Gay Pride Month: Three openly gay winemakers tell their stories
In a communal “I Do,” Theresa Heredia and her fiancé were among other same-sex couples saying their vows in San Francisco's City Hall on Valentine's Day in 2004.
Outside the ornate rotunda, the thousands of couples waiting their turn to get a same-sex marriage license found themselves the object of disdain and celebration. Enveloped in the chaos, they were screamed at by anti-gay protesters while the local flower vendors gave them free bouquets.
And so it began, then-Mayor Gavin Newsom's rogue experiment in challenging the law with what he called his “moral authority.” Within six months Heredia's marriage license, along with those of 4,035 other couples, were annulled by the California Supreme Court. But Heredia says Newsom's bold move set the course for same-sex marriage to triumph in 2015, with the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing it in all 50 states.
For Heredia - now the winemaker at Healdsburg's Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery - it was equality that was at stake.
“In 2004 is when I first experienced inequality,” she said. “That's when it became personal. It became my mission in life to become active in all things equality.”
In celebration of Gay Pride Month, we tell Heredia's story, along with those of two openly gay vintner/winemakers - Brad Beard of Mercury in Geyserville and Joe Wolosz of Gentleman Farmer Wines in Yountville.
Their stories have a common thread; Heredia, Beard and Wolosz are upbeat about the progress of equality while their wineries are upping the ante, supporting multiple causes to benefit the LGBTQ community.
Theresa Heredia of Gary Farrell
The home page of the Gary Farrell website includes two icons - one for the OutAlliance and the other for the Human Rights Campaign.
Heredia says the icons are there to let people know Gary Farrell is a safe place for the LGBTQ community to visit.
“We are modern,” she said, “and today's modern is open.”
When Heredia tells her own story, she is just that.
“I came out in June of 2003,” she says. “I had never been with a woman before but I fell in love with a woman … I was in a relationship with a man at the time, and I had to tell him. It was very hard.”
Heredia, 49, says she's encouraged by the acceptance of same-sex couples in Sonoma County.
“Maybe the reason we don't come together as gay people in the wine business is because maybe we don't need to anymore,” she said. “Society welcomes us more openly today than it would have even a decade ago. Doesn't mean we shouldn't.”
Finding support in the industry, Heredia says, wouldn't be an issue.
“In terms of supporting us,” she says, “I can't think of a single winery in Sonoma County who wouldn't support us.”
Heredia sees a parallel between being gay and being a woman in the wine business.
“At one time it was - ‘How cool you're a woman in the wine industry,'” she said. “It's the same thing.”
A petite woman with dark hair and brown eyes, Heredia pours a glass of chardonnay and explains that there was a bit of serendipity in finding her way into the wine world. It was only when she met students from the enology department at UC Davis that she had this epiphany –– “Wine, peptides? It's all chemistry, but how much more fun is wine?”
A Ph.D. candidate for chemistry at UC Davis, Heredia quickly changed course in the summer of 2000 so she could earn a master's degree in enology and viticulture. Earlier that spring she had traveled across the pond to Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Rhone Valley, a delicious tasting spree that left her giddy.
“I had already fallen in love with wine,” she said. “I just hadn't realized it.”
Heredia spent a decade at Joseph Phelps in St. Helena beginning in 2002, with her later years at the winery's Freestone Vineyards. She said her mentor was Craig Williams, who was director of winemaking at the time.
“I call him my artistic and philosophical leader,” she said. “The hardest thing about winemaking is simultaneously the greatest thing and that's the unpredictability of the weather. I'm reminded every year that I'm not the boss. Mother Nature is the badass boss.”
Heredia joined Gary Farrell in 2012 and quickly learned that the winery had the same sensibility in supporting causes.
Gary Farrell has been a major donor for the Human Rights Campaign, and has also participated and donated wine for “Out in the Vineyard,” the Gay Wine Weekend in Sonoma, among other contributions.
Heredia is quick to show pictures of her wedding that was held on the winery property in 2016. She and partner Gilda Estevez, huddled in a rainbow American flag, were surrounded by a cheerful crowd of family and friends.