Remy at the reins

New mayor proud to lead McMinnville

Newly elected McMinnville mayor Remy Drabkin. ##Photo by Zachary Alan Photography
On June 24, eighteen winemakers will be pouring at the inaugural Queer Wine Fest, a celebration of queer-owned, queer-made, and queer-grown wines. ##Photo by Zachary Alan Photography

By Barbara Barrielle

Remy Drabkin was born and raised in McMinnville before traveling the world and making wine in faraway places. She returned to her roots, proud to call McMinnville home. Pride is a life theme for her. Not only is she an outspoken, queer winemaker and community advocate, but also founder of Wine Country Pride and creator of the Queer Wine Fest. Debuting on June 24 at Remy Wines, Queer Wine Fest features eighteen queer winemakers and owners pouring their wines for the public.

After graduating from Linfield College, now known as Linfield University, Drabkin began her first wine job at Ponzi Vineyards in 1995. She developed the urge to see the world, traveling to Israel and France, where Drabkin attended the esteemed Beaune wine school Lycée Viticole. Returning to the U.S., she managed an Italian restaurant in Pittsburgh, PA and spent her free time making wines from Italian grape varietals in the basement. While sharing her wines with restaurant co-workers, Drabkin had the idea of creating a Willamette Valley winery specializing in Northern Italian wines.

Sure, Remy Wines offers the obligatory Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but also Italian varietals, including Legrein, Dolcetto, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese. Drabkin planted both Pinot Noir and Lagrein on her seven-acre property and sources Dolcetto from Eola-Amity Hills. She buys Nebbiolo and Sangiovese grapes from Washington state. Goldstar, under her Blackheart label, is an ode to the super Tuscan wines she adores. Drabkin follows Italy’s rules indicating quality and wine aging, keeping her Remy Riserva wines in the barrel an additional year.

She points out how many of the founding wineries in the Valley, like Erath and Ponzi, chose Italian varieties when first starting out. Drabkin collaborated on the first Italy in the Valley, now an annual festival, celebrating Italian wines. As you get to know her, you realize she can host a party or create a festival to celebrate just about anything.

Years ago, after returning to Oregon, Drabkin became active in the McMinnville community. She observed that in major wine growing regions, there is no doubt wineries influenced the cities. Taking this idea to heart, Drabkin jumps right in to helping anywhere there is a need. “I always seem to have a full-time volunteer job, first on the planning commission, then as an elected official on the McMinnville City Council for two terms.” Her public service continues with her recent appointment as mayor of her birth city.

Drabkin is a proud queer, Jewish woman and checks about every ‘first ever’ box for the mayor of the wine country town. Getting a unanimous nod to step in as mayor after the former mayor announced his resignation makes Drabkin proud. “A mayor broadly represents community and my appointment shows others feel I will lead all of us well,” says Drabkin. “My politics are not at play, this is about things like our streets and parks. We need to have robust conversations and work together toward solutions.”

Along with all her other jobs and duties, Drabkin also chairs the McMinnville Affordable Housing Commission and is on the board of Visit McMinnville. Her activism shows she has as much interest in attracting tourists and money to the town as she does in making sure her community is adequately housed.

At the winery, she acts equally proactive when it comes to sustainability and inclusivity. Building a new 5000-square foot production facility, she helped create a new carbon-negative concrete, appropriately dubbed Drabkin Mead Formulation, a technology Drabkin is happy to share in promoting responsible construction. Her on-site, gender-neutral restroom is 100 percent ADA accessible and even has a door leading directly to the vineyard so her ‘vineyard stewards’ working the grapes have access to indoor plumbing and running water.

Wine Country Pride is yet another Drabkin brainchild. The organization creates visible celebrations of the queer community while connecting all people through education and economic activity. For example, a local librarian aims to stock the public library with more queer-authored books and upcoming events include a free all-day street fair on June 25 and, the following day, a family car parade and picnic.

With all of Drabkin’s many community responsibilities, is she worried about harvest and making time to actually run her winery— the business that pays the bills?

She plans will be on Zoom a lot, just as she was during the pandemic, leading her winery team with group breathing exercises and keeping everybody working.
McMinnville City Council may start their meetings with a mindfulness exercise and, no doubt Diversity, Equality and Inclusion with be a recurring theme, at least as long as Mayor Remy Drabkin holds the reins.

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