The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us? -Dorothy Day
I don’t equate wine with activism, but in the hands of producers and business partners Matt Grove, Jim Obergefell and Michael Volpatt and a growing list of premier Napa & Sonoma winemakers, wine is both a celebration of milestone civil rights victories and social advocacy. Equality Wines are a history lesson in a bottle, with releases commemorating pivotal civil rights decisions and events that represent progress in the fight for civil rights in the United States. The wines also acknowledge industry history, with a Suffragette series showcasing female winemakers and a Wines Without Borders series featuring immigrant winemakers.
Equality Wines co-founder, Matt credits his aunt, Dr. Marilyn Schultz, as his inspiration for creating a family of social impact wines. Dr. Schultz was a pioneer in the fight for Women’s Equality, initiating the first class action lawsuit to address equality in opportunity and pay for women. Equality Wines first wine was inspired by co-founder and LGBT activist, Jim Obergefell and his late partner, John Arthur. Jim was the lead plaintiff in the Obergefell v. Hodges case that resulted in the historic 2015 Supreme Court same-sex marriage decision. In their early conversations, Matt recognized Jim & John’s story was essentially a love story; that realization and the Court’s ruling in Jim’s favor lead to the development of the “Love Wins” sparkling wine.
Six wines are currently available or in production, with release scheduled for 2017. The wines represent three broad aspects of equality: LGBT, women’s and immigrant rights. The LGBT series includes Love Wins, The Decision and Stonewall labels. The women’s equality or Suffragette series will include a white and red under the 19th Amendment label, commemorating the 1920 amendment to the constitution granting women the right to vote. The Wines Without Borders series will launch with a will showcase immigrant winemakers.
Launched to commemorate the first anniversary of the Court’s 2015 marriage equality decision, “Love Wins” is a Sparkling Rose Cuvee (70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay) made in partnership with Joy Sterling at Iron Horse Vineyards. A family-owned winery located in the Green Valley appellation of Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley, Iron Horse is the choice of both Presidents and progressives and has been classified as one of 250 iconic American brands. Iron Horse’s sparkling wines have been served at the White House since 1985, marking occasions including the end of the Cold War and the Millennium. Iron Horse’s Rainbow Cuvee was served at LGBT events at the White House in 2014 & 2015. The second wine in the marriage equality series, The Decision, is a 100% Russian River Valley Pinot Noir of the 2014 vintage, crafted by Giusti Ranch’s Kurt Giusti. This wine earned an “Outstanding” 90+ Score from Wine Enthusiast; the Ranch’s 2013 vintage earned 94 points from Robert Parker. Scheduled for launch in Fall of 2017, Stonewall will be a Cabernet Sauvignon. The first wine in the Suffragette series will be a Sauvignon Blanc crafted by Alison Doran, an award-winning veteran winemaker who was one of the first women to make wine in California.
Approximately 20% of proceeds from the sale of the labels are donated to related causes. For example, sales of Love Wins, The Decision and the forthcoming Stonewall labels support national and regional LGBT organizations including the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and The GLBT (Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender) Historical Society of San Francisco. For every bottle of wine sold in the Suffragette series, $2 will be donated to the League of Women Voters. Donations from the Wines Without Borders label will go to support immigrant rights programs and organizations.
There are lessons to be learned in these stories: patience, perseverance and a willingness to take a stand on a divisive issue. But there’s something else I see at play. Listening to the conversations Matt related about the development and continuing evolution of the company and winemaker partnerships, what I hear is a commitment to equality that is open-hearted and inclusive. For example, a winemaker who was originally tapped to create a wine for The Decision provided perspective that lead to development of the Wine Without Borders series. It was a breakthrough moment for Matt, who realized that “when your cause is equality, you can have an impact on a lot of people.” In the people Equality Wines celebrates, I’m reminded of poet-novelist Julia Alvarez’s concept of coming to courage. That is, that ”we become brave, almost by accident...in small incremental steps, little moments and challenges we all face every day or our lives.” And, as she emphasized in a recent reading, it is *Still* Time for the Butterflies.
Love won this round. However, the slim margin of victory in the Obergefell v. Hodges case (5-4 decision), the appointment of “originalist” Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and the Trump administration's regressive policies and policing suggest the debate on is not over - for women, LGBT people or for any aspect of civil rights. In celebration, Equality Wine’s labels also serve as a reminder that the truths - and associated rights - that we hold as self-evident are a socio-political construct that requires ongoing education and engagement.
How do we change hearts and minds? In order to have an impact on social issues, we have to be willing to engage in difficult conversations. What I find captivating about wine as a medium of social change is that is sets the stage for a critical mindset shift. As Matt notes “wine changes the conversation. We start celebrating our differences rather than fighting over our differences.” Perhaps we can, as Matt suggests, change the world one glass at a time.
Equality Wines are produced in annual limited releases of 200 cases, available online and in their Guerneville (Sonoma County, CA) tasting room, scheduled to open June 26, 2017, on the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision.