Garagiste Winemakers Gear Up for Fest

Second annual Paso Robles event grows to four days

by Jane Firstenfeld
garagiste cal poly
Douglas Minnick and Stewart McLennan present a check for $10,000 to Cal Poly. The funds were profits from the inaugural Garagiste Festival in 2011.
Paso Robles, Calif.—Producers and fans of handcrafted Central Coast wines will gather Nov. 8-11 for the second annual Garagiste Festival. Winemakers from 48 tiny wineries (producing up to 1,200 cases per year) will pour at several events; seminars Nov. 10 and 11 will address issues including microclimates and terroir of Syrah, emerging varietals and a symposium for winemakers called Your First Vintage.

The two-day inaugural event in 2011 drew 500-700 paying guests, according to Stewart McLennan, who co-founded the festival with Douglas Minnick. Although he’s been producing wine with cohorts in “Brothers of the Barrel” since 1991 and worked at Four Vines Winery, McLennan will not be pouring at the festival, where all wineries are required to be licensed.

“Getting bonded and licensed costs a lot,” he noted. “A lot of our guys make their wines in bonded facilities, not actually a garage. In fact, some would probably be offended if you suggested they are actually making their wines in a garage,” McLennan said.

At the festival, however, they will be pouring their products in horse stalls (albeit luxurious, immaculate stallion stalls) at Paso’s Windfall Farms.

The 2011 event netted some $10,000 above costs, which was donated to the wine/grapegrowing program at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) in San Luis Obispo. With the expansion to four days this year, organizers hope to top that take, without crowding winemakers or attendees.

Winery tables are already sold out, McLennan said, but members of the trade and media can still register to meet the budding winemakers (and do some talent scouting) at the media/trade tasting from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Nov. 10.

This year there is more seating for the Nov. 10-11 symposia. McLennan will lead the “Your First Vintage” winemaker symposium Sunday at 11 a.m. “It will be soup to nuts,” he said. “Grape sourcing, equipment, the amount of labor needed, what it will cost in labor time and money. Mostly, it will be me telling people what not to do.”

He recalled an early disaster with the Brothers of the Barrel: They’d loaded up a half-ton MacroBin with must and were moving it in the back of a pickup truck from one side of the property to the other. “We all turned around as it was going up a slight rise, in time to see the bin slip out of the truck, hit the ground and soak into the dirt.” All those grapes and labor, literally down the drain.

Spreading the word
McLennan, who’s poured at countless national tastings, said a few wineries that participated last year dropped out. “Some grew beyond our production limit; a couple felt they didn’t get enough out of it,” he said. “If they’ve never done it before, they may not understand the marketing. It’s a cost/benefit analysis. We want every bottle poured to bear fruit in terms of a positive effect,” McLennan said.

Nicholas Elliott, who’s returning to pour his Nicora Wines this year, felt a positive effect. Although he doesn’t have a tasting room for his 500-case production, there’s already a waiting list for the wine club; prices average $28 per bottle.

“I probably did about four or five events last year from Monterey to Los Angeles. You’ve got to do it. I have a little wine set aside for events, and tastings are available by appointment, when I have wine,” Elliott said. “We want to outgrow the festival eventually, but don’t want to grow too fast,” he said. “So far, it’s all word of mouth; no sign on the road, customers referring their friends.”

Like many of the garagistes, Elliott has a day job, working for Scott Hawley at Torrin Vineyard, another 500-case facility.

Victor Abascal’s Vines on the Marycrest, which will host the “Samples, Shiners & Secrets” winemaker mixer Nov. 9, has almost reached limit of self-described garagiste production, expecting to produce 1,100 cases this year. The recipient of the first Spirit of Garagiste Award said, “I don’t necessarily aspire to growing out of our ‘Amish’ style. To me, 2,000 cases is a hernia.”

Abascal and his wife Jenni have almost completed a new, architect-designed tasting room, which will open in time for the festival. “We can see ourselves one day outgrowing the (production) maximum, but not for a couple of years.” Their first few vintages were made side-by-side with others in a co-op.

Unique venue
He said that Windfall Farms, the major Garagiste Festival venue, is “unique,” with two or three wineries pouring in each horse stall: “Very intimate.” The stalls, he quickly pointed out, are immaculate. “I’d move right in,” he said. He also wandered around the tasting. “I became a patron, got to know the people. It was a fun day.”

Abascal, too has a day job, sleeping in his L.A. video production office three nights per week and working in his 26-acre vineyard and winery the rest of the week.

New participants in the 2012 Garagiste Fest include Bodega de Edgar, Paix Sur Terre, Von Holt Cellars, Sinor La-Vallee, Stage Left Cellars, Luminesce, Center of Effort, Changala, Zin Alley, Cutruzzola, Pipestone.

For complete list of participants, schedules, details and tickets, visit Paso Garagiste.

Posted on 10.04.2012 - 12:09:07 PST
Sounds like this year's festival is going to be a good one with some great new additions! Cheers!
Kristy @ Wine Logic