Garage bands conjure up images of unseen talent lamenting away in near obscurity before they make it big. And the same is true with winemakers. The term garagiste is from the French meaning, well, garage, and it has nothing really to do with garages with the exception of winemakers in that country who are making small lots of wine, a few hundred cases to maybe a thousand cases, and who defy conventional winemaking to do their own thing. Frankly anyplace you visit has undiscovered hard-to-find wines, but they’re not easy to find…wait, we just covered that. Fortunately, the Paso Robles Garagiste Festival does the gathering work for you, enabling you to meet face-to-face with these elusive wines and winemakers.
|Relaxing at Windfall Farms|
The 2nd iteration was held at Windfall Farms in Creston, just east of Paso Robles on a crisp autumn day. There were 48 winemakers pouring 130 wines so realistically you can’t cover everything, but I can say from my experience as a wine writer, I did not find a bad wine out of the limited wineries I was able to visit. The wineries represented make less that 1,200 cases, and most make considerably fewer cases than that and the majority are off the radar. “You have to do a little digging to find us,” Per Cazo Cellars owner Dave Teckman told me. The sheer diversity and small allocations are one of the reasons to come to this. There is a propensity towards Syrah and Rhone blends, as Paso does these quite well, but make no mistake, this is not the usual suspects. For example:
|Phillip Hart of Ambyth|
Ambyth Estates makes biodynamic wine from biodynamic grapes. There has been so much mis-information about biodynamic wine and whereas it’s a convoluted subject to go into here, the bottom line is that it goes beyond organic and frankly, anything that does not add chemicals to our soils is a good thing. Phillip Hart’s wines ($38 - $45) will absolutely change your perception about biodynamic wine and just how solid they can be. Other producers include Paso Port whose seductive port wines ($30 - $45) are flat out comprehensive and terrific little numbers, and Bodega de Edgar, a rather sloppy name (named for owner/winemaker Edgar Torres) but who makes impressive Tempranillo ($32) and Tempranillo blends, as does Bodegas M who produces excellent Albariño and Tempranillo, both at $25.
Also observed at this festival are some of the Iberian varieties such as Albariño and Verdejo, and fun, funky blends like the energetic ZinG ($29) from Per Cazo which is a blend of Zinfandel and Grenache, two partners you don’t see dancing together, showing that wine need not be merely a standard offering of straight Cabernet. Of course, having said that, Mike Sinor’s Sinor-La Valle’s Pinot Noirs (only $30 - $40 and worth every penny) are true, delicate and straight forward Pinots with a slight backbone of Central Coast roughness.
There are wine-centric seminars, winemaker dinners and the usual trappings of any wine festival, but what sets this apart is that these winemakers are celebrated for being obscure. So plan on attending and plan early, it always sells out.