Small producers have everything to do with my fanatical love of wine. Sure, you can walk into a BevMo or independent wine shop and pick up a bottle of something perfectly lovely to drink, but a big part of the charm for me is getting to know that bottle’s story–which usually means visiting the place it came from, or chatting with the (person with the) hands that crafted it (indeed, it’s this blog’s very raison d’être).
One of the great things about living in California is that doing such a thing on a regular basis is easily possible and a lot of fun. And there’s perhaps no better embodiment of this small-lot bonanza than the California Garagiste movement.
What is a Garagiste? It’s the name first given to microproducers in Bordeaux, France in the early to mid-1990s, who were producing more robust (bigger fruit, higher alcohol) wines than those in the style of the traditional chateaus. While the movement in France seems to have stalled somewhat, American winemakers–especially those in California–embraced the concept and the California Garagiste movement was born.
The majority of California Garagistes come from the Paso Robles area (though there are producers ranging from Santa Barbara to Napa who also participate), and they’ve been actively promoting these small producers of 1,500 cases or less since 2011 when they held their first festival in Paso Robles. They’ve since expanded south to the Santa Ynez Valley, and onward still to Los Angeles. The third annual Garagiste Festival: Urban Exposure is this Saturday, July 9, at The Wiltern in Los Angeles.
What makes this festival so special is that many of the winemakers who will be there do not have tasting rooms–this is your chance to do something otherwise impossible: taste those great small-production wines and chat with the winemakers in person. These are people who began making wine as a labor of love–no corporate nonsense here.
If you live in Southern California and you love great wine, you need to go to this festival. There are three ticket levels available: the public grand tasting, which runs from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., is $69. If you’d like to get a jump on things before the crowds arrive, the $99 ticket will allow you in for early tasting at 2 p.m. And better still is the VIP Backstage Seminar Access, with admission beginning at 1 p.m. and which offers the seminar “Understanding Oak Varieties: Tasting the Winemakers Spice Rack.” Ticket price is $129, and this is where you can get your wine geek on. From the festival website:
With Panelist Ryan Render, Rendarrio Vineyards and Michael Larner, Larner Vineyards
What does oak really taste like? French oak, American oak, neutral oak, heavy toast… these are some of the words we hear all the time in the wine world, but what do they really mean? How do you tell the flavor of oak from the flavor of the wine itself? We will taste it for ourselves as our VIP guests will get an All Access Pass to the world of oak in wine.
It almost impossible to learn the difference in oak flavors unless you can sample a single wine with different types of oak treatments side-by-side. Once you do this, you’ll be able to identify oak flavors at whole new level and for the rest of your life. We’ve done it and it’s powerful, fun, and enlightening way to raise your tasting chops.The discussion will be led by Ryan Render, a representative for the famous French tonnellerie Cadus. Ryan, an accomplished Garagiste winemaker in his own right and owner of Rendarrio Vineyards, will guide attendees through a history of barrel making and it’s nuances covering everything from forest origin to grain influence to toast levels as we taste and compare wines from both his vineyard and the Larner Vineyard.
This is not something you can achieve at home – you need the Garagiste Festival to make it possible!
Once the seminar is over VIP guests will enjoy unlimited tastes of over 200 ultra-premium, hard-to-find wines provided by over 60 wineries; exclusive tastes of “Rare & Reserve” wines* ONLY being poured from 2-3pm; a $10 food coupon to our onsite food truck; bread, cheese & charcuterie, as well as product samples provided by selected artisan food vendors. These tickets are limited.
This is going to be a rare opportunity to learn some of the most important basics of winemaking, along with an exclusive tasting of rare and reserve wines, followed by the general Garagiste tasting.
Go to this link for tickets, and if you’d like to see a listing of which producers will be there, that’s conveniently provided on the festival website here. I’m already familiar with a handful of these winemakers, and can tell you you’re in for a treat (and some amazing wine). Even better? Proceeds from the event are donated to the Cal Poly Wine and Viticulture Program, thereby investing in the future of great California winemaking.