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New Times / Cuisine

The following article was posted on January 16th, 2013, in the New Times - Volume 27, Issue 25 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from New Times [] - Volume 27, Issue 25

Small but powerful

The garagistes are gathering in Santa Ynez Valley


Expose yourself to something new
Many San Luis Obispoans discovered the Garagiste Festival in Paso Robles at Windfall Farms last November for the first time. It was their second year, and it was expanded so the event took place over three days. At the time, the Garagiste Festival founders said they planned to create another event to celebrate the talented winemakers in the Santa Ynez Valley, and they got it done quickly. This new festival takes place within a month, and local wine aficionados I know wouldn’t dream of missing the inaugural event where more than 30 artisan winemakers will gather to offer tastes of their rare and highly limited wines. Among them are Blair Fox, Casa Dumetz, Center of Effort, La Fenetre, Nagy, Native9, Storm, and Tercero.

Southern Exposure takes place on Saturday, Feb. 16, in Solvang’s Veterans Memorial Hall beginning with a winemakers’ seminar at 11 a.m. “The Ultimate Barrel Tasting—Oak Flavors Tasted and Explained” will be led by winemaker/viticulturist Michael Larner of Larner Vineyard in Santa Ynez Valley. Among his panel of expert Paso Robles winemakers, you’ll hear from Ryan Render of Rendarrio Vineyards, who also works for Tonnellerie Saint Martin cooperage (barrel producers), and McPrice Myers. During the seminar you’ll learn to recognize the influence of different oak treatments, from type to region and toast, in a comparison tasting of McPrice Myers wine grown in Larner Vineyard.

The media/trade tasting runs from noon to 2 p.m., and the grand tasting for the public runs from 2 to 5 p.m. For tickets and information about Southern Exposure, go to, which provides sign-up information for Facebook and Twitter to receive festival alerts. The limited VIP all-access pass is $80 per person including the seminar, lunch, and early access to the grand tasting (which alone costs $50 per person). No one younger than 21 is allowed into the festival. “Dedicated to the undiscovered and under-recognized artisan garagiste producers who are making some of the best, most exciting, handcrafted, small lot production wines in the world,” states the Garagiste Festival website, it was founded by garagistes Stewart McLennan and Douglas Minnick. The festival was named by ABC News as “one of the top nine incredible epicurean vacations.” Minnick explained: “We are thrilled to bring closer access to these remarkable artisan winemakers for our broad audience in Southern California. It’s is no secret that the garagiste movement is on fire, and we are proud to be part of the kindling for it.”

Many readers first learned of the outstanding Garagiste Festival in Cuisine (Nov. 1, 2012) when I covered their second annual tasting event at Windfall Farms in Paso Robles. During those interviews, the event organizers admitted they were planning to start another Garagiste Festival in Santa Ynez Valley, and it happened much faster than I ever expected.



The inaugural event is titled “Southern Exposure,” a reference to the south Central Coast region. It takes place Saturday, Feb. 16, at the Veterans Memorial Hall in Solvang. Why is that important to you? You’ll meet the artisan winemakers who handcraft miniscule amounts of ultra-premium wines in an array of notable varietals and blends in Santa Barbara County. Attend this tasting and you’ll be among the privileged first to taste wines from more than 30 great Santa Ynez Valley wineries at what is certain to become an annual event.

My first visit was the second annual Garagiste Festival in Paso Robles last November, and it was quite unique. The world-class equestrian farm—Windfall Farms—features many large stalls with two or three winemakers pouring samples inside. It provides the opportunity for you to discuss the wines with the passionate man or woman behind the brand. The Garagiste Festival is limited to small producers who make less than 1,200 cases of wines annually, and most of these artisans only make a few hundred cases. According to their website, the French term “garagiste” (pronounced gare-ahg-east) was created by professional winemakers in Bordeaux, who used the term derisively to describe the small, unconventional winemakers making wine in their garage or root cellar. Such artisans are found in all major wine regions around the world, but it’s never been easy to discover them until now.

The garagistes make wine at co-op wineries or places where you can’t walk in and visit, as you can in our tasting rooms. Most of these winemakers don’t own their own winery, nor do they have a tasting room. And it’s safe to say few of them make enough wine to pay a distributor to sell them, let alone have the funds for PR and marketing. That’s why the Garagiste Festival pays off through extensive marketing and managing an elaborate website that introduces you to members. It also helps you place orders to buy, once you’ve become a fan. And it’s a nonprofit organization that provides some of the funds raised to support Cal Poly’s Wine and Viticulture Program.

Typically the only way you’ll have the remote opportunity to taste these exclusive wines is at a festival, but even that was difficult until now. The rarity of these wines makes them so highly sought after, once they’re discovered you’ll be lucky if you ever have the opportunity to taste or buy them again. I’ve seen it happen too many times. That’s why I recommend you join me in getting to know the rising stars of the excellent wine growing region of the Santa Ynez Valley.

Contact Cuisine columnist Kathy Marcks Hardesty at