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Gary Saperstein goes big and solo with the 2019 Gay Wine Weekend

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Gay Wine Weekend

For tickets and more information, visit outinthevineyard.com.

Gay Wine Weekend is almost sold out and Gary Saperstein, the entrepreneur who launched the event 11 years ago, is optimistic and thoughtful as the LBGTQ community pours into the Valley of the Moon for four days of fun events.

“We still face discrimination and homophobia every single day and until that ends we need to bring our community together and celebrate who we are,” he said.

The highlight of the weekend is Saturday night’s Twilight T-Dance at Chateau St. Jean Winery with 650 tickets already purchased. While about 60 percent of the attendees are Bay Area-based, people from throughout the U.S. and Canada will be there.

This is the first year Saperstein is alone at the helm, having taken over Out in the Vineyard, the event and travel company he previously owned with business partner Mark Vogler. Saperstein has added a drag queen performance “to mix it up” at the Sunday’s Recovery Brunch, a fundraiser for Face to Face, Sonoma County’s HIV/AIDS network. There is also a new comedy event on Thursday night at Deerfield Ranch Winery.

Gay rights have been brought to the forefront in Sonoma recently, ignited by a homophobic social media post made by Stacy Mattson. The post, originally made in 2015, went viral last April after a Sonoma Index-Tribune story pointed out that she and her husband Ken Mattson have spent $80 million purchasing 26 properties in the Valley during the past three years, including Sonoma’s Best, Ramekins culinary school and event center and Cornerstone. There was a backlash against the Mattson’s anti-marriage equality views, highlighted by online posts, letters to the editor and public comments.

“I am hopeful in this situation that maybe they will start to evolve in their thinking,” Saperstein said of the Mattsons. “They are religious conservatives and I know their faith does not allow them to support marriage equality and our gay lifestyle, but I really hope that in seeing the feedback and comments they’ve received maybe, little by little, they’ll change their thinking.”

A new Out in the Vineyards event, Pink Sonoma Saturday, was held at Ramekins after the uproar. The previous owner had donated the space, and Saperstein noted that the Mattsons honored the commitment, allowed the gay event to take place and that they were very cooperative. There have also been gay weddings held recently at Ramekins, he said.

Saperstein, however, will continue to boycott Mattson businesses. “In some ways I feel bad because I want to support their employees who live here, but I can’t spend money in a place that in the end a little of it goes into the pot of people who don’t believe in equality.”

Mattson-related controversy aside, Saperstein sees Sonoma as overwhelmingly gay-friendly. “We are part of the community in every way. And we are fortunate that we are accepted,” he said. He moved to Sonoma from New York City 24 years ago, working first as the restaurant manager for Auberge du Soleil in Napa and next managing the Girl and the Fig restaurant for 10 years before leaving to devote his fulltime energy to Out in the Vineyard. He recently accepted a post as the development director for Face to Face. Over the years the Gay Wine Weekend brunch and auction has raised $325,000 for that organization.

“I am amazed and appreciative of the generosity of the wine industry,” Saperstein said, saying he has received many, many wine donations for the auction lots. “They believe in the cause,” he said.

Gay Wine Weekend

For tickets and more information, visit outinthevineyard.com.

He and Vogler came up with the idea for a gay wine country event in 2008, noting that the gay wine market was a niche nobody was addressing at the time. “Here we are 45 minutes north of Mecca, the Castro, the gay capital of world, and no one in the wine industry was really talking to us.”

They held the first Twilight T-Dance at Beringer in Napa and with very little publicity attracted 300 people. “So we said, ‘Let’s do it again.’”

For the following three years, the event was held at Atwood Ranch, then Buena Vista; this is the fourth year Chateau St. Jean is the major sponsor. Every year it has grown, morphing into an entire weekend eight years ago with more events and winemaker dinners added every year.

For Saperstein it’s all about being supportive of the gay community, as is his radio show. For six years he’s hosted a KSVY spot on Thursday nights where he talks about what’s happening in the gay world nationally and locally. “It keeps me so in touch,” he said, as he reads gay publications extensively to be able to do his reporting.

He has two motivations that keep him doing the show. “One is that if there is anybody out there who thinks they’re all alone they can turn on the show and find out there are gay people out there just like them,” he said. The other is remembering that his mother and his father each had a gay cousin “who had to fight their whole lives to be their true, authentic selves. I think of them and hope that they would be so proud a show like this could be happening.”

And think how thrilled they would be at the notion of an entire Gay Wine Weekend? They would, no doubt, be so proud of Saperstein, who doesn’t mind it being known that he’s currently single.

“I’m available for dates,” he laughs. And busy though he’ll be, might even like to be asked to dance at the Twilight T-Dance.

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