For Jessica Bell, a glass of wine is a prism through which to view some of the world’s most pressing issues—racial justice, queer liberation and climate change—as well as a starting point for addressing them. Bell just launched Fat Cat, a members-only wine club founded on her own curiosity and a desire to uplift queer winemakers and producers of color.
The club, which includes nonalcoholic, basic and premium levels, provides monthly home delivery and hosts pickup parties in San Francisco and the East Bay.
Fat Cat began as a bright spot during a dark time. Caught in the throes of the pandemic and caring for her ailing sister in Salt Lake City, Bell said she began writing menus purely as a creative outlet. From there, her dream to launch a curated wine club gradually came to fruition with help from a business class at the SF LGBT Center.
Since moving back to the Bay Area in 2021, Bell has cultivated a mentorship network of master sommeliers—particularly through her day job as a team lead at Bay Grape wine shop in Oakland. Though she said she’s still solidifying the details, she hopes to plan pop-ups at local businesses like nonalcoholic bottle shop Boisson in Hayes Valley.
Lately, Bell said she’s compelled by Indigenous varietals that showcase farming techniques that work best in their native environments. For example, she said dry-farming in arid climates tends to bring out the most evocative aromas.
Most drinkers are familiar with bottles from iconic wine-growing regions like Burgundy and Tuscany, but Bell said her club will showcase under-the-radar regions like Georgia and other areas of Eastern Europe, Indigenous American varietals, as well as nonalcoholic bottles.
“If anyone is going to change anything about society, it takes getting out of our comfort zone, staying curious,” she said. “We have to ask ourselves, ‘Who’s producing this wine? What grows well here?’”
Given the racial, gender and class inequalities that have long existed in the wine industry, Bell said her club focuses on underrepresented producers and wines.
“Basically, I’m committed to social justice and making sure that people who have historically been left out of the industry—[which is mostly] white, cis, straight men—have their chance to shine,” she said.
When she’s not curating wines, Bell performs as a drag king named Orville Pecker—a saucy spin on masked gay country singer Orville Peck—and come June, she said she’ll spotlight a slate of LGBTQ winemakers like Birdhouse, Statera Cellars and Camins 2 Dreams. She also has a drag king bingo party in the works.