DAYTON, Ore. — Remember the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game?
The theory was that everyone in Hollywood was connected to Kevin Bacon via six connections. When I worked for Hope Moore at her Heaven’s Cave Cellars in Prosser, Wash., we had a Barbera named Two Degrees because a shared love of wine reduced the degrees of separation between people to two steps.
I was reminded of that phenomenon during this year’s second annual Queer Wine Fest, staged June 25 at Remy Wines in Oregon’s Dundee Hills.
Having organized and thrown more than a few wine festivals during my career in guest services, I can say Remy Drabkin and her team deserves major kudos for a highly organized celebration. Pinot Car Wine Tours provided transportation. The eclectic and fun Vintages Trailer Resort offered a festival rate. Parking and check-in were a breeze.
The Remy Wines campus includes large grassy areas to stroll or sit on a blanket under mature and cared-for shade trees to offset the summer heat. Winemakers poured at tables throughout, and music duo Camp Crush played for happy people sporting rainbow everything.
Added features included an impressive charcuterie station and passed appetizers, including gluten-free/vegan options. Indeed, QWF is a celebration of expression where being yourself is safe and being different is supported. Everyone I met was friendly and chatty, and I found three particularly fascinating people.
Sara Garr of Circadian Cellars
Sara Garr in Medford produces wine with the Quady North team and for her own brand, Circadian Cellars. I was drawn to her station by her Chenin Blanc, which is a star in France’s Loire Valley and regaining acclaim in the Pacific Northwest thanks to the work of historic L’Ecole N° 41 in the Walla Walla Valley and folks such as Sara.
She has participated in the first two QWF. She appreciates that the festival brings media coverage and sales opportunities while offering an affirming and positive vibe where diversity is embraced and celebrated.
Sara is adopting a new trend in retail, calling it “ultra-direct to consumer.” Rather than the traditional/expensive tasting room model, her approach will be a mobile tasting room — either a retrofit 17-foot box truck or Winnebago — bookable for popups, events and festivals.
Circadian Cellars began in 2016 with $300 and small lots from the high-quality fruit available throughout Southern Oregon’s micro-climates. She describes her winemaking style this way, “Once you understand the science of winemaking, it’s more like you are setting up this beautiful fruit for success. Like parenting, you don’t want to do too much, but you’re ready for any needed corrections.”
Vivianne Kennedy of RAM Cellars
Another star is Vivianne Kennedy of RAM Cellars. Viv started Ram Cellars in 2014 in southeast Portland, focusing on natural/ low-intervention wines. She works with varietals often used for blending as well as aromatic whites. She values the atmosphere surrounding the Queer Wine Fest.
“I am re-energized to be myself,” she told me. “It reminds me to ‘show up’ because there are a lot of people that show up for me.
“I do so many events where I am the lone exception in my demo — to be in that space is a special feeling. A feeling of peace and comfort,” she adds. “Not having to allocate energy to being safe makes it so much lighter and easier.”
Viv believes more support of workers can be shown by wineries, which have been slow to move away from the model of “intern them and wish them well.” It’s a term that refers to the employment cycle surrounding harvest — where interns and cellar workers are hired temporarily to meet demands of the season, but rarely offered a permanent spot.
She also wants to create a safe space for queer and trans folks where interns are paid well and have a path to staying with the brand after harvest. RAM Cellars wines are distributed along the West Coast, and a portion of proceeds go to agencies supporting trans people — including The Q Center in Portland.
She and business partner Christina Gonzalez opened Community Wine Bar in Portland not long after QWF 2023. They take pride in offering accessibility and inclusivity to all visitors. For example, visitors can communicate in English, Spanish and American Sign Language.
Fah Sathirapongsasuti of Sunset Cellars
Another rising star is Fah Sathirapongsasuti of Sunset Cellars in Fairfield, Calif. His sparkling Sauv Blanc is a treat with tropical fruit aromas complemented by fine bubbles within a bright structure. Fah told me he met Remy in the Bay Area at an event called Cheers to Queers, hosted by CoFermented.com. There, she invited him to participate in her Dundee Hills festival.
“Both festivals were celebrations of winemakers and the community,” he says. “It’s heartwarming to be among peers, to build a professional network of people who understand the same issues.”
Fah is Thai-American, a graduate of Stanford who earned his doctorate at Harvard. He jokes that his “wine life” begins at 2 p.m., when his job as a geneticist wraps for the day. His husband is an executive in the food industry. When they met 15 years ago, Fah didn’t drink.
Then, they visited Napa and became friends with the owners of Sunset Cellars. They found many things in common, such as heritage, level of education and wines they loved. After years of friendship and mutual support, the business was passed on; now Fah and his husband are carrying on the legacy and style of the house.
Their mantra is “Seek to understand each other and have respect.”