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Sonoma’s Gay Wine Weekend back with a roar

For the first time since the pandemic shutdown, hundreds of people gathered on Saturday for the start of three days of frivolity for Gay Wine Weekend.

Held at the Chateau St. Jean Winery in Kenwood, the big party with dancing put on by Out in the Vineyard had been held virtually in 2020 and the number of days and participants was restricted in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re expecting 650 people tonight, and it’s open to all,” Out in the Vineyard owner and co-founder Gary Saperstein said ahead of the event. “That’s just what we need; more acceptance in the world.”

The Twilight T-Dance at Chateau St. Jean Winery in Kenwood, as part of the Gay Wine Weekend on Saturday, July 16, 2022 (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat)
The Twilight T-Dance at Chateau St. Jean Winery in Kenwood, as part of the Gay Wine Weekend on Saturday, July 16, 2022 (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat)

The signature event of the experience is the Twilight T-Dance, started by Saperstein in 2008; the three-day event started in 2011.

The dance and setting are described on the website as “Surrounded by rolling hills & vineyards with the sun setting and the moon rising above, a magical evening of memories are made here.”

DJ Ryan Kenney from Los Angeles played tunes Saturday night, while attendees gathered on the dance floor under a disco ball. Chateau St. Jean wine flowed, while two surprise pop-up performances occurred, Saperstein said.

One was by members of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus at the VIP reception held earlier in the evening, which featured the cuisine of Chef Chad of Classic Culinaire. The other was a performance by a couple of members from the Transcendent Theater Company, which is based at Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen.

The Twilight T-Dance at Chateau St. Jean Winery in Kenwood, as part of the Gay Wine Weekend on Saturday, July 16, 2022 (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat)
The Twilight T-Dance at Chateau St. Jean Winery in Kenwood, as part of the Gay Wine Weekend on Saturday, July 16, 2022 (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat)

“This is like the social event check-in,” said Bradley Robinson of San Francisco, who’d attended the event three previous times along with his husband and a group of friends. “There’s a winter event benefiting ‘Toys for Tots’ at the St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco and there’s this. I literally just saw someone I haven’t seen for six months.

“You cannot beat the venue — when the sun goes down the vines are behind the dance floor and the Chateau tasting room is behind you,” he added.

Wine Weekend benefits Face to Face, a nearly 40-year-old nonprofit in Santa Rosa that offers HIV prevention education and services to Sonoma County residents. Its mission is to end HIV in Sonoma County.

Local food trucks, Picazo and Taco Sagrado, were on hand and host hotels were The Lodge at Sonoma and the Flamingo Resort. A Drag Queen Brunch was planned Sunday, followed by a Closing Pool Soiree. Shuttles were provided.

One standout at the dance was two women, Nastassia and Tica, dressed in Samba costumes on stilts, moving to the music on the dance floor, and blowing bubbles from colored tubes.

Some took advantage of 360 Video, a photo booth company that allowed partygoers to jump on a small platform and dance while a video camera spun around them, “switching around from fast to slow,” said operator Josh Daniels, one of the owners of the photo booth company Giggle and Riot. At the end they received a video of their dance.

Everyone was dressed in casual summer shirts, many wore shorts, and the women mostly sundresses, as everyone squinted in the bright sun before it melted behind the hills. Some of the women were there to meet new single women like themselves and so far weren’t finding them.

Stilt walkers Nastassia Weit, left, and Tica Bonita, who live in the greater Bay Area, entertain the crowd at the Twilight T-Dance at Chateau St. Jean Winery in Kenwood, as part of the Gay Wine Weekend on Saturday, July 16, 2022 (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat)
Stilt walkers Nastassia Weit, left, and Tica Bonita, who live in the greater Bay Area, entertain the crowd at the Twilight T-Dance at Chateau St. Jean Winery in Kenwood, as part of the Gay Wine Weekend on Saturday, July 16, 2022 (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat)

“I come every year,” said Kathleen of Sonoma, who declined to give her last name. “I like socializing with my best friends and I want to meet new people. I’m single and 60 and it’s hard,” she said.

Katherine Allbright, also of Sonoma, said she was excited to get out and do something.

“It’s been so long since we’ve been able to do this,” she said. “You just can’t live like that. My friends and I are all vaccinated and boosted.”

People made reservations who lived as far away as Canada, as well as from states all over the country, including Louisiana and Wisconsin, Saperstein said.

One couple, from Dallas, Texas, signed up for the VIP package two years ago and were really enjoying the experience of wine tasting and just being in Wine Country.

“This is my first time here and it’s going to be a recurring visit once a year if not twice a year,” said Glenn Feitlus, who said he and his partner had a “beautiful dinner” the night before at the lodge’s restaurant, Wit and Wisdom, which collaborated with the winery Ashes & Diamonds. “This is more elevating than I expected.”

His partner, Bob Harbeson, said he has been visiting Wine Country for years and dreams of living here. But this year was his first time at Gay Wine Weekend.

“I always felt at home here, but being at a gay-sponsored event made me feel even more comfortable,” he said.

Saperstein, who said he suffered financially from the reduced attendance as a result of the pandemic, added, “It’s nice to be back in person. Also it’s good to be able to raise more money for Face to Face … It works our really well and I’m really happy.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kathleen Coates at kathleen.coates@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5209.

Kathleen Coates

Windsor and Cloverdale, The Press Democrat 

As someone who grew up in a small town, I enjoy covering what's happening in Windsor and Cloverdale, which are growing in their own unique ways.  I delve into issues by getting to know people and finding out what’s going on in the community. I also pay attention to animal welfare and other issues that affect Sonoma County.

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