While attending a barrel tasting at a Washington winery in 2008, Vivianne Stardust Kennedy had an epiphany. After falling down an hourslong rabbit hole of tasting notes and blends with the sommelier, she looked up to find that out of the 30-member group she began the tour with, she was the only one left.
And with that, the Dungeons & Dragons devotee added another self-proclaimed “nerdy pursuit” to her list: the science of winemaking.
Kennedy was 28 years old. She was pretty far along a career path in retail management, and would need to complete Washington State University’s winemaking certification programs on nights and weekends while working two jobs. But thanks to support from people like her grandfather, Roger Allen Marks, that’s exactly what she did. In 2014, she opened RAM Cellars, which she named after him, in Southeast Portland.
It was just the first of several changes for Kennedy.
“In 2018, I came into the light as myself, authentically, as a proud transgender woman, and at that point I was unsure what my path forward would be,” Kennedy says. “I was really not sure there was a place for me in the industry.”
She is now the only transgender winemaker in the nation, producing her wines at Hip Chicks Do Wine urban winery in Southeast Portland.
You can find RAM wines all over Oregon and Washington. Just head over to your local New Seasons and look for the most adorable hand-illustrated labels you’ve ever seen. Kennedy’s favorite RAM creations? The Red Malbec, Orange Fraîche, and Roussane.
Entering the wine industry isn’t easy for anybody—especially someone coming from a historically marginalized perspective. Kennedy says that after she came out, she lost business from vineyards and shops she had worked with previously.
“The gut reaction is, of course, to be really angry,” Viv says. “But any of those partnerships that ended because I am who I am opened the door for the next great partnership down the road.”
Her own experiences led her to want to prioritize creating more safe, accessible spaces in wine for other queer and trans people. Says Kennedy, “We would need to utilize the platform that we have with the winery to do good for communities that I’m a part of.”
Her namesake label, Viv, which she launched in the spring of 2019 after coming out, raises money for organizations that provide support to queer and transgender people. For each bottle sold, $3 is donated to organizations like the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund and Portland’s Q Center.