Vintner vies for Pride grand marshal votes

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From verdicts to vineyards, Ryan Levy’s mark can be found in the courtroom, kitchen and community. As intoxicating as he is compassionate, this 2015 Houston Pride Grand Marshal nominee wants your vote.

In college, Levy (top photo) was a student leader in both his undergraduate (Rice) and graduate (UT-Austin) studies. Afterwards, he became the first openly gay associate hired by national law firm Zelle Hofmann. Since then, he has married his husband Ian (with Levy, bottom photos), and ventured ever-more deeply into cooking and equal rights.

Leaving courtrooms for the kitchen, Levy has continued his advocacy as a long-time accomplished HRC volunteer and a leader in local campaigns for equality, among several other LGBT-centered volunteer activities.

Houston Pride Grand Marshal voting is open until April 1. Though the campaign and prize at stake sound presidential, there are no platforms and no politics – only the polls. Before you decide, learn more about Levy as Project Q goes beyond the nominee bios to chat with each one. This time, meet Levy as we discuss passion, Pride and Pinot.

Were you raised socially conscious?

I was raised in right-wing, conservative suburbia – specifically, Tom DeLay's congressional district.  Despite my surroundings, my grandmother was a trailblazer for women's rights and progressive causes.  She had a profound effect on the development of my personal values.

Is that why you chose to be lawyer?

I really enjoy advocacy, and I liked the idea of helping and protecting people.

Why the move from the courtroom to the kitchen?

I started cooking very young. I remember rushing home to watch Chef Martin Yan cook on “Wok With Yan.” I would always try to cook what I learned that day.

I met Ian in 1996, and he also loved to cook. In law school, Ian and I were known for throwing fabulous dinner parties. After, Ian applied to Le Cordon Bleu in France. I wanted to go as well, but my application featured no formal restaurant experience. I was the only non-vocational chef accepted in my class at Le Cordon Bleu.

When we returned from France, I began practicing law and helping Ian with a catering company on the weekends. Eventually, we opened a restaurant together. I was lawyering by day and running the restaurant by night. 

And into the vineyards?

Well, in 2005, we sold the restaurant and moved to California to begin studying to become sommeliers and winemakers. What I discovered was that the same skills that made me a great chef – the ability to understand aromas, flavors and ingredients – translated directly into winemaking. It was a natural progression.

You produced your first wine in 2007. How has Nice Wines changed?

We’ve gone from making just one wine, our Nice Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon, to making 10 different wines in six different vineyards. Most have been awarded ratings of 92 points or higher.

Our newest is a wine, made from Blanc du Bois grapes grown in Anderson, Texas, was just awarded the top honor – a gold medal – at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo International Wine Competition. 

What is the brand looking forward to in 2015?

2015 is off to a great start. We made our first Pinot Noir this year, and we’ll release it in the fall. We’ve also doubled the number of wine dinners and cooking classes that we host at our Houston winery. And my personal pride and joy: we revamped our site, making it easier for people to join our monthly wine club.

You married Ian just over a decade ago. Tell us about it.

Ian is Canadian, so we made frequent trips to visit his family. Together for eight years when marriage was legalized in Canada in 2003, we already felt married, but we knew it was important for our parents to see us be a part of the marriage tradition they experienced.

The next family trip in 2004, Ian and I invited our parents to come to our wedding at Toronto City Hall. Our formal wedding ceremony was more important to our parents' acceptance and understanding of our union than I could have ever imagined.

Has Texas’ lack of marriage equality impacted your life?

After we were married, we returned to the United States and filled out the “one form per family” Customs Declaration Card. The border agent asked how we were related and we proudly showed him our rings and said we were married.  

He tore up our card and said, “Not here, you aren't” and sent us back to fill out individual cards. Although it pales in comparison to the discrimination members of our community face when they are fired from their job or kicked out of their house, it was a shocking reminder of inequality.

Are these the next issues the LGBT community should prioritize?

Marriage gets all the media coverage, but there is already amazing work happening for LGBT people on a national and international scale. These aren't the “next” issues, they are the right now issues …

We have to continue to strive to bring safety to LGBT people in schools by stopping bullying, in the workplace by passing an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, in communities by helping LGBT people in poverty, and globally where LGBT people are facing extreme violence and hatred.

What would becoming a Houston Pride Grand Marshal mean to you?

Being chosen by my peers to represent the LGBT community in Houston's first-ever downtown Pride celebration would be a huge honor. The theme of the parade this year is Heroes, and if I am selected, I plan to ride in the parade with my heroes, my husband Ian and my parents.

Looking back, do you have a favorite Houston Pride memory

My favorite Houston Pride was the first year that my parents marched with us in the parade holding the large HRC flag with all of my fellow volunteers. It meant so much to me. 

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