A Queer-Forward Wine Shop Gives New Wings to Umlaut Wines

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

March 25, 2024 Update: Schmetterling has closed. It’s owners hope to reopen in the future.

Are there parallels between German and Austrian wines, small-scale farming, and the queer community? If so, the most essential may be a shared need for safe space. Schmetterling, a queer-forward natural wine and vinyl shop that opened this summer in rural Vermont, aims to offer just that. By prioritizing the needs of communities at — admittedly starkly unequal — risk, owners Danielle Pattavina and Erika Dunyak have created an unlikely outpost for low-intervention German, Austrian, and other Alpine wines. The shop is both an incubator for and an indicator of the movements now intersecting German-speaking wines with new audiences. 

By choosing Middlebury, a college town of 7,000 residents surrounded by iconic American farmland, Pattavina and Dunyak have planted a flag. “Access to wine in rural communities and access to queer space in rural communities is important to us,” says Pattavina.“We aren’t creating a culture. We’re trying to meet a demand that’s already here.” 

“We aren’t creating a culture. We’re trying to meet a demand that’s already here.” 

In 2000, Vermont became the first state in the U.S. to introduce civil unions for same-sex couples; nine years later it was the fourth to legalize same-sex marriage. But outside progressive hubs like Burlington, Vermont is resolutely rural. The state’s ethos of inclusivity cannot bridge the isolation inherent to far-flung farms and villages. “In other parts of the country, lots of queer community happens in bars,” notes Dunyak. “In Vermont, queer community happens in people’s homes. Being able to be a resource for that community is really important to us.” 

Pattavina and Dunyak see their soft-lit, living-room-like shop as “queer space, first and foremost,” says Pattavina. “We have ‘queer owned’ on our front door. We want queer people to walk by, see the sign, and say, ‘My community is in there.’ We’re offering a moment of reprieve.” 

Schmetterling: A Queer Wine Shop

Schmetterling, the German word for butterfly, is also a refuge for small-scale German and Austrian wines. It’s a place in which their multihued wings can unfold, away from the overbearing normcore of international brands and industrial blends. It’s hard to think of other examples of such a deliberate, creative approach to addressing marginalization of several, seemingly disparate communities at once. (Gilly Brew Bar in Atlanta comes to mind as a coffee-world parallel.)

Dunyak, a practicing food and agricultural policy attorney who describes herself as “pretty new to wine,” spent time in Austria as an exchange student and speaks German. “We were attracted to the name Schmetterling because it’s easy — and fun — to say,” she notes. She and Pattavina hope the word will help pull in people who feel the same sense of kinship between Vermont and other Alpine regions they both do. 

Owners of the queer wine shop Schmetterling stand in an orchard with mountains and sunset clouds behind them.
Photo Credit: Schmetterling

Pattavina brings 20 years of experience running wine bars and working in restaurants, along with an abiding love of food and wines, particularly those of Germany and Austria. “Honestly, we’d only have those wines if we could pay the rent that way,” they confess. They say a surprising number of people “burst into the shop and just start speaking German” — a challenge for a non-German speaker like them — “but it’s just really fun to feel like we’re this center where people can come in, then go to the wine and be like, ‘Wow, you have this?’ and tell a story. That starts these moments of reflection.”

Vermont is emerging as one of the most vibrant natural wine-producing regions in the U.S. But that doesn’t mean the state’s everyday consumers are converts. “Some people have heard of natural wine and are like ‘I don’t like it’ or ‘I don’t know what it is,’” says Pattavina. “They’re interested, but they don’t want anything weird.” The couple’s decision to focus on natural wines grew out of location and conviction. “The wines that are grown here in Vermont feel kind of similar to Alpine wines in the approach to agriculture and production,” says Dunyak. “Roughly 90% of the wine in our shop is produced by the person who grew it. I think that is important to how we’re thinking about wine, especially in a farming community. Sustainable agriculture is the best tool we have in climate preparedness and climate change mitigation. We want to bring that into people’s thinking about wine.” Pattavina sees Schmetterling as a place where people can come in and “have a conversation about all of this and find a new inroad to wine that doesn’t have any baggage attached to it.” 

Umlaut Wines Take Center Stage

Enter German and Austrian wines. “They give us a point of entry with people who are kind of feeling lost when they come into the shop,” Pattavina explains. “They excite people.” When Schmetterling opened in July, weekly tastings focused on German Rieslings and reds. Eyebrows raised, minds changed. “There’s so much excitement that we can bring through Riesling, Elbling, Müller-Thurgau — any of these wines that people thought could only be this one thing. Like people who’ve only had sweet Riesling, probably out of a blue bottle, maybe 20 years ago. It’s fun in this really practical way for us to focus on German and Austrian wine, in part because nobody else seems to want to.” 

Who gets shelf space at Schmetterling? Producers who meet Pattavina and Dunyak’s deliberately inclusive criteria. Their approach opens still more doors, to producers who are in transition to organics or biodynamics, or may need encouragement or additional resources to be able to farm that way.This flexibility is reflected in the diversity of their offerings.

Photo Credit: Schmetterling

Among Schmetterling’s darlings are an Obermosel Elbling specialist, Rheinhessen natural wine pioneers, a Swabian Riesling champion, Austrian iconoclasts, Grüner leaders, and a Burgenland badass or two. Their runaway best-seller? Julian Hart‘s “1000 L” Riesling, a feinherb-ish value play from one of the Mosel’s most talented small growers. “We try to carry a few different wines from the same producer to encourage people to explore or offer verticals of different vintages of the same wine,” Pattavina says. “That’s something we’d like to build on more.” They add that Vermont is still off most importer-distributors’ radars, so their access to the full range of imports coming into the U.S. remains frustratingly limited.

Connecting with queer producers in Germany and Austria is “an absolute goal of ours.”

Beyond this, connecting with queer producers in Germany and Austria is “an absolute goal of ours,” notes Dunyak. She and Pattavina have even toyed with the idea of taking matters into their own hands by launching an import company that works exclusively with queer producers. “If those producers are out there, we’d love to know,” she says. “It’s not something people really talk about,” Pattavina adds. “And it’s hard because you can’t gather that information: you need to be told that information.”

Original art by beckprojekt.com and werkstad.com

A Community for Queer Wine and Music Lovers

Intriguingly, the soundtrack to all of this is electronic vinyl. “Grosses Wasser,” by pioneering Krautrock duo Cluster, is on heavy rotation, along with plenty of Japanese and American ‘80s ambient. Schmetterling’s latest innovation is a wine and vinyl club they call Zusammen, or together. They are working with a record shop near Burlington, owned by acclaimed experimental musician Greg Davis, to tease out new dimensions in pairing. “The idea is that these are two products you enjoy with company: that you would sit down and be with someone, or someones, you love, turn on a record, open a bottle of wine, and just be in community,” she explains.For logistical reasons (“What would a mailer that holds wine and an LP even look like?,” muses Dunyak), the club is only available in-store. But she points out that Middlebury now has direct train service to and from New York City. And there’s nothing like Schmetterling, even there.

Yet.  ​

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