Sonoma County winemaker Theresa Heredia cultivates equality: North Bay Pride Business Leadership Awards

A yellow equal sign against a blue background has proudly been on display on the website and social media accounts of Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery since 2015.

“It’s important for wineries to reach out to the LGBTQIA+ community, to be inviting, welcoming, and showing they are inclusive spaces. Wineries can do that by posting the equality symbol, the logo of the Human Rights Campaign, as well as the Safe Space symbol (an upside pink triangle within a green circle),” said Theresa Heredia, director of winemaking.

The Safe Space symbol signifies universal acceptance, support for LGBTQIA+ rights, and a work environment free from homophobia.

Heredia, among the winners of the Business Journal’s Pride Business Leadership Awards this year, said Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery ultimately wants all of its guests to feel like they can be their true selves while visiting.

“We want them to know that we welcome them with open arms. Our winery is located just around the corner from Guerneville, a well-known destination for the LGBTQIA+ community, and only a 90-minute drive from San Francisco. It seems like a natural progression that some of them would want to also take advantage of what wine country has to offer. We hope that Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery will be at the top of the list,” she said.

Heredia, who declined to share her age, said wineries can also show support by donating their time, funds or wine to nonprofits that support the LGBTQIA+ community. In addition, they can share their commitment via their marketing channels like social media and email lists.

Heredia said she and Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery further demonstrate their commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community by specific collaborations with the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that advocates for the equal treatment of LGBTQIA+ individuals and partners.

She and the winery have made financial donations to the nonprofit and hosted HRC events on the winery’s grounds. In addition, Heredia and other Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery employees have appeared at HRC events held in D.C. and other locations.

Heredia said it is important for wineries and professionals who work at them to welcome people of color as well.

“Diversity is just good business. Changing the visual imagery associated with the winery to explicitly invite guests of color helps. Right now Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery is working to change our visual image so our marketing materials, including our social media content and website, reflect that intention,” she said.

Heredia is a current member of the Sonoma County Vintners’ Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. The group formed in January and has been meeting over Zoom.

She is also passionate about her craft, the creation of pinot noir and chardonnay wines.

“Through my learned and developed style of winemaking, I create wines that are site-specific and food friendly,” said Heredia.

Heredia is originally from Pittsburg, California, and came to Sonoma County through a series of steps.

“I went to California State Polytechnic University San Luis Obispo for my bachelor of science in biochemistry. Afterwards, I briefly worked at Amgen. Then I entered the University of California, Davis’s chemistry program. I spent two years there before getting interested in wine and transferring to their enology program,” said Heredia.

She said assisting with a harvest at Saintsbury, a Napa-Carneros winery, was a transformative experience.

“My next step was to join Joseph Phelps Vineyards in St. Helena in 2002, always with a focus on their Freestone property wines. There I gained experience in creating Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. In 2006, I assisted with a harvest at Domaine de Montille in the Burgundy region of France. De Montille has a very traditional winemaking facility. This taught me to focus more on the site than the people making the wine,” she said.

In 2012, Heredia signed on as winemaker at Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery. In May 2021, Heredia rose to become the company’s director of winemaking.

“Working with excellent wine grapes from the Russian River Valley is key. When you source from the best sources from cool climates, and work with premier growers, you have the ability to pick grapes at slightly lower sugars. This captures the natural acidity needed for these wines,” said Heredia.

She said the pandemic presented numerous local challenges.

“In April 2020, I tasted blend trials at home to ensure the continued exceptional quality of our wines. In August 2020, we underwent mandatory evacuations due to the Walbridge fire. I set up a lab at home to process grape juice samples,” said Heredia.

Heredia said her message for winemakers is to respect the fruit and allow the vineyard to express itself.

Her message for advocates of the LGBTQIA+ community is to share messages of support.

“Individuals who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community can accomplish a great deal by working with one another and engaging with allies. Allies can support us by asking questions and getting to know people in the LGBTQIA+ community. The LGBTQIA+ community can encourage allies to actively listen to discussions about diversity, equity, and inclusion,” said Heredia.

She acknowledges that it is hard to break through the barrier and reach a point where individuals and businesses talk openly about equality.

“Once you start, though, you are pioneers. You are making a difference. This is a giant step away from where we were in the wine industry even just a few years ago. We are on the right path,” said Heredia.

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