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January/February 2006 | Spin the Bottle

January/February 2006 | Spin the Bottle

Uncorking the wines and wineries that are going after your rosé dollar

Homosexuality and the grapevine have collaborated fruitfully for over 2,500 years (Sappho’s father and brother were prosperous wine merchants). Today, as industry stalwarts appeal to the rainbow demographic through niche advertising campaigns and contributions to gay causes, a crate load of gay and lesbian winemakers has planted roots in some of the world’s finest appellations. There’s never been a better time to take off for a wine tasting.

Bergevin Lane Vineyards, Walla Walla, Wash.

The Vintners: Partners Annette Bergevin and Amber Lane longed to escape the San Francisco Bay area corporate rattrap and return to Bergevin’s roots (the family settled in Washington state in the mid 1800s). They joined with Annette’s father to open their eponymous winery in spring 2003.

The Bottle: BLV’s reds, including the remarkable-value 2003 Calico red blend ($16), are butch (bursting with intense fruit and tannins) yet femme (silken as a Victoria’s Secret negligee).

The Tour: Pair wines with artisanal local cheeses in a converted downtown warehouse with wood beams, brick walls, slate floors, granite counters, and a fireplace. Call 509-526-4300.
Through the Grapevine: The remote and historic yet increasingly cosmopolitan farming community of Walla Walla is home to one of the world’s rising wine appellations.

Hahndorf Hill Vineyards, Hahndorf, South Australia

The Vintners: Larry Jacobs started one of South Africa’s pioneering cult -wineries, Mulderbosch, before emigrating in 1996 to Australia with “the other important ‘M’ in my life,” Marc Dobson. The couple began renovating this picturesque property in the Adelaide Hills in 2000.
The Bottle: The unusual rosé (AU$17 with tax), a blend of two rare German cultivars—Trollinger and Lemberger, is bone-dry and food-friendly, particularly with spicy cuisine or seafood.

The Tour: Their homey, historic wine cellar/residence resembles a contemporary library with a cask cleverly converted into a tasting bar, cushy leather sofas, and boldly colored artworks and furnishings. Call 011-08-8388-7512.

Through the Grapevine: On weekends they pair their internationally award-winning sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and Shiraz with regional specialties (venison with shiraz-fig sauce, green tea–marinated kid).

Rainbow Ridge Winery, Lake County, Calif.

The Vintners: Dennis Costa grew up on a contract vineyard in Lodi; partner Tom Beatty Jr. suggested making wines utilizing grapes from a vineyard owned by Costa’s cousin. Rainbow Ridge launched, literally out and proud, in June 2002.

The Bottle: Rainbow Ridge has released a trio of high-quality, low-price ($10), larger-production wines dubbed “the Fab 3”: Avid White, Flaming Red and Butch Blush (think L’il Abner-meets-Tom of Finland).

The Tour: Though the production facility is off-limits, the couple hosts groups (especially those promoting important causes) by appointment at their stylish Palm Springs abode, where Fab 3 murals dominate the living room. Call 800-834-6032.

Through the Grapevine: Their initial offering, which garnered raves, was an obscure hybrid red grape, alicante bouschet: “We wanted something different like us, like our community, to get attention,” quips Costa.

Hip Chicks Do Wine, Portland, Ore.

The Vintners: Laurie Lewis and Reneé Neely fell in love with Oregon’s wine country a decade ago, took viticulture courses, and in the fall of 1999 established a microwinery that captures their fun-loving, funky sensibility.

The Bottle: Titillating titles (Riot Girl rosé, Bad Girl blanc) and lascivious labels recall 1940s B-movie posters with deliriously dime-store pulp novel copy, but the Willamette Valley pinot noir ($20) is their truly serious wine (in their own words: “Imagine camping in a berry patch with a motorcycle mama. Smoke, berries, leather and just a bit sassy.”).

The Tour: The tasting room opened in August 2001 and is located in a restored warehouse with a rock garden in Portland’s industrial district, which is teeming with hip galleries (local artists also exhibit at the winery) and nightspots. Call 503-753-6374.

Through the Grapevine: Unique logo merchandise (2006 Wine Hottie Calendar, anyone?) available on-site and from their wild pink Web site.

Su Vino Winery, Grapevine, Texas

The Vintners: Combining years of corporate savvy, Patrick Nelson and Tim Weinheimer opened the Southwest’s first custom microwinery in 2003; it’s already the state’s 10th largest winery. Recently, Nelson and Weinheimer sold Su Vino to David and Chari Scott, a married straight couple who plan to keep the business gay-friendly.

The Bottle: Su Vino (“your wine” in Italian and Spanish) sources juice from multiple countries (Argentine Malbec to Australian Shiraz); the winner is the spicy white Gewürztraminer ($12 including tax).

The Tour: A cozy “general store” interior (wood beams, black tile floors, rotating artworks, vibrant mural of wine terms) and special events (live music, chocolate pairings) are the main attractions. Call 817-424-0123.

Through the Grapevine: Staffers explain the process while you taste the wines. To customize, you select varietal, oak type, and personalized label...then return after fermentation for the bottling.

Gundlach Bundschu Winery, Vineburg, Calif.

The Vintners: Though not queer-run, this sixth generation-owned winery in Sonoma County is notable for its maverick marketing, pioneering techniques, and respected out winemaker Linda Trotta.

The Bottle: “Gundy Bundy’s” balanced, elegant single-estate 2003 Rhinefarm Vineyard ($24) features crisp acidity and layered, lingering notes of white peach, pineapple, Crenshaw melon, smoke, lemon rind and spicy toasty vanillin oak.

The Tour: The 19th-century winery’s lovely grounds (including an olive grove, a pond, a 10,000–square foot cave, and an ivy-shrouded stone edifice replete with campanile and Greco-Roman statuary) often hosts picnickers at Shakespeare productions, concerts, and film screenings. Call 707-938-5277.

Through the Grapevine: Linda’s partner, Susannah Harris, keeps it all in the family as Chateau Souverain’s associate winemaker; the winery hosted their commitment ceremony.

Passalacqua Winery, Healdsburg, Calif.

The Vintners: Once industry giant Clos du Bois allowed her “to retire at 55” after 16 years, winemaker Margaret Davenport sought a “hands-on, less corporate approach” that permitted more time with her partner and their adopted Guatemalan daughter. Jason and Noelle Passalacqua immediately hired her for their boutique facility in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley.

The Bottle: Just released 2004 wines include the meaty Russian River zinfandel ($26), the Sonoma County Blend zinfandel ($25), and the stylish sauvignon blanc ($16). Of special note is the dense, supple 2002 cabernet sauvignon ($40).

The Tour: The winery boasts a romantic redwood-shaded deck, gardens, fountains, and tasting room brimming with 1930s photos of former family vineyards. Davenport would “gladly welcome [gay visitors] personally.” Call 877-825-5547.

Through the Grapevine: “Ironically busier than ever,” Davenport consults for other small wineries and inspires pinot envy with her superlative limited edition Davenport & Company Keefer Ranch Russian River pinot noir ($50).

Sebastiani Vineyards and Winery, Sonoma County, Calif.

The Vintners: After two decades of weathering Sebastiani’s family feuds (“think Falcon Crest minus makeup”) and his own melodrama (failed marriage, codependency counseling, painful coming out), winemaker Mark Lyon is finally being “discovered”; his unconventional techniques help fashion magnificent wines (particularly Bordeaux varietals) that showcase each vineyard’s unique terroir (soil, microclimate, etc.).

The Bottle: The sumptuous 2001 Cherryblock cabernet sauvignon ($225 for 1.5 liter) compares favorably to cult cabernets triple the price, while the silken 2003 pinot noir Sonoma Coast ($17) is one of the grape’s few truly fine affordable expressions.

The Tour: Sebastiani’s exquisitely renovated, groin-vaulted, colonnaded stone winery dating from the fin de siècle hosts historical tours, trolley tours, art exhibits, educational wine seminars, concerts, cooking demonstrations, and more. Call 800-888-5532.

Through the Grapevine: In 1981, Lyon foresightedly purchased an Alexander Valley vineyard, and he now sells prized grapes to Sebastiani, Chateau St. Jean, Passalacqua, and his neighbor José Zero (a gay Argentine who just started Laughing Raven Winery).

Piper-Heidsieck, Reims, France

The Vintners: Straight-run but hardly straitlaced, this classic yet cutting-edge house (founded in 1785) stresses passionate red in its marketing and design, and recently introduced rosé sauvage and cuvée sublime, packaged in chic pink and lavender plastic totes.

The Bottle: The fabulously fetishistic bottle for the special cuvée dressed by Jean Paul Gaultier ($100) features the designer’s gold-embossed signature and Picasso-esque sketch adorning a provocative crimson vinyl black-laced corset—it’s a collectible!

The Tour: Take a ride on automatic trolleys to explore storage caves built two millennia ago by the Romans to mine chalk for fortifications, then sip bubbly in the ravishing salons (often booked for commitment ceremonies). Call 011-33-03-2684-4344.

Through the Grapevine: Particularly worth toasting is Piper’s support of gay events: It’s the official champagne of Gay Pride Paris and the East Coast Gay Rugby Invitational.

Kim Crawford Wines, Te Awanga, New Zealand

The Vintners: Auckland’s gay and lesbian community always embraced this het-owned brand’s quality, value, innovativeness, and support of queer causes.

The Bottle: Founders Kim and Erica Crawford created the wittily un-P.C. pink wine, Pansy! rosé ($17), “a fruity little number,” to thank gay mates in Auckland’s hospitality industry who “provide a refuge…with style, substance and a rare fabulousness.”

The Tour: The striking postmodern barn visitors center also houses a fully equipped apartment with sweeping views of vineyards in the Hawke’s Bay wine country. Call 011-64-6875-0553.

Through the Grapevine: Bottles earmarked for the domestic and Aussie markets celebrate the original inspirations of Pansy! (a drag queen, for one), though U.S. export labels play it straight.

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