Vivianne Kennedy, the woman behind RAM Cellars, and Cristina Gonzales, the woman behind Gonzales Wine Company, both make malbec in Oregon — one of the lesser-produced varietals in state. It was how the two of them connected. But as they got to know each other, the winemakers realized that they had far more in common than grapes.
“As our lives started going through major life changes and chaos, we kind of just connected over malbec and trauma, commiserated over our experiences in the wine industry,” Gonzales says. “We leaned on each other.”
As two winemakers without tasting rooms, getting their wine in the hands of consumers has been difficult. Over the years, they’ve talked about creating their own tasting room together — one that both created a space for their wine, but also made wine as a product more accessible to a broader spectrum of drinkers. Now, Gonzales and Kennedy are doing just that at the soon-to-open Community Wine Bar. “It’s building a table, as opposed to saying there’s room at the table already,” Gonzales says. “This is really building something from the ground up, with marginalized communities in mind first and foremost.”
Community Wine Bar, set to open this August in South Portland, will serve flights from both RAM Cellars and Gonzales Wine Company, as well as a blended flight that highlights the common ground between the two wineries — both winemakers source grapes from similar regions in the Pacific Northwest. “Our wines really mesh well together,” Gonzales says. “We’re producing things that are really fun and innovative and creative, things you don’t see a lot in the Willamette Valley.”
Down the line, Community Wine Bar will also offer a guest wine flight from rotating marginalized winemakers, host pop-ups from other BIPOC and queer winemakers and business owners, and offer nonalcoholic options for those who don’t drink. “There’s a lot of talk about spaces being open and welcoming to all, but often that can be lip service,” Kennedy says.
The wine industry, like the larger restaurant industry and the culture at large, has struggled with issues related to its existence within a cis-heteronormative racist patriarchy. The wine industry is overwhelmingly white and male — at least 68 percent of winemakers are white, and at least 82 percent are male. Wine drinks are also overwhelmingly white — around 70 percent of total wine drinkers, according to a 2016 Nielsen study. Black, Indigenous, and winemakers of color have long discussed racism within the industry, and major sexual harassment scandals within the world of sommeliers and wineries have emerged over the years.
To try to make the space more welcoming, Gonzales and Kennedy are addressing a few clear barriers that may keep certain communities out of the tasting room. For instance, tastings will be available in English and Spanish, when Gonzales is in the tasting room, and will offer ASL tastings on set dates in the future; the tasting room will also offer wine education, in which Gonzales and Kennedy will offer guidance but avoid the trappings of a Eurocentric approach (leaning heavily on expected tasting notes or food pairings). Restrooms will be gender neutral and the space itself will be ADA accessible, with tables that can easily accommodate visitors in wheelchairs. Snacks at Community Wine Bar will include gluten-free options.
Kennedy and Gonzales also want the price point at Community Wine Bar to accommodate a wide range of drinkers. The bar will offer a three-wine, pay-what-you-can flight (with a $15 suggested price), as well as a $25 six-wine flight; glass pours will hover around $9 to $10 for white wines, and up to $15 for reserve red wines. “It’s important to me that no one is paying a full day’s wages for a single bottle of wine,” Gonzales says. “It’s really breaking down the barriers to the perception of wine as a luxury product. Wine can really be something that can bring people together, but it has to be accessible.”
Community Wine Bar is set to open Saturday, August 19 at 614 S Dakota Street.