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In California, Sonoma County lifts a glass to gay wine tourists

Though the rainbow flag has long flown along the banks of the Russian River, increasing numbers of Sonoma County businesses are rolling out the pink carpet for gay tourists.

Named one of the country's top 20 tourist destinations for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people, Sonoma's appeal is broadening beyond weekend retreats in Guerneville to wine- and food-tasting adventures throughout the county. Headlining the trend: The second annual Gay Wine Weekend, June 15-17 in Sonoma Valley.

Expected to attract nearly 500 attendees, the weekend features upscale wine dinners, tastings, parties, an auction and gay-friendly activities throughout the valley. The event follows the Sonoma County Pride festival in Guerneville on June 3 and precedes San Francisco's massive Pride Celebration on June 23-24.

“We want Wine Country to be a destination for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) crowd,” said Gary Saperstein, co-director of Out in the Vineyard, a gay-focused tour company based in Sonoma hosting the event. He and business partner Mark Vogler found more than a dozen local wineries, restaurants and hotels eager to participate in the weekend-long celebration. Among them are the El Dorado Hotel, The Girl and the Fig Restaurant, Sebastiani Vineyards, which will host a cabaret night, and wineries Deerfield Ranch, B Wise, Loxton, Benziger and St. Francis.

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Heather Irwin writes a food and dining blog at BiteClubEats.com.