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Paso Garagiste Festival – new for 2011

GARAGISTES – (gar-uh-zhē-stuh) n, Fr. – A term originally used in the Bordeaux region of France to denigrate renegade small-lot wine makers, sometimes working in their garage, who refused to follow the “rules.”

This movement has taken hold all over the world and thankfully more and more of these small family owned wineries are being recognized for the true artisanal qualities that make these wines and their winemakers so special.  Now there is a new festival in town, Paso Robles that is, that focuses solely on the “artisan winemaker”. The Paso Garagiste Festival is quickly coming together and will be held Saturday November 12, 2011 in Creston, just a bit south of Paso Robles.


The festival is the brainchild of three friends who love wine and share an appreciation for the small lot winemaker. While attending a Rhone Ranger event in LA a couple of years back Stewart McClennan, Doug Minnick and Dan Erland Anderson started brainstorming for a way they could help promote these boutique wineries, primarily those of Paso Robles. They admired the fact that most of these winemakers, fueled by their passion for making exceptional wine, were working other day jobs, some commuting hundreds of miles weekly to do both, or were working for larger wineries while making their wine in their “spare time”. Many do not have tasting rooms and their case production is so small they can’t get the representation that the “big boys” get. They felt these “garagistes” needed some help in getting the word out and the plan for the festival began to take form. Well the word got out fast and soon wineries from further south along the Central Coast were asking to participate and now over 40 small production wineries who are producing under 1200 cases annually  are scheduled to participate.

Not just the wineries in this festival are special. The venue is fantastic! The magnificent Windfall Farms, a 750 acre horse farm in Creston, has been chosen, and the beautiful stallion barn will serve as the unique location for this special tasting event. Check out this video for a complete tour of the venue.

Entrance to "after party" room

Entrance to "after party" room

"After Party" room where Australian country singer Stephen Rowe will perform

"After Party" room where Australian country singer Stephen Rowe will perform

Needless to say I am thrilled with the idea of this festival! I have met with Doug and Stewart and we are completely of the same mindset – we love these wines and the people behind them, and we want to do whatever we can to help them get the word out about them. And…proceeds from the festival will go to support young winemakers at the Wine and Viticulture Program at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. So I urge you to visit their website, watch the videos on their homepage and order your tickets. It’s going to be great!


A world of wine…

In the last couple of weeks I have been able to taste the wines of the world without ever leaving LA. Although I didn’t have to deal with airport lines and security and didn’t have to pack a bag, there is always that nasty 405  to worry about.

Just off the 405 in LA is one of my favorite wine stores, the Wine House. Besides their huge selection of wines from every possible wine region, they also offer some of the best wine classes I’ve attended. The class entitled “Wine Tour of France – The Secret Regions” caught my interest so on a warm April evening I joined about 20 other guests on this tasting journey. Led by Mike Greene, a wine guru I had known from one of my other favorite wine shops in the valley, we tasted some very unusual wines starting with a Savagnin Arbois Jacques Puffeney 2005 from the Jura region of Eastern France. This wine was made from the Savagnin grape in a style that had the sweet, slightly oxidized nose of a Sherry with a long finish of vanilla and smoke. While lighter than a Sherry both in body and color, the food pairing suggested for this wine was chicken breasts cooked in a creamy sauce with morels. I would have loved to try that pairing – by itself I didn’t love the wine.

I did, however, really like the Mondeuse Arbin Domaine Trosset 2009 from the Savoie, located in the Rhone-Alpes region in the French Alps. Mondeuse makes a wine that is like a blend of Gamay and Cab Franc with a cherry Kool Aid bouquet and some well structured tannins. Those tannins were mellowed with some dry cheese and this wine would be a great pour with roast chicken.

With a plate of braised short ribs we sampled a Tannat,Cab Franc, Cab Sauvignon blend from Irouleguy Rouge Domaine, Illarria, 2008 and a 100% Negrette from La Folle Noire d’Ambat Chateau Le Roc, 2009. Until this time the only Negrette I had tasted was in a Port style offering from Roxo Port in Paso Robles. While obviously very different wines, the Negrette is delicious both ways.

My favorite of the night was the Cahors Clos La Coutale, 2009. Named by the locals, “the black wine of Cahor”, this wine is 80% Malbec and 20% Merlot and a great value at just $13.00.

On to Austria, a region I actually knew very little about. May 2 brought Austria Uncorked to the very  LA trendy SLS Hotel. With over 60 wineries represented, this event required some power tasting, but I like to chat with the winemakers and get an education at the same time. With some very heavy accents to get accustomed to I was able to learn some basic facts about the wines of Austria. First and foremost there is Grüner Veltliner, only just now gaining popularity in the US. This white wine, as I tasted, can be made anywhere from light and crisp to rich and full bodied. Any way, this wine offers good acidity and light spice with a bit of white flower. Some of the Gru-Vee’s I tried also had a bit of frizzante, making it just that much more fun for quaffing. This wine can be enjoyed by itself in its lighter form and will hold up to chicken, fish and light sauces in its more full bodied expressions. Generally great pricing on this wine as well. Of course there were Rieslings galore to try and many of them in the form of sweet dessert wines and ice wines. Norbert of the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills was on hand with a great selection of cheeses and suggested a delicious Osterblau to offset the sweetness of the dessert wines. Perfect!

Austria’s most popular red grape is Zweigelt. For the most part I enjoyed these wines, tasting a bit like Pinot Noir – Ruby in color with a fruity nose like cherries, dry on the palate with black fruits, medium tannins and a lengthy, slightly spicy finish.

Another red I became acquainted with was Blaufränkisch. One wine spent 12 months in oak, was complex and spicy with  substantial tannins and another had been made in the Late Harvest style and was delicious without being syrupy and heavy.

As luck would have it, the same hotel was playing host to the “Drink Ribera. Drink Spain” tasting event, so after 2 hours in Austria I walked down the hall to Spain. (Gotta love traveling like this!) The Ribera del Duero, located about two hours north of Madrid, is an area of extreme conditions – high elevation, good rainfall, cold winters and short but hot summers.  Great conditions for growing their flagship grape, Tempranillo, also known as Tinto Fino.  The wines are broken down into 5 classifications. Joven: wines that see little to  no oak and meant to be consumed young. Crianza: Aged at least 2 years, a minimum of 1 year in oak. Reserva: Aged 3 years, a minimum of 1 year in oak. Gran Reserva: Wines of outstanding quality, made in select vintage years only. Aged a minimum of 5 years, with a minimum of 2 years in oak.  Rosado: Rosé wines.

These are bold wines meant to be consumed with food – anything grilled. While pricing runs the gamut, many are value priced and readily available so experiment and try some this summer.