: Zachary Goff

Out in the Willamette Valley With Winemaker Remy Drabkin

This passionate civic leader is a driving force behind LGBTQ+ events in Oregon wine country.
August 30, 2023

You might say Remy Drabkin has had wine in her blood since she was a young child. “I’ve always wanted to be a winemaker,” she says, “even back when I was 6 years old.”

The founder of Remy Wines and current mayor of McMinnville, Drabkin is a leading organizer of the Willamette Valley’s Wine Country Pride, which sponsors events and raises funds for LGBTQ+ organizations. In 2006 she fulfilled her lifelong dream and established Remy Wines in a dapper early-1900s farmhouse in the Dundee Hills, about 10 miles from McMinnville. The eco-consciously designed winery is known for its innovative spirit and vibrant, Italian-inspired blends. Here’s how to visit the winery and participate in some of the many initiatives supporting queer winemakers and their allies.

Photo of woman holding wine bottle and wine glass in a doorway
Remy Drabkin, courtesy of Foundry503

From Picking Grapes to the Mayor’s Office

Drabkin grew up around some of the valley’s most renowned vineyards. “My parents’ friends were a lot of the founding pioneers of the Oregon wine industry,” she says, fondly remembering the community spirit fostered by this close-knit social circle. “We would show up to help pick fruit.” 

This supportive community also fostered a sense of civic engagement in the young woman, and her parents would take her to volunteer making calls for diversity initiatives as early as middle school. This passion eventually led to stints on the McMinnville Planning Commission and McMinnville City Council. In November 2022, she was elected as mayor of the city. She has also served on the Oregon Wine Board of Directors and has played a crucial role in city committees on affordable housing and on diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Celebrate Wine Country Pride Year-Round

In 2020, concerned about the lack of access to queer community spaces and events in the Willamette Valley, Drabkin and other LGBTQ+ locals and allies came up with a plan to create a Pride celebration. “A bunch of us got together and threw a fabulous COVID-safe outdoor event at Remy Wines,” she recalls.

Now known as the WCP Street Fair and held in downtown McMinnville, this all-ages and pet-friendly annual gathering takes place in late September and features local art and food vendors, music and dancing, community organizations, and more. 

Wine Country Pride has been so enthusiastically received that it now hosts inclusive events throughout the year, including drag shows and a fabulous Winter Ball in mid-December at Carlton’s Abbey Road Farm. At Rainbow Quest — a monthlong June Pride Month campaign during which more than 50 Willamette Valley businesses each sell a special product — proceeds help to support the festival and its many charitable initiatives. Check the online calendar for details on all their events.

A dog wears rainbow glasses, collar and bandana
The Pet Pride Parade is part of Wine Country Pride's celebrations in September. Courtesy of Wine Country Pride

Experimenting with Wine Varieties

Still eager to find ways to forge alliances and promote inclusivity, Drabkin organized Queer Wine Fest in 2022 with the aim of “elevating and giving a platform to queer producers who contribute to the world of wine.” This gathering occurs during June at Remy Wines and brings together around 20 LGBTQ+ owners, makers and vineyard managers from throughout the United States. The public can come and enjoy food and music, and sample some of the world’s finest queer-made and queer-grown wine, including Bryn Mawr Vineyards in Salem, Elk Cove Vineyards in Gaston about 20 miles north of McMinnville, Hip Chicks Do Wine in Portland and Westrey Wine Company in McMinnville.

“One thing I’ve noticed is that queer winemakers tend to experiment a lot with unusual varietals,” says Drabkin. Indeed, Remy Wines differs from the Willamette Valley’s many pinot noir-focused vineyards by focusing primarily on northern Italian grapes — think sangiovese, nebbiolo, lagrein and dolcetto — crafted in the 5,000-square-foot winemaking facility next to the farmhouse.

Guests can sample the winery’s vibrant, Italian-inspired blends in the cozy, warmly lighted tasting room or outside on a tree-shaded lawn that’s often the site of special events, from opera performances to picnics.

Two women hold wine glasses at lawn gathering with other people in background
Queer Wine Fest, courtesy of Aly M. Winstead

Tastes to Savor in McMinnville and the Willamette Valley

With its booming restaurant and tasting-room scene, McMinnville is not only one of the Willamette Valley’s premier destinations for wine lovers but also an increasingly vibrant hub of diversity. “You could spend a whole week in town trying all of the amazing places to eat,” says Drabkin, who mentions LGBTQ+-supportive Pizza Capo, the trans-owned craft-beer maker Bierly Brewing, the festive Spanish tapas and paella spot La Rambla, and the contemporary farm-to-table eatery Hayward inside artisan dining and shopping destination Mac Market. You’ll want to overnight or spend a weekend to experience it all — the hip and luxurious Atticus Hotel and Tributary Hotel make a getaway even more tempting.

Though the Willamette Valley’s wine country is delightful all year-round, fall harvest time is a particularly nice time to visit. An air of festivity surrounds the region as many wineries hold harvest weekends, grape stomps and special dinners. Apple orchards and pumpkin patches thrill visitors of every generation. Check the online calendar of the Willamette Valley Visitors Association for a full list of fall events.

About The

Andrew Collins
Andrew Collins divides his time between Oregon and Mexico City and writes for a variety of outlets, including Fodor's Travel Guides and his own website, AndrewsTraveling.com. He's the editor of several magazines and guidebooks, the author of Ultimate Road Trips USA & Canada, and a teacher of writing classes for Gotham Writers Workshop. Andrew spends his free time road-tripping, hiking, kayaking, and winery- and brewery-hopping around the state with his partner, Fernando Nocedal.

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