If you like off-the-radar wines but cringe at packed festivals, the second annual Garagiste Festival wine-tasting fest, coming March 29-30 in Solvang, is absolutely worth the drive north.
First, let's all say "garagiste" (gar-uh-zhe-stuh): The word comes from France's Bordeaux region, originally used to denigrate small-lot, rogue winemakers who often worked out of their garages. Modern garagistes make some of the best wine in the world.
Organizers doubled the size of the 2014 event to accommodate more guests - and winemakers - but co-founders Doug Minnick and Stewart McLennan expect another sell-out.
The two, who are garagistes themselves, teamed with Los Angeles - based event director Lisa Dinsmore for the flagship Garagiste Festival in Paso Robles in November 2011, and in 2013 launched the smaller Solvang event to focus on winemakers based in the greater Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County.
"One of the most fulfilling things about Garagiste Festival events is seeing important new winemakers not only get discovered for the first time but, in many instances, explode out of the box," Minnick says.
As event co-founders, Minnick and McLennan have "done the groundwork" and handpicked small producers who make "excellent, high-quality wines. And because the event is smaller, guests get to interact with the people who make the wines," Minnick says.
Eighty percent of the winemakers scheduled to pour in Solvang have no tasting room, 50 percent are new to the festival in 2014 and all of them produce fewer than 1,500 cases of wine each year, Minnick and McLennan note.
Clarissa Nagy of C. Nagy Wines, whose case production is just 500, will return to the Solvang Garagiste festival for her second year. Nagy produces pinot blanc, viognier, pinot noir and syrah, and likes being able to speak one-on-one with attendees about how she makes wine. "Getting our wine in front of a large number of wine lovers gathered in one place is part of the founders' goal. People get excited about discovering new producers and tasting new wines," Nagy says. "And Garagiste is a very fun event, with great energy."
Nagy, an alumnus of Cal Poly University in San Luis Obispo, is grateful that both the Paso Robles and Solvang Garagiste festivals benefit the school's Poly Wine & Viticulture Program, which educates future winemakers about all aspects of the business, from the vineyard to the table.
The festival will feature two Grand Tastings, one from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday and the second from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, each with a unique lineup of winemakers.
Winemakers pouring on Saturday, March 29, include Archium Cellars, Ascension Cellars, Carucci Wines, Casa Dumetz, Cholame Vineyard, Cordon Wines, Crawford Family Wines, Dubost Ranch, DV8 Cellars, Graef Wines, Ground Effect Wines, Harrison Clarke Wines, Kaena Wine Company, Kessler-Haak Winery, Kita Wines, Larner Winery, Luminesce, Moretti Wine Co., Pence Ranch, Press Gang Cellars, Roark Wine Co., Ryan Cochrane Wines, Seagrape Wine Company, Shai Cellars, Tercero Wines, Transcendence Wines, Turiya and Vinemark Cellars.
Winemakers pouring Sunday, March 30, include a-non-ah-mus, Baehner-Fournier, Bradley Family Winery, Brophy Clark Cellars, C. Nagy Wines, Calilove Winery, Cloak & Dagger, Clos Des Amis, Dascomb Cellars, Desperada, Dilecta, Fontes & Phillips, Frequency Wines, Gioia Wines, Guyomar Wine Cellars, J. Wilkes Wines, La Fenetre Wines, LaZarre Wines, Montemar Winery, Nicora Wines, ONX Wines, Plan B Cellars, Refugio Ranch, Scott Cellars, Solminer Wine, Stanger Vineyards, Weatherborne Wine Co. and Zinke Wine Company.
In addition, the festival will feature morning tasting seminars, each limited to 90 participants, from 11 a.m. to noon both days. On Saturday: "Rhones Rule: The Wines of Ballard Canyon," will focus on the Santa Ynez Valley's newest AVA (American Viticultural Area). Speaking will be Michael Larner of Larner Vineyards, Larry Schaffer of Tercero Wines and Mikael Sigouin of Kaena Wine Company, all of whom source from the Ballard Canyon.
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Sunday will focus on one of the region's most difficult-to-grow grape varietals, pinot noir. In "A Pinot Noir Primer From the Roots Up," Joshua Klapper from La Fenetre Wines, Adam LaZarre from LaZarre Wines and Clarissa Nagy from C. Nagy Wines will help consumers understand how different clones and regional climates influence what's in the bottle.
Laurie Jervis blogs about wine at www.centralcoastwinepress.com tweets at @lauriejervis and can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.