Now that Hospice du Rhône has vacated the festival ‘throne’ in Paso Robles, CA there is an opening for a newly crowned king. The Garagiste Festival is only in its second year but might very well be the heir apparent.
There is a sameness recipe that a lot of wine shows just can’t seem to break. Endless rows of clothed folding tables in some sort of pavilion or civic center, a of mass people all who all seem to be asking for the same wine and of course the tiny ISO approved wine glass.
Well there is a light at the end of the dimly lit wine show tunnel and it just might be The Garagiste Festival. It’s breaking the wine show mold and this is partly due to the grounds they host the show on, Windfall Farms. A converted barn, gives a more intimate feel when you chat to the producers. It only allows wineries producing 1200 bottles or less to pour their wine, so a lot of the wineries here don’t have their own pump, let alone a tasting room.
I enjoy this show because you are going to find a few of gems. Last year I discovered one of the most serious natural wine producers in the Central Coast, Ambyth Estates,
who proved that wines with acidity exist in the land of big fruit and even bigger alcohol.
Another positive on the Garagiste front is the total lack of fluff and glitter that tends to pair far too often with wine shows. I have no doubt this is due mainly to the one of the show’s co-founders, Stewart McLennan. Stewart, who’s an Aussie, is all you would expect in a brash, to the point, no-nonsence antipodean. Such personalities are very welcome in the slightly plastic Californian wine world.
I asked Stewart if he was taking Hospice’s spot “I don’t want to be the next Hospice, I don’t like their time slot in Summer and I don’t want to lose our location here. I do however want to grow Garagiste to include wineries from oversees like they did.” There are also rumors/rumblings of the Garagiste Festival traveling out side of Paso to other wine regions in California….I’ll be the first to support that, and wish the supporters luck in their quest.
So, of the 48 some producers on show, here are my favorites, no particular order.
Ground Effect – Nick de Luca’s wine was one of the few from Santa Barbara County. Nick’s very into low, low sulfur use btw. 2011 Rock Garden is a blend of Syrah/Grenache/Zin – it had some dense concentration, a deep of berries, lavender and herb like finish.
Stage Left Cellars – Melinda Doty and her husband make their wine in Oakland.
The 2009 The Escape Artist is 100% Syrah from Watch Hill Vineyard in Santa Barbara County. Lovely fruit on this one with loads of spice and minerals.
Chris Von Holt of Von Holt had a 2010 Pinot Noir Bacigalupi Vineyard from Russian River Valley. Really liked this Pinot sour cherry fruit and pencil lead minerality, some nice tarry asphalt as well.
He just got mentioned as of one of Jon Bonné’s Top 100 in the Chronicle too (good job guys). Also, interesting to note, you hear about ex-lawyers/doctors retiring into the wine world. Well Chris was a secret service man – working with a bunch of different presidents and a certain president’s daughter who went to Stanford!!!!
Paix Sur Terre is owned by Ryan and Nicole Pease – their making Rhône blends – Particularly liked the 2010 Passenger, a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre all though the alcohol was a bit high for me at 15.6%, the wine still came out quite balanced. Labels are pretty sweet too. Their 2010 The Other One was quite a good tipple as well of mostly Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah.
Les Deux Chats – Being an owner of two cats myself how could I not mention these guys!
Liked the 2010 Viognier, despite being from the fairly hot climate of Lodi and having 15.4% alcohol (WOW!!!) the wine was surprisingly soft, well balanced, not flabby and very pleasant.
Amy Butler of Ranchero Cellars, named after her vintage Ford Rancero, sources her 2010 Carignan from 5ft high ancient vines up in Mendocino. Love this stuff and had it last year….this vintage was actually better than the ’09 I had last time. Also, just found out Amy won “Spirit of Garagiste’ award! Congratulations!