In 2020, Darwin Oniyx Acosta, a Culinary Institute of America graduate, garnered an internship from the Roots Fund, which was set up to bring greater BIPOC representation to wine. Their harvest experience at Napa Valley’s Dalla Valle was “amazing,” as they put it, but when Acosta, a queer, non-binary, first-generation Dominican person from New York City, went looking around wine country, they saw little that represented them, particularly in their LGBTQIA+ identity. That’s how they discovered their true intentions: community building in the wine industry.
A self-proclaimed connector, Acosta cultivated mentors who were working on inclusion: journalist Elaine Chukan Brown; Maryam Ahmed, the founder of Maryam + Company, Diversity in Wine Leadership Forum, and wine travel company Field Blends; and Stevie Stacionis, a cofounder of the Bâtonnage Forum for women in wine. They joined diversity efforts, including The Hue Society, for which they founded the Northern California chapter. Then, they started their own organization.
“I was venting to Stevie about how I wanted to see queer folks that work in wine gather and connect and know that there are people with similar experiences out here, celebrating themselves and facilitating representation,” recalls Acosta. The two happened to be blind tasting a co-fermented bottle by Florèz. Thus Co-Fermented, a creative vehicle for bringing community and visibility to queers in wine, was born.
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To further Co-Fermented’s mission, Acosta hosts Instagram Live Co-Chats with LGBTQIA+ wine pros like Black Vines founder Fern Stroud. They throw pop-up events, where they pour bottles by Camins 2 Dreams and other LGBTQIA+ producers, contributing proceeds to causes like the Zebra Youth, which serves queer and at-risk youth. After Hurricane Fiona in September 2022, Co-Fermented worked with Roxy Eve, the beverage director of The Chloe in New Orleans, to organize a fundraiser for Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, where natural wines were paired with Bad Bunny songs. Acosta spoke at TexSom about “what identity and story means through the queer lens, and what a wine professional can look like given that the industry lives in the binary.”
In each endeavor, Acosta has made space for underrepresented identities in wine country. Co-Fermented’s main event is the annual Cheers for Queers, combining queer-made wines with DJs, drag, and fashion. Taking place at Oakland’s Kinfolx this past June, with 29 producers poured it may be the world’s biggest queer wine fair—all from an organizer who is 26 years old.
“Oniyx is truly a changemaker,” says Justine Belle Lambright, the cofounder of Vermont’s Kalchē Wine Cooperative. “They have a clarity of purpose rarely seen in someone so early in their career. In our industry there is a serious void for community care, especially for LGBTQIA+ folks. Oniyx was able to see this, name it, and create a network of support.”
As Chukan Brown points out, carving out room for that diversity uplifts the industry as a whole. “The most powerful inclusion work opens opportunities not only for the LGBTQIA+ community, but also for all of us to feel more at peace in work spaces and in public,” says Chukan Brown. “Co-Fermented centers LGBTQIA+ community need, and it opens up more space for any of us to be at home in wine.”
Now back in New York, where they are helping support their family, working at the queer restaurant Hags and the inclusivity-focused natural wine bar Lise & Vito, Acosta has obtained 501c3 status for Co-Fermented and is building its board. They hope to fund a scholarship to make harvest internships easier on aspirants like them. They’re collaborating with [ABV] Ferments—its founder Jahdé Marley is also a 2023 Drinks Innovator— and networking in the East Coast’s burgeoning hybrid winemaking community.
“The hybrid scene has a lot of queer and BIPOC folks, and I want to showcase that,” says Acosta. “I feel like a hybrid in the industry as I create my way. Queer people have always existed, but we want to have our voices heard and our stories told through wine. For a long time, wine hasn’t felt inclusive, but it’s such a beautiful tool to bring people together.”
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