Garagiste Festival gets ‘Urban Exposure’
Maverick Paso Winemakers showcase in Los Angeles
–The 3rd annual Garagiste Festival took center stage at Los Angeles’ 85-year-old Art-Deco Wiltern Theater on July 9. The afternoon wine tasting brought together California artisanal winemakers from Santa Ynez to Sonoma with some 55 wineries pouring 200 wines. Over 500 attendees enjoyed a tasting that ranged from Bordeaux and Rhone to Spanish and Burgundian varietal wines. This was the Garagiste’s second festival at the Wiltern, where the theater’s chairs were removed to accommodate the tasting tables.
The festival started at 1 p.m. with a seminar titled, “Understanding Oak Varieties – Tasting the Winemaker’s Spice Rack,” moderated by co-founder Stewart McLennan. The one-hour seminar attended by 100 people featured winemakers Ryan Render of Rendarrio Vineyards and Michael Larner of Larner Vineyards and explored the nuances of oak characters in wine.
The Garagiste movement originally began in Paso Robles and extended to Santa Barbara County with, “Southern Exposure.” “Then we came to the city and called it Urban Exposure,” said McLennan. Soon wineries from Northern California joined the renegade group. Annual case production by members of this group ranges from 150-1500 cases.
The term Garagiste originated in Bordeaux, France and was coined for winemakers crafting wines in a garage, producing small-lot, hand-crafted wines. “We literally started in a garage,” commented Minnick, who co-founded the movement with McLennan in 2011 in Paso Robles.
Minnick’s Hoi Poloi label, for instance, produces a mere 250 cases annually that will be increased to 500 this fall. Based in Studio City, Minnick sources fruit from Sonoma, Santa Barbara County and Paso Robles and will soon open a tasting room in Old Town, Newhall.
This is what defines California’s Garagiste winemakers: they could be based in one city, produce wine in another and source fruit from all over the State. “We are free to do what we want,” Minnick said. Take West of Temperance Winery for instance; Co-owner John King is based in Napa, wines are made in San Francisco and some of the 600-case production is made with fruit sourced from all over California including a non-vintage wine, which is a blend of 9 varietals from petit sirah to pinot noir.
“It’s a niche that never existed before,” said McLennan whose annual production of Golden Triangle cabernet sauvignon and syrah wine is a mere 200 cases. He noted that Garagiste festivals give the attendees an opportunity to meet with small production winemakers.
“This is not a drunk fest,” McLennan commented. Sure they get a buzz, he mused, but they want to be educated and interact with the winemaker. The seminar, for example, was not pitched at the Sommelier level. “It was not pretentious, all questions were accepted,” McLennan noted.
Paso Robles was represented by over 20 wineries, names such as Paso Port, Vines on the Marycrest, Cloak & Dagger, Alta Colina, MCV, Kaleidoscope, Ascension Cellars, Leverage, JP3, Tlo Wines, Caliza, Powell Mountain, TW Fermentation and more.
Additional artisanal selection ranged from Mendocino County’s Theopolis Vineyards, Antelope Valley’s Coruce Vineyards and Agoura Hills’ TAO Vineyards to Marin Vineyard from Monterey County, Alma Fria from Sonoma, Hoyt from Malibu and a few wineries that were defined broadly as California.
Most of the Paso Robles wines were focused on Rhone and Bordeaux varietals. Artisan Uprising featured single bottlings of Bordeaux varietals, no blends, informed winemaker William Vondrasek. “We started making family wine in Los Angeles with fruit sourced from Temecula,” said the Paso Robles-based winemaker of the 600-case production winery that went commercial in 2012. A tasting room is scheduled to open in Lompoc.
Elsewhere, Ranchita Canyon Vineyards’ owner/winemaker Bill Hinrichs poured the 2011 Divin, a complex Bordeaux blend, and Cloak & Dagger’s Ray Schofield offered Espionage, a well-rounded malbec. Pulchella Winery lined up an impressive selection of syrah/grenache and tannat/petite sirah blends. Co-owner Steve Lemley’s 1200-case annual production is made in Santa Clarita from Paso Robles fruit.
The Garagiste Events Inc., a non-profit organization was formed to foster future education of wine industry professionals and bring attention to hard-to-find wines and under the radar wineries that do not have tasting rooms. Funds raised at its events through ticket sales and sponsorships benefit the Garagiste Festival Scholarship at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
For more information about the Garagiste Festivals, visit californiagaragistes.com.