Santa Maria Sun / Eats
The Garagiste Festival in Solvang is ripe with Santa Barbara County's cutting-edge wines
BY WENDY THIES SELL
Much has been written about the joy of discovery. French physiologist Claude Bernard went as far as to say it’s “the liveliest that the mind of man can ever feel.”
However, one doesn’t have to discover a new country or unearth a dinosaur fossil to sense that exhilaration.
Such a thrill can be felt simply by tasting something extraordinary for the first time—for example, a spectacular first-vintage wine that you’ve never heard of before, because it has never been poured before.
That rare experience can be yours at The Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure on March 29 and 30 at the handsome Solvang Veterans’ Memorial Hall.
More than 50 of Santa Barbara County’s limited-production, commercial winemakers will pour their yet-to-be discovered, high-quality wines at two grand tastings.
Garagiste (gar-uh-zh-stuh) is a term originally used in the Bordeaux region of France referring to passionate, small-lot winemakers who refused to follow the “rules” by working in their garage, not a chateau.
The Garagiste Festival celebrates that renegade spirit by bringing together the best on-the-verge winemakers on the Central Coast, supporting them, and featuring their artisan wines.
Garagiste Festival co-founder Doug Minnick knows a thing or two about discovering new talent. As a successful music business executive, he scouted and signed new artists and worked closely with musicians, producers, and songwriters to make hit records.
Now Minnick’s passion is discovering and helping to develop the future rock stars of the wine world.
“These guys, in our opinion, are making some of the best wine out there,” Minnick said. “When you’re making wine in this quantity, you’ve really got your nose in the barrel, so to speak, and [it’s] produced with a lot of attention and a lot of love, and it shows up in the bottle.”
Wineries pouring at the festival this year include: Dubost Ranch, DV8 Cellars, Press Gang Cellars, Desperada, Cloak & Dagger, La Fenetre Wines, Tercero Wines, LaZarre Wines, and ONX Wines.
“I have participated in the Garagiste events since the very first festival in Paso Robles in 2011,” said Nick de Luca, owner, winemaker, and viticulturist at Ground Effect Wines. “It is great to be surrounded by so many like-minded winemakers in such a positive, non-competitive environment. There really aren’t any big egos involved, and everyone seems very eager to support the other participants at the event. Also, it is a great opportunity to taste and discuss and see what my neighbors are up to.”
Added Clarissa Nagy of C. Nagy Wines, “I really enjoy participating in the Garagiste events. The team searches out boutique, ultra-premium producers and showcases them in a fun and beautiful venue. The Garagiste Festival promotes and supports the small-scale winemakers who are following their dreams of having their own label.”
In an email to the Sun, Pence Ranch General Manager Stephen Janes said, “Garagiste perfectly exemplifies the spirit behind small batch and artisan winemaking. This is why we are participating.”
More than 75 percent of the wineries pouring at the festival do not have tasting rooms, so it’s next to impossible to taste the wines otherwise. Half of the wineries are new to the festival this year, and 13 of the wineries will be unveiling their first vintage of wine.
“We have people pour their first vintage and explode out of the box and end up with big scores and selling out quickly,” Minnick said. “This is pretty gratifying. The Festival Garagiste gives them a way to reach a lot of people quickly and speaks to why our audience likes to come and find these people, because it’s about getting in early.”
If you fall in love with a new winery at the festival, you have a chance to get in its wine club or to buy the wine before others do.
“There’s something exciting about finding things early, whether you’re finding a band early before they have a hit record or … you’re finding a winemaker early before they have a big score in Wine Spectator and sell out [of] all their wine,” Minnick said.
“It’s bragging rights, being able to brag to your friends, ‘I remember that band when they were playing at The Whiskey.’ The same is kind of true with wines,” he said. “If you’re on the Saxum [Vineyards, in Paso Robles] list, you can brag about that a little bit, because nobody else can get on that right now.”
Last year’s Garagiste Festival sold out, so organizers have expanded to two days this year, with entirely different wineries pouring each day.
Festivalgoers can buy a ticket to a single afternoon tasting, a two-day tasting pass, or a weekend all-access pass. A limited number of tickets will be sold.
“We take care not to pack too many people in the room. We like to have a good ratio of taster to winemaker,” Minnick said. “Our audience likes to interact with the winemaker. It’s the winemaker who pours at our festival. It’s not tasting room people or distributors; it’s the winemaker. That’s something our audience appreciates.”
Another thing the audience and winemakers like is the easygoing attitude.
“We’re really proud of the spirit that we have at these events. It’s really light and fun. This isn’t reserved for the ‘know-it-all’ aficionado,” Minnick emphasized. “We have seminars each day that help you learn and go into more detail about the process of winemaking in the area. We like to keep the whole spirit of things light.”
In addition, proceeds from the festival benefit the Cal Poly Wine and Viticulture program to support the next generation of winemakers.
Sun wine and food writer Wendy Thies Sell always enjoys the thrill of wine discovery. Contact her at email@example.com.