Fair and elsewhere.
Gary and Mark have laid on delicious turkey, beef or portobello mushroom sandwiches – big enough to be dubbed manwiches – for us. But Muscardini also offers oysters, paired with wine, naturally.
With temperatures of 28C or 80F and a light breeze, it’s the perfect day to eat outside in the shade of the trees. Away from the vines, however, the countryside seems painfully dry and the riverbeds are nothing but a dusty rock channel.
The truth is that California is currently approaching a serious drought and the growers are praying for rain. The harvest should be fine this year, but without a proper soaking and with the risk of restrictions on water-usage, next year will be tough. In Sonoma County, we are told, natural rainfall is still sufficient to stave-off disaster, but further south, including in the world-famous Napa Valley, the risk is very real.
We are greeted by friendly poodle puppy Obi as we pull into the private home of magnificently moustached Robert and blonde bombshell PJ Rex.
Robert started brewing in their garage in Berkley 43 years ago but they’ve now lived in Kenwood, Sonoma Valley for three decades and have become gurus of carefully crafted wines.
The results speak for themselves, as you will taste if you try their fresh and sophisticated Cabernet Sauvignon or their out-of-this-world DRX, a Bordeaux-style Meritage blend.
PJ’s allergy to sulfites has encouraged their innovation even further. They now use a ‘clean wine’ technique which eradicates that problem and has two other major benefits. Firstly the wines produced are very stable so mature very well, they can be stored almost indefinitely. And, they claim, if you stick to Deerfield wine you won’t get a hangover.
Out in the Vineyard can help you discover the best wineries, restaurants and accommodation at any time. But Gary and Mark also offer a range of events and parties that grow in popularity every year.
The next highlight is The Big Gay Grape Stomp on 18 October – your chance to kick of your heels, strip down to your shorts and get crush those grapes in Napa Valley.
Visit the Out in the Vineyard site to find out more or to listen to their weekly radio show covering everything that’s happening in wine country, LGBTI news, celebrity guests and travel tips.
And you can find gay travel information about Sonoma County here.
We flew to San Francisco from Frankfurt, Germany on board Lufthansa’s A380. The business class is being refitted to offer completely flat-bed seating, perfect for catching up on your rest after partying in San Fran and dodging the jetlag. Premium Economy is also being revamped with extra legroom and other upgrades.
From Frankfurt Lufthansa offers connecting flights all around Europe and beyond.