Gary Saperstein and Mark Vogler of Out In The Vineyard – Spotlight on a Drink Careers 101 Project Advisory Board Member
We are pleased to highlight Drink Careers 101 Project Advisory Board Members Gary Saperstein and Mark Vogler, co-founders of Out In The Vineyard of Sonoma, CA.
When I first met Gary at a dinner party in 2011, I had no clue that it would lead to one of the most important articles that I have ever written, “LGBT Pride In Wine Country.” Gary and Mark are making waves throughout Northern California wine country, putting on events that are both luxurious and ridiculously fun, through their LGBT focused travel and event company Out In The Vineyard.
Through Out In The Vineyard, Gary and Mark have created two wildly popular events, The Big Gay Train and Gay Wine Weekend. They have also been champions of Face to Face the Sonoma County HIV/AIDS network, raising money through their annual Gay Wine Auction & Recovery Brunch. Whether it is through philanthropy or fun, these two are making a difference in California wine country. Check out the interview below.
How did you get started in wine country travel and events?
GS: I got my start in wine country tourism when I moved out here from New York in 1995. My first job was at the beautiful Auberge Du Soleil in Napa. This is where my education on wine country tourism began, and what an amazing place to start at, a 5 star resort hotel and restaurant! From there I became the General Manager of the girl & the fig restaurant in Sonoma where I also was the wine buyer for its unique, Rhone-Alone wine list. Both these establishments helped get my footing in the hospitality industry here in wine country.
MV: I got hooked on travel at 5 years old, when my parents threw the kids into the Buick station wagon and we started hitting all the U.S. parks every summer until I graduated high school. The international travel bug bit me at 17 when I was an AFS Exchange student to Germany. I would then say I became a “traveler” (instead of a tourist) on my first solo trip to Kenya in Feb 2002, right after 9/11. I wrote a blog about it called Contracting Wanderlust & My First Solo Adventure, Kenya 2002.
Why did you decide to start a wine country tour and event company?
GS: Out In The Vineyard began primarily for two reasons. One, I was seeing the growth of our LGBT community here in wine country and two, no one was marketing to our community. With San Francisco only forty-five minutes south of us, and a mecca for the Gay World, I couldn’t understand why the wine industry wasn’t working with this group.
MV: As a global traveler, I have traveled with both gay and straight tour companies and solo. I took my first all gay cruise in 2005 and for the first time in my life I didn’t have to look over my shoulder when my partner and I shared a lounge chair by the pool or held hands when we walked through the dining room. I have a straight twin brother and for the first time in my life I finally felt what it must be like for him to not even think twice about how society would react to whom he is with. It was a very “normalizing” experience. I wanted this at home in wine country.
Who have been your strongest influences?
GS: The strongest influences in my hospitality career have always been women! I have worked with some amazing women in the restaurant world, most recently with Sondra Bernstein, the proprietor of the girl & the fig. I have always worked well side by side with women.
MV: From a travel perspective, luxury travel companies like Abercrombie & Kent influence us. They have amazing access to people and places for their guests to experience that you can’t get with most travel companies. We wanted to offer the same kind of experience for the LGBT community. With Gary’s background in hospitality and restaurants and mine in travel and wine, we have the connections to offer exclusive access that LGBT travelers can’t get anywhere else in the world.
What advice would you give to a student considering a career in the beverage travel and event industry?
GS: I think the best advice to give someone considering a career in wine country travel and events is to work in all aspects of the industry. In the beginning take any and every job/position that comes your way. Learn from the bottom up and continue to meet people and forge relationships along the way. Those relationships that you make in the beginning will benefit you in the long run as your career progresses. Always strive to be the best in what you do and treat people with respect.
MV: It’s a lot of work. A LOT of work, but the rewards of the lifestyle and the people in the industry are worth it!
What was your best moment at Out In The Vineyard?
GS: My best moment for Out In The Vineyard is actually not tied to one specific event but to the combination of moments. Opening up this area of wine country to our LGBT community has been so rewarding while also opening up the wine industry to this market all the while raising funds for Face to Face, the Sonoma County HIV/AIDS network.
MV: When The Mayor of Sonoma, Ken Brown and the Sonoma County Supervisor, Valerie Brown, attended our signature event Twilight T-Dance and read proclamations from both Sonoma City and County proclaiming Sonoma City and County as “Gay Friendly . . . regardless of gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation.” Growing up in rural Sonoma County, I never would have dreamed to hear those words spoken publicly.
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