Every year since 2012, AZ Hops and Vines, a winery outside of Tucson, Arizona, has been producing about 20 cases of hopped wine they’ve named Drag Queen, because, as they joke, “it’s a wine dressed up like a beer.” They also hold a family-friendly release party for the wine every year with performers, food trucks, and a foot race, in which participants are urged to come in their “sexiest running heels.” It’s always a well-attended event, and it has always gone off without a hitch.
That is, until this year, when drag shows have come under increasing attack with at least 14 state legislatures proposing or passing bills targeting drag performances as part of a broader swath of anti-LGBTQ+ bills. An Arizona State Senator singled out a picture from the AZ Hops and Vines’ event of a drag queen high fiving a little girl, parents looking on, and posted it to her social media, calling out the winery for promoting the “sexualization and grooming of children.” The event had already occurred—with better attendance than ever before, for the record—but the winery received a slew of nasty comments on its Facebook page.
Amanda Haller, the wine club manager at AZ Hops and Vines, says the winery had considered not hosting its Drag Queen launch this year due to the current political climate, but decided to push forward, not just because they think the event is such fun but because, as she says, “we want to keep a safe space.”
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“We’re always allies,” says Haller. “We have a huge wall here that says ‘love is love,’ and we try to be safe and supportive. We never really had to defend ourselves in that way until this year, but we’re proud to stand by our beliefs and our event.”
The experience was harrowing for AZ Hops and Vines, to be sure—not to mention for the drag queen and the child’s parents—but they’re not the only winery committed to demonstrating their allyship. Some wineries and tasting rooms have also found hosting drag brunches, drag shows, or guided tastings hosted by drag queens to be a great way to get new faces into the rooms, and to broaden the idea of what a wine tasting should really be or look like.
Bringing New Faces into the Winery
Cass Winery in Paso Robles, California, had huge success this spring with its Drag Yo’Self Out Of Bed Brunch, which it held the Sunday of the Paso Wine Fest. Chanda Brown, the chief of marketing and business development for Cass, says she thinks the brunch could become a legacy event for the winery moving forward, calling it “incredible.”
“The best part was seeing so many owners of other wineries in attendance,” Brown says. “The support was awesome, and a lot of them were telling us they’ll want multiple tables next year.”
One of Cass’s staffers, the private event manager Andrew Macdonald, even got put into drag for the first time by two of the event’s performers—Miami Knight and RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Joey Jay—guiding guests to their tables at the brunch as Ms. Honey Buttah before taking the stage herself.
“I’m a bisexual person who came out of the closet when I was 18 years old and captain of the football team,” says Macdonald. “I grew up locally, and so to be able to bring this event to Paso and say, ‘This is who I am, this is where I’m coming from,’ is important. We don’t even have gay bars in the county anymore. We’re a small town. To bring a bit of the culture here was something that really hit home for me.”
Breaking Down Wine Tasting Stereotypes
“Once you bring a drag queen into any situation, people tend to relax,” says Beth Brickenden, a sommelier based in London and founder of Drag & Wine. “They know it’s going to be fun. We can do things like personifying a bone dry German Riesling with a drag queen, because it’s colorful, it’s expressive, and it’s aromatic. It’s theatrical and full of character, but then you have that super precise, vibrant acidity that you can associate with the wit of a drag queen. It’s an association that people understand and can relate to, and it helps us keep the balance of play and education.”
That’s part of why Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa, California, has brought in drag events, as well, teaming with THTR Productions to host several drag bingo events—two around the holidays and a Mommie Dearest-themed one for Mother’s Day. For them, it was a great way to reach out into potentially underrepresented parts of the community, but also to build community in and around their winery.
Colleen Patten, Paradise Ridge’s director of hospitality, says the first holiday drag event was an industry night, meaning many of the attendees came from nearby wineries, restaurants, and hotels. “For that night, we told the queen it could be X-rated,” she says. “We had such a fun night. I haven’t smiled that much in a very long time.”
The winery’s drag events have also been decent moneymakers, too, with ticket prices at or above $90. “For the holiday event, that included food stations, but for Mommie Dearest, we did stuff like wood-fired pizza and arancini balls,” says Patten, noting that the ticket prices also factored in the cost of the bingo prizes and the generous pours the tasting room did at the event.
Regardless of whether they’re in cities, suburbs, or out in wine country, there are wineries across the country embracing the art of drag. Waterbrook Winery in Walla Walla, Washington, is about to host its second annual Drag Extravaganza, complete with wine slushies and a charity component. Further west in Washington state, Chateau Ste. Michelle is bringing in Seattle-based drag performers for its second annual Pride Night Out, which also features a multi-course dinner with wine pairings. And in New Jersey earlier this year, queens from the tri-state area rocked the stage at Valenzano Winery’s first ever Queens & Wine Drag Show, proving that the pairing of drag and wine isn’t just a west coast phenomenon. Rather, it’s a way for wineries and tasting rooms to put their values on display and to open the doors both metaphorically and literally—and have a little fun in the process.
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An accomplished writer and editor, Marah Eakin has worked in entertainment media for over 12 years. She spent over a decade on staff at The A.V. Club before branching out into the freelance world, writing for publications like the L.A. Times, Vulture, The Strategist, Wired, Dwell, Current, and Kinfolk. Her beat is everything from Sundance to The Price Is Right.