People

Building a Community of Activist Wine Buyers

The Borderless Wine founder advocates for political consciousness and pushing boundaries in the wine business

Peter Weltman
Peter Weltman. Photo by Éli Zaturanski.

In 2016, Peter Weltman, a writer and consultant, and former sommelier, based in New York City, was at a crossroads in his career. He was grappling with the question of whether wine really matters in the larger conversations of today’s world. Two years later, he’s proving that it does. These days he spends his time traveling around the globe to discover and share the stories that he believes will change not only the wine industry but the world.

Weltman’s Borderless Wine movement encourages more adventurous and meaningful drinking by seeking out small wineries and native grapes, particularly from overlooked countries with difficult political and economic histories. Under the Borderless Wine umbrella, Weltman has traveled to the Republic of Georgia, Israel, Lebanon, and other lesser-known wine regions to research and write articles focusing on their underappreciated wines and winemaking cultures. He has also taken steps to physically bring these wineries into the larger wine world, hosting Borderless Wine symposiums in New York and San Francisco and importing wines from La Casa Vieja, a small producer in Baja, Mexico. —Courtney Schiessl

SevenFifty Daily: Tell us about your Borderless Wine project.

Peter Weltman: Borderless Wine is an initiative that was essentially born out of my personal journey—in wine and my life. While participating in the ROI Community Summit, through the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation, I sought out a way for wine to be part of the greater conversation surrounding global complexities and challenges. Upon learning about and visiting Cremisan Winery in 2016, a West Bank winery making wine from native varieties, I realized that wine can spark a real conversation and encourage people to think differently about the world around them. Borderless Wine is a mentality, a philosophy of approaching wine that goes beyond the typical cultural wine tropes, allowing wine drinkers to really be open to the places great wine can come from. I’ve had the opportunity to tell stories that shake up the way we think about the world; host symposiums that spark conversations about overlooked regions, wines, and grapes; and physically bring wines to the U.S. that make a statement and make a difference.

What is the issue you are trying to address?

Mental and physical borders are pervasive, not only in wine but in the world. Mentally, Borderless Wine should open minds to be more adventurous and challenge stereotypes of where great wine is made, and physically, it should act as an ambassador, a conduit for wines and wineries and grapes that deserve recognition outside of their home countries. This will empower the people who make these wines and further their access to resources, and in some cases, bring them closer to economic freedom.

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Who are the mentors who inspire you, and what have you learned from them?

One lesson that I often refer to is one I learned from Will Guidara, for whom I worked at Eleven Madison Park and The NoMad. Will’s philosophy was to promote people before they were ready. He believed that room for growth made individuals work hard and then exceed their own potential and expectations of themselves. This was especially true when he, along with chef Daniel Humm, gave me the opportunity to ghostwrite their cookbook I Heart NY: Ingredients and Recipes. I was not ready to take on that role, which is exactly the reason I did it. Today I use that lesson as a self-liberating litmus test, where I err on the side of calculated risk to bet on myself and those around me. I also have to count Lisa Granik, MW, the first Borderless Wine adviser, as one of my mentors; the work that she has done with Georgian wine was one of the first sparks of the initiative.

What has been your biggest challenge in this so far?

I’m seeking wine as it relates to some larger questions in the world. In doing so, I’ve found some stories that are amidst current conflicts. There are some very tricky narratives and stories to consider and work with. I’ve gotten very strong emotional responses to my writing, both positive and critical, but I invite the feedback and dialogue. I’m learning that anything worth writing should evoke something from the reader.

What has been your biggest achievement thus far?

My biggest achievement, really, relates to the people that have found my work and reached out to me because of it. My goal is empowerment, so the fact that somebody would find me and write to me in order to give feedback, ask questions, or look for ways that I can help them is incredibly humbling.



What is your favorite thing to drink?

Whenever I’m Greece, I end up drinking frappé—more than I care to admit. It’s this cold instant coffee drink that’s frothed together with milk. I don’t care if it’s a sweltering day in Athens, a day on the islands, or even at the airport, frappé is as delicious as it is guilty.

Which three Instagram accounts do you follow most closely?

I like to swap Instagrams with people that I meet while traveling. In fact, I find that I’m trading Instagram accounts as often, if not more, than Facebook exchanges. It’s a fantastic way to stay connected to what others are trying in their businesses. This past week while traveling, I swapped these three Instagrams: Vladimir Kojic, wine director of Gaggan in Bangkok, Thailand (@drula9). He is one of the edgiest and coolest wine directors in the world. Beckham Estate in Chehalem, Oregon (@beckhamestate). Jaime Carbo, a muralist in Rosarito, Mexico (@jimmycarbo). We have cooperated on a few projects since we met this year, including the wine label for La Casa Vieja.

Read more about Peter Weltman: Creating a Wine World Without Borders

Courtney Schiessl is a Brooklyn-based wine journalist, educator, and consultant who has held sommelier positions at some of New York’s top restaurants, including Marta, Dirty French, and Terroir. She has written for Forbes.com, VinePair, and Wine Folly, among other publications, and she is currently pursuing the WSET Diploma in Wines and Spirits. Follow her Champagne-fueled adventures on Instagram at @takeittocourt.

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