WASHINGTON - "Wine is the possibility to put our message before the world. We want young women of Georgia to believe in themselves and know they can do their own thing and earn their freedom," says Gvantsa Abuladze, who makes wines with her sister, Baia, in the Imereti region of Georgia.
"My winery is named Ses'fikile, which means 'We have arrived.' It speaks to the arrival of women in a space traditionally reserved for men," says Nondumiso Pikashe, a winemaker in the Paarl region of South Africa. "And also the arrival of the peoples of Africa. It's a sense that we can rewrite history, that we can walk the road less traveled."
"Wine builds community," says Tara Gomez, a member of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians in Santa Barbara County, recognized by the California legislature as the first Native American winemaker in the Golden State. Gomez and her wife, Mireia Taribó, make wines under their Camins 2 Dreams label and mentor young women who are Black, Indigenous and people of color exploring careers in wine. "They see people like them making wine, and they feel anything is possible," Gomez says.
These are just a few winemakers represented by a visionary new label called Go There Wines, launched in late June by Washington, D.C., restaurateur Rose Previte, her husband, former NPR host David Greene, and their friend, social impact entrepreneur Chandler Arnold.
Go There Wines is an online venture designed to give a platform and a megaphone to winemakers who have had trouble being heard. This isn't about wine as fermented grape juice, Chateau This or Terroir That. It's about history, community and a belief that we can bring the world together through a common love of wine.
In that way it's an extension of Previte's restaurants, Compass Rose and the Michelin-starred Maydan, two gastronomic celebrations of the power of food to create community across political and ethnic divides. It's a perspective Previte gained traveling across Russia, the Caucasus and the Middle East with Greene when he was the network's Moscow bureau chief from 2009 to 2012.
Previte had the idea for this venture during the early weeks of the covid pandemic, when restaurants were shut down and scrambling to survive by selling off their wine inventories at deep discounts. Even then, she stuck to her ideal of wine, like food, as an agent of social impact. "We sold only Georgian and Lebanese wines," she says, "because I still wanted to help those winemakers."
At the same time, the wine industry was being savaged for its lack of diversity in the context of the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements. Online wine sales rose from a trickle to a boomlet as consumers became accustomed to buying everything online. Previte saw an opportunity.
"Look at the wine industry, and you'll see how it is still dominated by Western Europe and - no offense, Dave - White men," Previte explained during a phone call from Chicago, where she had attended the James Beard Foundation awards ceremony. Maydan was nominated this year for outstanding wine program.
"Wine's politics and hierarchies, its geography and its wars are all European and male-centric," she continued. "So we reached out to marginalized winemakers - refugees, women of color, women all over the world who don't have access to the U.S. market."
As Arnold told me a week later at a launch event at Maydan restaurant, Go There Wines aims to elevate "folks who have been left out of the conversation for too long," and who have been "undercapitalized and underrepresented."
Profits from Go There Wines will be shared with the winemakers, who benefit from guaranteed sales and marketing by Go There. But this is not just a business to make profit. It also wants to make change. Previte and her partners want us to "go there" - not just by traveling to see the world, but also in conversation. How often do we hold back, saying "Don't go there"? These wines are meant to expand our conversation beyond our normal, limited horizons.
And that's part of the attraction for their winemakers, who include Abdullah Richi, a Syrian refugee forced by war to make wine in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. The label on his pet-nat of pinot noir explains his dream: "I will make wine in Syria again."
"This wine celebrates all matriarchs," Pikashe says on the label of her sparkling cinsault.
"We fell in love making wine," Gomez and Taribó proclaim on their syrah from the Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara, Calif., as if every sip we take renews their vows and celebrates their union.
"Winemaking is freedom; a value we never take for granted in our country," the Abuladze sisters state on their amber wine made from Georgia's indigenous krakhuna grape variety. The label on their light, refreshing red from the dzvelshavi variety is even more emphatic: "Men have been making wine in Georgia for 8,000 years. It's our turn."
Do I even need to tell you these wines are delicious?