Meet 2 Social Clubs Cultivating Joyful Communities in the Wine Industry

Through natural wine, music, and inclusivity.

April 21, 2023
Photo by Onyeka Obiocha/Joshua Jenkins

The wine industry has a history of exclusivity. Traditionally, consumers are told whether they’re tasting the “right” or “wrong” notes, wine labels are difficult to understand, and information about wines and their producers is hard to come by. Upscale restaurants with extensive wine programs can often feel stuffy and uninviting, and community events where folks outside of the industry are welcome are few and far between.

Beyond those barriers, a lack of diversity in the wine industry has been the elephant in the room for years, with an overwhelming lack of jobs available for those not “in the know.” At wine events, being one of just a few (if any) women, queer folks, or people of color is not an uncommon occurrence. Today, many people are working to change the industry for the better by focusing on inclusivity through community building events and education.

Wine social clubs like Connecticut’s Palm Wine and New York City’s preshift are responding to the call for in-person connection and inclusivity, staging exuberant and casual events focused on serving people of color and the LGBTQ+ community.

By definition, wine social clubs are not the same as wine clubs. You don’t purchase your wine in advance, you don’t meet at the same location each time, and you’re not beholden to membership fees. These open-to-the-public social clubs are focused on bringing people together around wine, popping up in different locations for each event, and centering the safety and joy of those most often excluded from the wine scene. Social club founders Julianny Gómez of preshift and Onyeka Obiocha of Palm Wine are blending music and culture with natural wine as a way to unite communities who haven’t historically been as represented in the industry.

To be clear, queer people and people of color have always been part of the wine industry—whether they were winemakers, grape farmers, restaurant workers, or wine lovers, they were kept out of the limelight. Centering those communities in wine events is an act of revolution, and preshift and Palm Wine are feeling the love.

preshift co-founder, Julianny Gómez Photo by Jonathan Johnson

“The folks that we interact with on a daily basis—Black folk, people of color, queer folk—are all really interested in trying different beverages,” says Julianny, co-founder of preshift. “We wanted to break down those walls and foster a loving environment where folks can ask questions [and] where information about the wines is available in a way that works for them.” Julianny and their partner Dante Clark’s NYC-based events pop up in local restaurants, bars, and shops like Krewe and Winona’s. Each event has custom playlists, uniquely curated natural wine lists, and wine information accessed through a QR code.

Onyeka—one of the Palm Wine co-founders—crafts his events around fun and spontaneity, popping up around the globe to correspond with his travels in Paris, Barcelona, Montreal, and at home in Connecticut. Often, most of the people there are folks he’s never met before. “We always have music, but it never turns into a dance party. It's always just enough so people can get their head bobbing, but allows for genuine connection and conversation. [It’s] fun, inviting, zero pretension, maximum love, and just a really good time trying some amazing wines.”

These pop-ups don’t exist to sell the wines or lecture about them, although they do create space for conversation about the wines and the issues that surround them. “While I don't think that wine itself is going to change the world, I think it is a space that can allow for broader conversations than just the beverage”, says Julianny. “It can be an avenue to speak about land access, land practices, how people are being compensated, and who the people harvesting our grapes are.” And during preshift events, those conversations often come up organically.

Community members at a recent Palm Wine event Photo by Onyeka Obiocha/Joshua Jenkins

“The very ethos of Palm Wine is around building community and using great natural wine as a hook to get people in,” says Onyeka. “More and more, I get people who may have been intimidated or just excluded from the traditional wine world. Natural wine has the ability to speak to folks who aren't wine drinkers.”

Both Julianny and Onyeka find it important to serve underrepresented communities at these events, as a way to help usher in a space that fosters acceptance and joy. “If we do it right, we can allow people to be themselves and we can have joyful moments and Lord knows that BIPOC folk and queer folk need moments in which we can shrug the world off for a couple of hours and find some joy,” says Julianny.

Do you know of a wine social club in your area? Let us know in the comments below!

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Margot Mazur is a wine writer, vineyard manager, and wine educator focusing on stories about the American wine industry. A writer for several leading publications, they're always on the hunt for new stories highlighting diverse makers. Margot lives in Portland, Maine—an American food and wine destination.