It was just a little over two years ago that The Garagiste Festival was a mere gleam in the eyes of co-founders Stewart McLennan and Doug Minnick. Much like the recently departed annual Paso Robles wine event Hospice du Rhone, it started with a simple idea to draw attention to an undiscovered piece of the wine world. When they decided to use the term "garagiste," few people even knew what that meant. It's a term originally coined by the big Bordeaux chateaux to denigrate their renegade winemaking neighbors, who were working in their "garages" and refused to follow the "rules." Then, due to the influence of Robert Parker, many of them went on to be recognized as making some of the best wine in the world. America has its own burgeoning population of stunning small lot producers also making some of the best wine in the world and the heart of this renegade group is right here in Paso Robles.
While it may be an exaggeration to say that now the world knows -- Wikipedia certainly does -- "Paso Robles represents the core of the American garagiste movement," -- thousands of passionate wine consumers from California and across the country now trek to Paso and the Central Coast not just for its fair, its beautiful oaks or its larger wine producers, but also for its over 125 garagiste winemakers and the annual Garagiste Festival, which is on its way to becoming a Paso institution after only two years. This November 7 -- 10th, the Festival is showcasing the talents of 66 winemakers, all of whom handcraft under 1,200 cases of wine per year.
The first Festival featured 45 wineries and now there are so many winemakers who want to take part an extra tasting session, called the Opening Round, was added to accommodate them. It's hard to say "no" when the wines are so good. Plus many of these burgeoning labels, most family run with no outside help, need help to get the word out about their wines. When you're spending most of your time making the wine and, for many, at a second job, marketing comes last.
Even more intimate than our Grand Tasting -- with just 17 wineries from around California -- it offers attendees a more leisurely opportunity to get their wine juices going and leads right into our super-popular carry over from last year the "Shiners, Secrets and Samples" Winemaker Mixer. This is the world's only public event where consumers can taste this much garagiste 'secret stash' all in one place. Unlike many "reserve" tasting events, the garagistes go out of the box yet again by pouring barrel samples, unreleased or club only bottles -- stuff the general public just can't get. There's something about being the first to find something great, that only adds to the fun.
The multi-winemaker, "Undiscovered Treasures" six-course dinner returns on Thursday night with popular, local chef Charlie Paladin Wayne at the helm. The wines at this dinner run the flavor gamut from Albarino to Mourvedre to Cabernet. The lineup includes limited production wines from Paso's up-and-coming heavy hitters like Clos Solene and The Farm Winery. The menu not only features great wines, but organic produce, cheese and products from many of the artisan farms and businesses now thriving in region like Morro Bay Oysters, Rinconada Dairy, Windrose Farm and Olea Farms Olive Oil. Held at the historic Carlton Hotel in Atascadero, the evening will shine a light on another jewel of the Central Coast.
The Festival is not just about drinking, though we confess it's one of our favorite parts. Each year we try to come up with unique and educational seminars to keep the knowledge and the wine flowing. This year starts off with "What's Wrong With This Picture? Educate Your Palate About the Most Common Wine Flaws," which teaches consumers how to identify (and understand the cause of) wine flaws such as TCA, Oxidization, Bret, and more. You'll never have to suffer through a bad bottle again. Since the Festival is in Paso, the focus of the second seminar is on what makes this region so special. Titled "Garagiste Outlaws: Breaking the Old World Blending Rules: In France they'd throw you in jail for these blends" -- winemakers Christian Tietje from Cypher Winery and Jeff Strekas from ONX Wines will explain why many Old World blending rules are just made to be broken and guests will get to taste the fruit of their experience.
The main event, the Grand Tasting on Saturday, will again be out at the amazing Windfall Farms with 49 fabulous Central Coast garagistes pouring over 150 wines ranging the varietal gamut from Albarino to Zinfandel. Attendees will get to explore every wine style and talk to the winemakers face to face to discover what makes their wines special.
The festival winds down on Sunday with a symposium for serious aspiring and beginning winemakers. Presented by Laffort, winemakers Matt Brain and Adam LaZarre will lead attendees in a seminar titled "Nothing's Perfect: How to Manage and Influence Your Wines to Greatness" which we hope will encourage a whole new population of garagistes! Making great wine is not easy and sharing knowledge is a necessity.
While we take our wine seriously, this is an event for all wine lovers from beginners to oenophiles. It's about finding your favorite wine, making new friends and perhaps learning a bit more about the ever expanding world of wine.
As the Los Angeles Times said, "this is one not to miss" and tickets sell out fast: For tickets and information go to www.garagistefestival.com.
By Melanie Webber