Gary Saperstein, the founder of Out in the Vineyard tour and events company, has dedicated three decades to creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for the LGBTQ community in Wine Country.
The Sonoma resident launched his company in 2008 to help make Wine Country a destination for the gay traveler. At the time, he had been noticing a steady increase of LGBTQ people visiting and moving to the area, yet there was a lack of marketing directed toward the LGBTQ community.
“Here we are 45 minutes north of the Castro in San Francisco, and yet nobody is marketing to the gay community,” he recalled thinking. “I wanted to open up the wine community to ours.”
Out in the Vineyard’s first event, Twilight T-Dance, was hosted by Beringer Winery in St. Helena. T-dances, or tea dances, date back to 1950s New York, when it was illegal to dance with someone of the same sex and bar owners risked losing liquor licenses if caught selling alcohol to LGBTQ clientele. Alluding to the traditional tea dances in the English countryside, the tea dance was reconfigured in New York’s gay community as a format where gay people could dance together under the guise of enjoying afternoon tea. Later, tea dances turned into nightclub events and, thanks to Out in the Vineyard, Sonoma County eventually got its own t-dance, complete with disco music and local wine.
Out in the Vineyard’s inaugural Twilight T-Dance benefitted local nonprofit Face to Face, an organization that supports people in Sonoma County living with HIV and AIDS.
“I always knew when I started (Out in the Vineyard) that I wanted it to have a philanthropic arm,” said Saperstein. “I had lived here for almost 15 years and had never heard of Face to Face before Out in the Vineyard.”
Now also serving as Director of Development at Face to Face, Saperstein pointed out that, to date, Out in the Vineyard has raised over $400,000 for the organization through event ticket sales and auctions.
“The work now is focused on ending the HIV epidemic which is far from over … cases of HIV doubled in 2020 in our county and it hasn’t gotten much better this year,” said Saperstein.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Out in the Vineyard routinely organized winery tours, as well as customized day trips and extended stays tailored to visitors’ interests and preferences. The company also produced popular signature events like the annual Gay Wine Weekend, which attracts visitors from across the U.S. and has been named “best summer event” by Gay Travel Awards.
During the height of last summer’s pandemic surge, Out in the Vineyard pivoted from hosting in-person events to online events in the form of virtual wine tours, talks and hangouts. As Black Lives Matter protests swept the nation, Saperstein invited Black vintners to discuss virtually their experiences in the grape growing and wine industry.
As the county began reopening this summer, Saperstein planned smaller in-person events in lieu of the previously larger gatherings organized by his company. In July, Out in the Vineyard hosted a smaller Twilight T-Dance event at Chateau St. Jean Winery in Kenwood. Attendees, required to show proof of vaccination, enjoyed performances by San Francisco drag queen Ruby Red Munro along with Adriana Roy and Madison McQueen. A portion of the proceeds were donated to Face to Face.
“Seeing the joy and love of bringing people together again and being able to see and hug each other again — being with the community, has been really heartwarming,” said Saperstein. “Even though they’re smaller events, it really is what Out in the Vineyard is all about.”
Events planned by Out in the Vineyard this summer include:
Mix & Mingle at Macrostie Winery in Healdsburg — Aug. 22, 4 p.m.-7p.m.
Eco Terreno Wines in San Francisco at a private residence — Sept. 11, 6 p.m.-9 p.m.
To plan a winery tour or trip to Wine Country, visit outinthevineyard.com.