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Guerneville: Equality Vines co-founder on new wines, new missions

At Equality Vines, a boutique winery in downtown Guerneville, you can swirl, sniff and sip while supporting the rights of women, migrants and the LBGTQ community.

Inside the bright, art-strewn tasting room on Main Street, the words “Love Wins” are written in letters so big, they take up an entire wall. The winery’s flagship is a crisp Russian River Valley sparkling blanc de blanc by the same name. It celebrates the landmark Supreme Court marriage equality decision made on June 26, 2015.

Guerneville’s Equality Vines makes wines that celebrate civil rights causes, like gay marriage. (Equality Vines) 

That’s the year Matt Grove, who co-founded the nation’s first organic beef company, and civil rights activist Jim Obergefell founded Equality Vines and what they call the world’s first cause-driven wine portfolio. The concept is inspired by Grove’s late aunt, Marilyn Schultz, who was an NBC journalist and pioneer in the women’s rights movement.

Together with business partner Michael Volpatt, they make about 2,000 cases of six small-batch wines, including a just-released vintage of Love Wins and a Dry Creek Valley rosé, Rosé the Riveter. Next month, they will release an old-vine zinfandel, Stonewall, named for the 1969 raid and riot in New York City that started the LGBTQ rights movement.

To date, Equality Vines has donated over $200,000 to more than 25 civil rights organizations, from SAGE, which supports LGBTQ elders, to Puertas Abiertas, a resource for Latinos in Napa County. On the weekends, you’ll find Grove or Volpatt — he owns Big Bottom Market across the street — pouring tastes and telling the stories behind the wines. Obergefell lives in Ohio, where he is running for a state legislative seat in his hometown of Sandusky.

We caught up with Grove to hear some of those stories — and what’s next for Equality Vines.

Equality Vines co-founder Matt Grove (far right) with business partner Michael Volpatt (far left) and wine club members Debbie Rice (left) and Jennifer Neeley (right). (Equality Vines)
Equality Vines co-founder Matt Grove (far right) with business partner Michael Volpatt (far left) and wine club members Debbie Rice (left) and Jennifer Neeley (right). (Equality Vines) 

Q. How did you connect with your co-founder, Jim?

A. After my aunt passed away in 2015, I was inclined to make some wine in her honor. This was during the fight for gay marriage. I didn’t know much about it, so I googled gay marriage and up pops Jim. He was the lead plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized same-sex marriage in the United States. It was in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals at the time and I was sobbing as I read it.

From there, I kind of Facebook-stalked him. I asked him if he wanted to join me on this wine project and soon, I was on the next plane to meet him in New York. By the end of the night, we had gone through several bottles of wine and were diagramming labels on napkins.

Q. What’s the story behind your chardonnay, Get Your Own Damn Coffee?

A. This is my tribute to my aunt. She worked at NBC in the 1950s. The boys told her to bring coffee into the conference room one too many times. She filed the first class action discrimination lawsuit against NBC and its affiliates calling for equal opportunity and pay for women. Everyone in her family, including her father, had told her not to do it. It was a six-year fight but paved the way for women in the workplace. She went on to have a successful career as an on-air TV personality before going into academia.

Q. What was she like as a person?

A. My aunt was incredibly loving and accepting of every walk of life. I was exposed to so many beautiful people by knowing her. I trusted her more than anyone else in my life. She was probably the biggest role model in my life, and she did it in a hip, non-parental way. She taught me to turn to my philanthropic side. I killed a lot of cattle (at Dakota Beef company) and made a lot of money but it was not fulfilling. Just to be able to change a person’s life and see the look on their face is incredible.

Q. How do you select your winemakers?

A. We start with a concept, cause and organization. For Love Wins, we wanted it to be a sparkling. Then we asked, “Who’s the best sparkling wine producer?” Joy Sterling of Iron Horse Vineyards. We asked her and she said yes. The organizations and winemakers change, but the wine doesn’t. Edgar Torres, a Mexican-American winemaker in Paso Robles, makes our 2018 The Migrant. Crystalyn Hoffman and husband Doug Hackett of Spicy Vines produce our Stonewall wines.

Q. What will be Equality Vines’ next cause-minded label?

A. Our next wine is in the works. It’s called “The Activist,” and we will be partnering with someone special … that’s all I can say. We have often felt that our next cause wine must feature African American winemakers. It is a natural progression to our Equality causes, and will focus on very talented, often overlooked winemakers of color.

If You Go

Equality Vines opens at noon Friday through Sunday at 16215 Main St., Suite 4, across the street from Big Bottom Market in Guerneville. Tastings are $20. Find more information at

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