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Garagiste movement gains momentum 

–When the Garagiste Festival launched in 2011 in Paso Robles, few people were familiar with the word “garagiste,” an esoteric term for a small group of French renegade winemakers which had rarely, if ever, been used in association with American winemakers. Today, the American garagiste moniker covers over 4,797 wineries in the US, or well over half of all US wineries, according to Wines & Vines; a significant increase over the past three years.Garagiste Infographic

From Canada to South Africa to Australia, the term is now being applied to artisan small-lot winemakers. As part of its fifth anniversary, the Garagiste Wine Festival, the first to shine a spotlight on the American garagiste movement, has released data, updated from its 2012 survey of Garagiste Festival winemakers, along with data from Wines & Vines, that paints a picture of today’s American Garagiste winemaker. The fifth anniversary Garagiste Wine Festival takes place in Paso Robles and Atascadero, Nov. 5 through 7.

“We founded The Garagiste Festivals five years ago to gather and bring attention to, the growing but under-the-radar population of micro-production winemakers who we knew were making some of the most exciting, cutting-edge wines in the world,” said Doug Minnick, Co-founder of The Garagiste Festival. “As our Festivals have grown and expanded, they have helped spur the growth of our participating wineries, as well as of the garagiste movement itself. It has been a true win-win-win: matching consumers with the hard-to-find artists they enjoy discovering, helping garagiste wineries find a highly targeted and self-selected audience, and all in support of our work with Cal Poly.”

According to Wines & Vines, of the 8,543 US wineries, 4,797 produce 1,500 or fewer cases per year. Nearly half of those –2,186– are in California and over 200 are in San Luis Obispo County alone. In 2012, 3,713 wineries produced up to 1,200 cases a year (which was the limit in the first years of Garagiste Festival), a number that grew to 4,090 in 2015.

Less than 10-percent of garagiste wineries hire a consulting winemaker today, versus 20-percent in 2012. Husband and wife teams continue to represent just over a third of the wineries. Based on festival demographics, in 2015, 13.5-percent of the winemakers were women (above the national average of about 10-percent) and a number that has grown significantly since the first festival when only 6-percent were women. Interestingly, more wineries in 2015 have dispensed with their ‘day job’ and are taking the leap to “go garagiste” full time.

The majority of garagiste festival winemakers hail from California’s Central Coast, making the diversity of what they bottle very impressive. On average, the festivals feature over 28 different varieties poured, with bottlings showcasing more than 45 individual grapes since the first festival. Rhones have made the biggest jump in preference over the past three years, and tend to dominate, but “Whatever suits me!” is by far the grape of choice.

Many more winemakers are focusing on single variety wines than in 2012, when 68-percent of the wineries made a blend; today, only 39-percent are making blends. But there has been little change in color preference, red still rules. Twenty-nine percent make exclusively red wines, while only 2-percent make exclusively white. Sixty-nine percent make both red and white bottlings.

Since 2011, garagiste winemakers have poured over 1,800 different wines for thousands of consumers at the festival. In addition to the festival, almost all the winemakers sell their wines direct-to-consumer, online via their websites, with over half (57-percent) of them also selling through their own wine clubs. Increasingly, they are meeting the public on their own turf: the overall percentage of garagistes with tasting rooms has grown about 18-percent, from 2012 to 40-percent in 2015. Over the past three years 34 festival wineries have opened tasting room doors, with more in Santa Barbara County (58-percent) than Paso Robles (42-percent).

The trend with garagistes appears to have moved away from owning land (a very expensive proposition) and is moving towards sourcing, which offers winemakers more flexibility in what they make and where they get it. Only 20-percent of the wineries pouring in 2015 are “All Estate,” 35-percent own some land but still source other grapes, and 45-percent source all of their grapes. These winemakers don’t have to be tied to the land to make great wine, nor to their own winery: around 65-percent use a shared facility.

To view the complete report click here. 

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About the author: News Staff

News staff of the Paso Robles Daily News wrote and edited this story from local contributors and press releases. Scott Brennan is the publisher of this newspaper and founder of Access Publishing. Connect with him on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, or follow his blog. He can be reached at scott@pasoroblesdailynews.com.