Pamela Busch is a natural wine pioneer in the truest sense of the title, but that’s only the half of it. On top of founding the first natural wine fair held in the U.S. and championing organic and natural wines in their own groundbreaking San Francisco wine bars and restaurants since the 90’s, they are a committed activist for progressive and queer causes. Pamela has championed countless wine and food-related fundraisers for organizations such as MoveOn.org, Equality California, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the AIDS and Breast Cancer Emergency Funds, Planned Parenthood, and others.
In 2013, Pamela started The Vinguard as a blog that focused on natural wine and inequalities plaguing the wine industry, but today The Vinguard has come to represent a coalition driven by women and gender-nonconforming individuals that is unequivocally committed to social justice, environmental protection, and shared mentorship in the world of wine and beyond (we’re proud to say that we are a partner of The Vinguard and have signed The Vineguard’s Wine Industry Equity Pledge)
The Vinguard’s annual event, WINeFare, will be held virtually this weekend, and we were lucky enough to get to chat with Pamela about the event, intersectionality in the wine industry, and another current project of theirs that we can’t wait to see. Did we mention you can still get tickets to WINeFare 2021: Bottles without Borders? Tell a friend… and use code WINEFARE20 for a little discount, on us.
Rock Juice: You’ve got an amazing history in the wine industry—in the natural wine industry—and I’m curious as to when you first discovered the world of natural wines and decided that this was the conduit through which you wanted to dedicate your career—which comprises a lot more than just natural wine!
Pamela Busch: First of all, they didn’t call it “natural wine” until about 20 years ago. Kevin McKenna of Louis Dressner (one of the first natural wine importers) was my mentor. He hired me to work at Astor Wines in 1990. Kevin had a penchant for the esoteric and what we now consider natural wines and it totally rubbed off on me. But I was interested in organic produce starting way back in the 80s. I had severe asthma as a kid—as in, I was in the ER at least once a month. My dad took me to see a homeopathic doctor, who put me on a ton of different vitamins and herbal medicines, and said “Look, you’ve got to try to eat organic produce.” But it was the 80s, I mean, organic food wasn’t widely available, so he said “If you can’t find organic, you should wash your vegetables in diluted Clorox in the sink, to get all the pesticides off.”
PB: Yeah. It dissolved the pesticides but then I had to thoroughly wash the vegetables to make sure all the Clorox was off. So that’s what started my interest in organic produce. Later, I lived in Europe, where organics were easier to come by. When I opened my first wine bar, Hayes & Vine, in San Francisco in 1994, I tried to carry as many organic wines as possible. But there was still some stigma against it and it wasn’t something that there was that much of. When I opened my second spot, CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in 2005, our wine list still wasn’t exclusively “natural,” but when we closed down in 2010 because of the recession, I threw myself into the natural wine thing more fully.
RJ: And how do you now think about natural wine?
PB: It all starts with your farming, and the way I feel about that has changed from how I felt even a few years ago. We need to be talking about regenerative methods, methods that are going to take the climate into balance, not just organics. Organics are at the bare minimum better than spraying synthetics, sure, but we need to be doing more than that.
RJ: Amongst so many other initiatives in your career, you’ve founded The Vinguard and its annual event, WINeFare. One of the first things that I noticed about The Vinguard’s mission and activities is the idea of intersectionality—you’re not just trying to uplift women winemakers, or just uplift regenerative farming methods, or just uplift oppressed communities (and each of those is a lot more than a ‘just!’). You’re approaching all of these as pillars of one united effort. Was that something you set out to do from the beginning with The Vinguard or did additional intersectionalities reveal themselves over time?
PB: I think it’s a “Yes, and…” One of our panels this weekend is called “Patriarchy and Power,” but you can’t talk about patriarchy without talking about white supremacy. We need to think about this all together. I will never say to anyone that I don’t have implicit racism, but consciously I try to be anti-racist.. As a white person, there are things that are ingrained and it’s about being conscious of that and constantly working to improve and catch myself when I make a biased assumption.
I identify as gender nonconforming, but because of the women I’ve worked with and the fact that people identify me as a woman, there is a focus on women [in WINeFare]. But being a woman is not your ticket into WINeFare. It’s all these other things. We need to be talking about all these other things too. Like, don’t tell me you’re natively fermenting and not adding anything [to your wine], but you’re spraying synthetics in your vineyard, or your interns are being mistreated, or you’re not hiring people of color. What we want to focus on is wine with an environmental AND social justice conscience.
RJ: WINeFare 2021 is coming up this Friday and Saturday… This year’s theme is “Bottles Without Borders,” with panel topics like “Starting a Natural Winery,” “The Australian Wine Renaissance,” “Ciders and Co-Ferments,” “Patriarchy and Power in Natural Wine”… what are your hopes for this year’s virtual edition of WINeFare, and is there a panel topic you are especially looking forward to this weekend?
PB: Doing it virtually, we are able to invite people from all around the world. But it’s stressing me the fuck out. I’m not a tech person! I’ve done massive amounts of events over my career, but nothing like this. The really big upside is that way more people around the world can get this opportunity to meet with like minded professionals, and we’re able to have so many more participants from the LGBTQ, AAPI, BIPOC, and other communities. I want to do a hybrid model of some sort for 2022—I’ve just met such a diverse range of people through doing this that I would not have met before.
Every time I’m in a pre-panel meeting, I’m thinking, “Wow, this is gonna be great.” These are such awesome people. It’s just a matter of what your interests are, because shouting out any one of these panels out would be a disservice to how amazing they all are. This is gonna be a really wonderful event.
RJ: I have my ticket! Can’t wait. Also, last question… is it true you’re working on a documentary about women in natural wine right now?
PB: Well, we started it in 2019, but with COVID I put it on hold—I’m hoping to pick it back up this summer.
RJ: Can’t wait for that, either!
Tickets to WINeFare 2021, May 21-22 ($20-$50, depending on what you can afford to pay) are available here. Use code WINEFARE20 for 20% off.