The grand finale of the Garagistè Festival is the Grand Tasting, featuring around 70 wine makers who produce 1500 cases or less of their wine in a year. The festival, with newer branches in Solvang and Los Angeles each year, is a great opportunity for these small producers to become known.
This year’s Grand Tasting was held at the Paso Robles Fairgounds in the Frontier Town area. The wine makers were arranged in a figure-eight configuration with a few vendors at the center. There were some wine makers who have been to all five GaragistèFestivals in Paso and some new this year.
The overall quality of the wines presented has greatly improved over the years, as wine making techniques have improved across the board. At the first Garagistè Festival that I attended in 2010, about 20% of the wines were good or better. Today, that figure is closer to 60%.
The Grand Tasting runs from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm, with VIP ticket holders who also attended the morning seminars (LINK TO POST) getting first crack for an extra hour from 1:00 to 2:00. The scene gets louder as the day goes along – there are a lot of rookie wine drinkers here who don’t know how to taste, or don’t care, so a few drunks are about by 3:00 or so.
I will point out some of the better wine makers (IMHO) in the photos – also see the post on the Friday Night Wine Makers’ Mixer (LINK TO POST) for the best from that evening, almost all of whom were also at the Grand Tasting.
The Garagistè Festival is a great event, one that I highly recommend. If you want to discover the up and coming and the intentionally small wine makers of California’s Central Coast and beyond, this is your ticket.
Each year at the Garagistè Festival, there are two seminars held as part of the VIP package for the Saturday events. This year’s seminars were “Exploring the Aroma Wheel” with Madeline Puckette of WineFolly.com (LINK) and “Techniques of the Garagistè: The Secret of Stems,” with Mikael Sigouin, Ryan Pease, and Stewart McLennan.
“Exploring the Aroma Wheel” explored how to discover the various aromas of wine and how to go a bit deeper than the normal surface sniff of the glass. Madeline Puckette is a very good presenter and the seminar was interactive. Each table had 8 covered and numbered coffee cups, each containing a different scent. We were to begin by sniffing each cup and noting what we thought the aroma was. Then, we were provided two glasses, one with Pinot Noir, the other Cabernet Sauvignon. We were asked to sniff the glasses (some instructions were given) and to list three fruit aromas and three non-fruit aromas that we noted in each.
Then, we were asked to sniff one or two of the cups again, and then sniff the wines. The experience of most people was that the aroma of the wine changed after sniffing one or two of the cups (the cups had odors like chocolate, mint, vanilla, smoke, etc.). Ms. Puckette noted that sniffing the aroma in the cup tended to eliminate that odor from the wine for the person sniffing; that changed the aromatic experience of the wine. The workshop was a good experience, and yes, we did get to drink the wine.
“Techniques of the Garagistè: The Secret of Stems” featured three Paso Robles winemakers: Mikael Sigouin of Kaena Wine Company (LINK), Ryan Pease of Paix Sur Terre (LINK), and Stewart McLennan of Golden Triangle (LINK). Each of these winemakers uses stems and whole clusters in making some or all of their wines. The idea is to bring more of the sense of the terroir to the wines and to broaden the flavor profile beyond the fruit itself.
The wines were:
Kaena: 2013 Grenache – Terra Alta Vineyard
Paix Dur Terre: 2013 “The Other One,” 100% Mourvedre
Golden Triangle: 2013 50% Cabernet Sauvignon 50% Syrah
Each was very different in character, although all were the result of whole cluster fermentation. It was very interesting to hear what each winemaker seeks to get from the process and how this process is impractical for large-scale producers.
After the seminars, a lunch was served and then the VIP ticket holders had first shot at the Grand Tasting, with over 70 Garagistè winemakers, producers making under 1500 total cases each year.
We will explore the Grand Tasting in the next post.
The Garagistè Festival(LINK), for the uninitiated, is a gathering that promotes and celebrates small production winemakers from Paso Robles and elsewhere in California. These are folks who produce under 1500 cases per year. Some are new and plan to grow into the future Mondavis or Kendall-Jacksons of the world; others are doing it as a labor of love and have no plans to expand; still others are winemakers for larger concerns and this is their hobby-like “side venture.” There are also now Garagistè Festivals in Solvang and in Los Angeles each year.
This is the fifth annual Paso Robles event, and I have attended all of them. Dorianne and I drove up from LA County where we are staying with friends for last night’s Winemakers’ Mixer and today’s workshops and Grand Tasting (which I will blog about later).
The mixer was added a few years ago, and has been held in different places. This year, it was in the barrel room at Broken Earth Winery (LINK). There were about 35 wineries represented (and one local hard cider maker), including about 1/2 dozen who had been at all five festivals. There were some snacks provided and the Pairing Knife Food Truck(LINK) was also on hand with some great food.
The focus of the evening was new releases and tastings of wines that had not yet been released. You might say that this concept is loosely observed. There were some new releases, and some yet-to-be-released wines (one, just pressed and served from a 5 gallon plastic container), but there were also some 2007 Cabernets and other regular production wines, but really, who cares?
The fun of this evening was meeting young (and not-so-young) winemakers who are following their dream and doing what they love. They are eager to talk about their wines and really enjoy it when someone with some knowledge shows up. There were over 70 wines to taste, so spitting was in order. The general quality of the wines at the Garagistè Festival has improved significantly over the past five years. But, there is still a pretty wide range of quality, which is also part of the fun.
Here are a few highlights from the evening for us – we did not taste every single wine (you can get wines from most of these small producers via their website):
Ascension Cellars (LINK), Paso Robles. Currently produces 8 wines in the Rhône style. We tasted their GSM called Trinity and a Syrah – both were very well-crafted and balanced.
Deno Wines (LINK), Templeton, CA. The last wine we tasted before departing, the wine was a pre-release of the blend of 50% Zinfandel and a 50% GSM blend. This surprising combination produced a very spicy and well-balanced wine. Dennis Sharpe will have some other GSM’s out today for the Grand Tasting.
Incendium Wines (LINK), Napa Valley, CA. Winemaker Vince Kalny is a firefighter for Cal Fire. His wines reflect his primary calling, with beautifully designed labels. A portion of the proceeds from sales go to The National Fallen Fire Fighters Foundation. That said, his wines are very well made. There were 3 Chardonnays, 2 Cabernet Sauvignons and a Syrah to taste. The Cabs (2012 & 2013 – pre-release) stood out as very well-crafted and were smooth and ready to drink.
Stanger Vineyards (LINK), Paso Robles, CA. Last year, when we entered the mixer, the first person we saw was J.P. French holding a 5 gallon plastic water jug that was filled with Malbec that had just been pressed. He sloshed some of the juice into our glasses and moved on. Later, we returned to his table and discovered some amazing wines. J.P. was back this year, with the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon in the plastic jug – again, just pressed. He also had a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon that was spicy, earthy, but with nice red fruit on the nose and palate. If you are into wine, Stanger Vineyards is a good bet.
Theopolis Vineyards (LINK), Anderson Valley, CA. Theopolis, run by Theodora Lee, a Texan and an attorney by trade, had 7 or 8 wines (we were well into the tasting) on display. Theopolis has a focus on Petite Syrah on the red side, and the Symphony Grape – a California crossing of Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris developed in 1948 (but not commercially released until 1982) by the late Harold Olmo, professor of viticulture at the University of California, Davis. As its pedigree suggests, it is a seductively aromatic wine with delightfully captivating aromas that are markedly floral with slightly spicy flavors (from their website). She also produces a very seductive Petite Syrah Rosè. The wines were among the best of the evening and I look forward to visiting her again today at the Grand Tasting.
Turiya Wines (LINK), Lompoc, CA. Turiya means “pure consciousness” in Sanskrit. Winemaker Angela Soleno brings a consciousness to winemaking that produces some exceptional wines. We tasted a Sangiovese and a Bordeaux Blends, and both were excellent. A one-woman operation, Angela produces about 200 cases annually, all reds, featuring a number of varietals – Red Blends, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese. Wine prices begin at about $100/bottle and you have to be on the allocation list to receive wine. Visit the website for more information.
Vinemark Cellars (LINK), Paso Robles, CA. Mark Wasserman, who runs Vinemark with his wife, Julie, was present with two wines, a 2013 Reserve Pinto Noir and a 2012 Mezzanote, a blend of 75% Primitivo and 25% Petite Syrah. Mark is the classic Garagistè, in it for the love of winemaking. He loves to talk about his wines, and they are wonderful.
So that is a taste of the tasting mixer. There were a number of other quality wines present and, again, try as we might, Dorianne and I did not get to taste everything. Today – the Classic Tasting with about 70 producers and a couple of hundred wines. We will do our best.
Continuing our series on the wineries I visited on a group wine tour in the Santa Rita Hills Appellation on Saturday, we will take a look at Margerum Wine Company (LINK). Our group tasted at the winery near Buellton, but the regular tasting rooms (LINK) are in Santa Barbara. Assistant Winemaker Sam Smith conducted our tasting on Saturday.
Margerum produces a number of wines from a variety of vineyards (LINK) in Santa Barbara County. They produce small quantities of each wine, seeking to maximize the quality. Their stable of wines runs from Sauvignon Blanc (including a rare late harvest dessert version), to Pinot Gris and a Grenache Rosé on the white side, with Syrah, Pinot Noir,Grenache, and Rhone and Chateauneuf-du-Pape style blends under a couple of labels. You can read about each of the wines at the link above. I really enjoyed the 2013 LATE HARVEST SAUVIGNON BLANC, a very light and smooth dessert wine that has a light mouthfeel and not too much sweetness.
I found the wines we tasted to be well-crafted with a tendency toward lightness and elegance, even a sense of understatement, which is consistent with the style that many winemakers adopt in this region. As noted in earlier posts, if you want the big fruit-bomb reds, you need to head north a bit to Paso Robles, where that style is more prevalent.
The owners of Margerum Wine Company are also involved in the Wine Cask Restaurant (LINK) in Santa Barbara. The restaurant has an excellent reputation, and, I am pretty sure, you can get some Margerum Wines on the premises.
Later, more posts on the other two wineries we visited, LaFond and Tyler, each very interesting in its own right.
As a new year begins, I have been browsing Twitter and some wine blogs and seeing, for the most part, the results of New Years Eve celebrations – pictures of very nice labels, people having fun, even features about opulent wine cellars. Wine is definitely a catalyst for good time and a good lifestyle, isn’t it?
That being said, I have to admit that I am somewhat put off by the displays of opulence. I guess I fall somewhere between those drinking old Chateau Margeaux and those drinking Yellow Tail. (Full disclosure – I stayed in and did not imbibe last night – a case of food poisoning.) I disparage neither end of the spectrum, for they represent parts of a very wide spectrum of wine enjoyment. Now, I have had both Chateau Margeaux and Yellow Tail, and I hope to have the former again; and I am pretty sure that I will have the latter again. This is more about what wine enjoyment can be and how it is often portrayed in the wine media.
The emphasis of much of the wine media, including the Twitterverse, is that true wine enjoyment only happens at the high end – by those with better palates, more money, and greater access than most of us will ever enjoy. I know that this is true of many aspects of life – cars, houses, etc. – but with wine, it is, I think, a bit more universal. This deprives many of the true enjoyment that a more modest degree of the three items mentioned above – quality of palate, financial assets, and access to great wines and the places where they are made and consumed – can bring.
I do not wish to disparage the high end of the wine world, but I do want to celebrate the other aspects more than we do. I want to let people, especially young people new to wine, know that a visit to the tasting rooms of Paso Robles or Santa Ynez can be as much or more fun than a visit to the Chateaus of Bordeaux. For one example, you will likely taste wines that are ready to drink in Paso or Santa Ynez, whereas the Bordeauxs that you will taste in Chateaus will mostly be years away from their peak. Also, the people pouring your wines in Paso will be much more accessible and patient with the newcomer than most of the equivalent people in Bordeaux, or in many of the other “premium” places.
I want people new to wine to know that there are many, many AMAZING wines that cost less than $25, and that most of the wines that cost under $50 are really good. That there is a significant drop off in quality to value ratios when you get above $50 per bottle. I want them to know that pairing a wine with a pizza can bring as much pleasure as pairing one with caviar; that screw caps are a better sealing device than corks for wines not meant to age for a long time (and even that is debatable).
Personally, I want everyone who is interested in wine to enjoy their interest without feeling that they are “missing something” due to some lack of knowledge or money or access. I realize that this is probably an impossible desire, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t pursue it. I want this blog and my wine-related activities to speak to people who love wines in all kinds of ways.
During 2015, I will be traveling to Europe and to South America and will blog about wine experiences at all levels. I will be starting to offer wine travel experiences, first in France – Bordeaux and Paris – in two formats – for those who know wine well and for those who want to learn about wine. Later, tours to Burgundy and Lyon and possibly to other world locations will be initiated. The idea is to enjoy travel and to experience the joy of a wine related lifestyle at whatever level works for you.
Wine is for anyone who wants to enjoy it and we need to keep a broad perspective for the industry, and it’s customers, to thrive. I look forward to exploring more of the world of wine and to sharing it with as many people as want to partake of its many great experiences.