By Kat Black
Against a backdrop of majestic pink sky, the sun-drenched vineyards of California Wine Country are a haven of lushness. Deep hues of blue and green delight the eye in a mix of shadow and light, while the rich dark soil fills the senses transporting visitors to a place of peace and contentment.
Vine enthusiasts Gary Saperstein and Mark Vogler are no strangers to the allure of the vineyard; in fact, they have dedicated their lives to capturing the moments and experiences in a celebration that is drawing the LGBT community to their fabulous backyard in droves. From luxurious stays in five star hotels and exclusive behind-the-scenes winery tours to specially catered exquisite gastronomic experiences provided by some of the finest restaurants and private chefs on the grounds of privately owned gay estates, Out In the Vineyard, an experiential wine country event and travel company, has the goods.
Wander among the vines. Sit beneath the stars in a bubbling outdoor hot tub. Sip some of the finest pinot noir with artisan winemakers at their bucolic boutique tasting rooms. Dine on exquisite cuisine. Experience the luxurious amenities of wine country in an atmosphere of welcome acceptance.
Gary, a Sonoma local for the past 16 years, left New York nearly two decades ago for the beauty and quiet of wine country. “This is an amazing place to connect with other gay people,” Gary says. “After San Francisco itself, Sonoma County has the largest number of gay couples in the country per capita. When we told locals we wanted to market the destination to the gay community, everyone was receptive
and eager to contribute.” Gary’s passion for hospitality, cultivating relationships with many local winemakers, restaurateurs, and hoteliers, has given him a unique edge and insight into the luxurious and highly sought-after lifestyle experience.
Mark, a Sonoma County native, who spent his formative years working in a local winery, returned after ten years in the international business sector determined to bring his passion for his home, travel, and wine to the LGBT community. Having traversed all seven continents, his extensive global luxury experience makes him well suited to the unique endeavor. “When I returned to Sonoma my partner and I
happened to wander into the internationally famous The Girl & The Fig restaurant on the Sonoma Plaza for an after work glass of wine, where we met Gary, who was managing the restaurant. Recognizing “a member of the family” as it were, we started going to “The Fig” nearly every Friday as it was a “safe”, gay managed place to go with my partner, Brian – not knowing how Sonoma had changed in my 15 year absence. We spread the word to other gays in the Valley and Friday’s quickly became “Fridays at The Fig”.
So how did it all begin? “I was in technology and was recruited by Treasury Wine Estates to build their websites & online sales channel,” said Mark, the voice of the company who paired up with his pal to found Out In the VIneyard Radio, giving up the dish on LGBT world news, celebrity guests, gray travel hotspots and event for the LGBT wine love in Our Wine Country.
“Almost immediately upon joining the company I started getting phone calls and email from friends across the country asking “What wines support us (the LGBT community)? What wines are we supposed to drink?” and “I’m coming with my partner to wine country, what hotels and restaurants are safe for us to be out at?” This coupled with noticing that there was ZERO LGBT marketing by the wine industry….Beer and spirits had been supporting the LGBT community for 20 years, I found it curious that wine wasn’t targeting a demographic that is perfect for them – one that’s about lifestyle. Lovers of wine have more disposable income than their straight counter parts. After spending 4 years trying unsuccessfully to persuade Treasury to allocate some marketing dollars to target the LGBT community, I decided to do something to help my community navigate wine county. I approached Gary and we formed Out In The Vineyard.
According to Mark, the California wine country has gone through a dramatic metamorphosis in the last decade. What was once a rural, agricultural region has transformed into a premier luxury global travel and lifestyle destination. It’s the perfect vacation destination.
Growing up in rural wine country and coming of age in small towns, there was a decided absence of gay people with whom Gary and Mark could relate. Their only window into the LGBT world cast a negative light. Unfavorable images seen on television or descriptions by teachers, peers, and parents tained their perceptions. Like many other gay people born and raised in small towns, they ventured off to the
safety and anonymity of the city following high school graduation. Twenty years later, the landscape of Gary and Mark’s hometown had changed dramatically; Sonoma was now a premiere LGBT travel destination.
Their favorite event? Undoubtedly, Gay Wine Weekend. “Every Father’s Day Weekend, there are 3 days of LGBT events in Northern California’s magnificent Sonoma Valley. It’s home to some of the world’s most prestigious wines and wineries, and features the TWILIGHT T-Dance benefiting Face to Face, Sonoma County AIDS Network. In 2015, 600 gay wine lovers traveled from across the country and internationally at attend our weekend of wine and celebration.
Gay Wine Weekend has been awarded LGBT “Event Of The Year 2015” Editor’s Choice Award for Best In Travel by #1 LGBT Digital Travel Magazine, ManAboutWorld!
Out In the Vineyard itineraries range from three to six days and include visits to top wineries, meet and greets with the winemakers, stays at exclusive hotels and estates, private tastings, and superb meals. Immerse yourself in wine country and let your inner wanderer roam free to savor the luxurious lifestyle.