Tag Archives: I’ll Drink to That

The Garagiste Festival – Celebrating the Artisan Winemaker

Xochitl Maiman – August 2015

The Garagiste Festival offers wine enthusiasts endless adventures in wine discovery.

The Garagiste Festival

As their website describes it… “Garagiste, a place for the underground, the different, and the cutting edge of small production winemaking with no rules.” The Garagiste Festivals, now at three per year, embody this definition and showcase the artisan winemakers of California, all with production under 1500 cases of ultra-premium, hard-to-find wines. Indeed, many of the wineries have no tasting room and their production is so small you won’t find their wines on store shelves. So, the only way to explore and experience these wines and the artisans that create them, is at one of the 3 annual festivals.

The first Garagiste Festival was held in November of 2011 in Paso Robles as a way to showcase the garagiste movement which had clearly taken a hold in that wine producing region. The event also served to raise funds for the Cal Poly Wine & Viticulture Program, which provides future winemakers with an education in all aspects of the wine business from the vineyard to the table. The Festival continues to support this program and its young winemakers of the future. With the movement growing throughout the California wine producing regions, and interest and awareness growing on the part of the wine consumer, the annual event schedule has grown to accommodate 3 festivals – adding festivals held in the Santa Ynez wine growing region of Santa Barbara County and in Los Angeles.

Garagiste Festival Paso Robles 2015Traditionally, the Santa Ynez Garagiste Festival, named “Southern Exposure” is held in the spring, the Los Angeles Garagiste Festival, “Urban Exposure” in the summer, and the Paso Robles festival in the fall.  So with just one more event left for 2015, now’s the time to save the date for November 7th. Actually, the November Festival has been expanded to include events over a 3-day period, beginning with a “5th Anniversary Dinner” at the Carlton Hotel in nearby Atascadero on Thursday, November 5th.  A “winemaker mixer” follows on Friday, with a series of events scheduled for Saturday, November 7th, including seminars, the Grand Tasting and an after-party.

With all the wine tasting events held every year, the Garagiste Festivals are my favorite, providing a fun and unique opportunity to taste wine while meeting and chatting with the actual winemaker. Hearing from them personally, as opposed to distributors or reps, takes the tasting experience to a much higher, memorable and more meaningful level.

While I have made friends of many of these winemakers over the years and enjoy visiting with them and tasting their new releases, I also always look forward to meeting the “new guys” or first-timers to the festival. Dozens of varietals and blends means there is something for every palette. From Albarino to Viognier, this is one tasting event you won’t want to miss.

Garagiste Festival at Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles 2015Here are some of my favorites from this year’s Southern Exposure and Urban Exposure Garagiste Festivals:

Alta Colina Vineyards – Paso Robles – Consulting winemaker: Jeff Cohn  Cases per vintage: 1500

  • 2014 Grenache Blanc
  • 2011 GSM

Archium Cellars – Santa Barbara – Winemakers: Zack Jarosz & Ian Sergy  Cases per vintage: 300

  • 2013 “Haven” Grenache

Ascension Cellars at Garagiste Festival 2015Ascension Cellars – Paso Robles   Winemaker: Erick Allen   Cases per vintage:1000                         Fruit sourced from the CASS Vineyard.

  • 2013 Halo Viognier
  • 2013 Gossamer Wings White Rhone Blend

Artisan Uprising – Paso Robles – Winemakers: William & David Vondrasek   Cases per vintage:275

  • 2012 Merlot
  • 2012 Malbec

Diablo Paso – Paso Robles – Winemaker: Enrique Torres   Cases per vintage: 1000

  • 2014 Albarino – Edna Valley
  • 2013 Tempranillo

Larner Winery – Santa Barbara –  Winemaker: Michael Larner   Cases per vintage: 800

  • 2014 Malvasia Bianca
  • 2010 Elemental GSM

MCV Wines – Paso Robles – Winemaker: Matt Villard   Cases per vintage: 500

  • 2014 Viognier

Shai Cellars Garagiste Festival 2015Shai Cellars – Santa Barbara – Winemaker: Shawn Shai Halahmy  Cases per vintage: 350

  • 2009 Adome (65% Syrah/35% Cabernet Sauvignon)
  • 2009 Grenache

Stanger Vineyards – Paso Robles – Winemaker: JP French   Cases per vintage: 1000

  • 2008 Syrah, Library Reserve
  • 2010 Master (55% Cabernet Sauvignon/36% Syrah/9% Tempranillo)

Tercero Wines – Santa Barbara – Winemaker: Larry Schaffer  Cases per vintage: 1000

  • 2010 The Climb (Syrah/Petite Sirah)

The Farm Winery – Paso Robles  – Winemaker: Santiago Achaval   Cases per vintage: 650

  • 2011 Touchy-Felly (Grenache/Syrah)
  • 2011 The Big Game (Cab/Petit Verdot/Syrah)

Vines on the Marycrest – Paso Robles – Winemaker: Victor Abascal   Cases per vintage: 1500

  • 2014 Summertime Rosé

Weatherborne Pinot Noir Garagiste Festival 2015Weatherborne – Santa Barbara – Winemaker: Cris Carter   Cases per vintage: 400

  • 2012 Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills

The Garagiste Festival – Paso Robles, is scheduled for November 5-7, 2015. The fall is a beautiful, and popular, time to visit wine country. Plan your visit early by booking your lodging and ordering your Festival tickets as soon as possible.  For more information on The Garagiste Festival events, participating wineries, and to purchase tickets, visit The Garagiste Festival website.

Wine is an adventure, with every bottle offering a new experience. Thank you to the passionate and talented garagiste winemakers for your perseverance, dedication and for sharing your art. Thank you also to the outstanding team at The Garagiste Festival for bringing all these fine winemakers together under one roof where we can meet and celebrate them and their wines. Happy 5th Anniversary!


Wine Regions – A Matter of “Place”

by Xochitl Maiman – May 2015

The more I learn about wine…the more I explore wine regions and varietals, the more I come to find out there is so much more to learn! And taste! And therein lies the intrigue, mystery and compelling nature…and fun, about wine.

One of the most interesting aspects of “wine”, in the broadest sense of the word, is the concept of “place”, and I don’t just mean terroir, but historical identity that connects people to a region and to that region’s culture, food and agriculture. Many “old world” wine regions are small, some nothing more than  large communities, that have existed for generations and, at some point in history, may have been remote or secluded. Their culture was driven by weather and soils and what those influences allowed them to grow and cultivate.

As far as wine production, these small regions often identify with and make wine from one grape varietal, sometimes with a couple of supporting varietals. Often, wine production is a tradition for a family that dates back many generations. They have made wine from the same grape(s), on the same land, sometimes employing traditional methods, sometimes modifying to accommodate changing times, palates, technologies and global influence. But no matter how big the world gets, the people of these regions value “place” and  what is historically and indigenously theirs.

Naoussa – Can you say “Xinomavro”?

With 330 grape varieties indigenous to Greece, it is Xinomavro, a robust red grape varietal, that is the star of Naoussa, a tiny wine region 75 kilometers from the ocean in the heart of Western Macedonia – Northern Greece. With the entire area running only 30 miles, end to end, the vineyards are located in the plains and south eastern slopes of Mount Vermion – and that is where this ancient area’s history begins. According to mythology, Mount Vermion was the home of Semele, mother of Dionysus, the god of vine and wine.

Though cultivated for hundreds of years in different areas, it is in Naoussa that Xinomavro is able to reach perfect maturation. Despite the destruction of Naoussa’s vineyards by phylloxera in the 1930’s, area producers remained dedicated to reviving the area. In the 1960’s the vineyards were replanted, and during the 1970’s, along with improvements made in farming, the modern age of wine production for the area began. There are now 20 wineries in Naoussa.

Aging in oak for 12 months helps to soften the considerable tannins that give Xinomavro great structure and ageability. The wines are deep red in color with red fruit characteristics and great acidity, (a comparison to Nebbiolo would be appropriate), making these wines fantastic with the meat and tomato dishes of the area.

Wines of Naoussa to try:

Chrisohoou (oldest winery in Naoussa) – Estate 2008             Estate Chrisohoou - Xinomavro - Naoussa -

Dalamara – Naoussa 2012 – (Kostis Dalamaras is 5th generation of his family to farm at the Dalamara Winery)

Uranos – Thymiopoulos Vineyard – 2011

Ktima Diamantakos – Naoussa 2008




Garganega and the wine region of Soave.


Soave, located just 12 miles east of Verona and whose picturesque castle and rock walls date back to the year 934, is also home to 16,000 acres of Italy’s total 27,200 acres of Garganega. Dating back to the thirteenth century, Garganega is the principal grape of Soave, an area that produces one of Italy’s leading wines – a white wine of place.

There are now almost 100 wineries in the Soave wine region, producing wines that are a far cry from the boring whites you may have seen in your local market.  These are wines of character and even ageability. Although the best wines of Soave are generally produced from 100% Garganega, (Italian wine law mandates a labeling minimum of 70%), Trebbiano di Soave (adds tropical notes) and Chardonnay are also used. Almost no oak barrels are used in production – flavor profiles rely heavily on “place”. Depending on the source site, characteristics of wines made from Garganega can include lemon, white peach, lemon thyme, minerality, and almonds. The wines are usually made dry and their crisp acidity allows them to pair beautifully with dishes that feature citrus flavors, seafood, poultry, risotto, paella and pastas with cream or butter sauces. Recioto di Soave is a sweet wine made from dried grapes and is the perfect accompaniment to desserts that include marmalade, figs, marzipan or toffee.

Soave wines to try:

Sandro De Bruno – 2011 Soave Superiore DOCG “Monte San Piero”

Gini – 2007 Soave Classico DOC

Monte Dondo – 2006 Soave Classico DOC “Casette Foscarin”

Franchetto – 2012 Recioto di Soave DOCG “Santin Dulco”

These are just two of the many wine producing regions in the world that are associated with a specific grape varietal. So much more to explore and taste. Meanwhile, I strongly recommend you check your local wine shop for wines from Naoussa and Soave, plan a menu and let your taste buds take you on a trip to a faraway….. “place”.

I’ll Drink to That!





Archium Cellars

by Xochitl Maiman   March 27, 2015

Archium Cellars at Garagiste Festival-Solvang

One year ago, at the Garagiste Festival in Solvang, I met Ian Sergy and Zach Jarosz of Archium CellarsIan and Zach of Archium CellarsActually, it was the night before at a pizza party “sneak peak” at Cecco Italian Restaurant in Solvang. They were tucked away in a corner with really poor access as the crowd of tasters continued to pack the space. I think it was the label artwork that first drew my attention as I was trying to leave at the end of the night and almost out the door. So I decided, one more, why not? Good move on my part…

Archium Cellars Dissident




Zach was completely personable, (never ceases to amaze me how the winemakers stay personable after hours of pouring for the masses), and introduced me to his small, but impressive line up of wines. (They produce about 250 cases per year, at this point) Their first vintage was 2011, and that weekend we were tasting their ’12’s and a simply wonderful 2013 Rosé of 100% Grenache. Archium Cellars Rosé Inspired by the wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, their wines are all made from Rhone varietals, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre, sourced from renown Santa Barbara County vineyards such as Stolpman, McGinley and Watch Hill. They do have a small “test vineyard” planted in the Thousand Oaks area where Zach and Ian hone their vineyard management skills, and which actually produces the fruit for their “Briar Bluff Vineyard” designate, Syrah.

Archium Cellars - Briar Bluff Vineyard

Archium Cellars Briar Cliff Syrah









Like so many other passionate winemakers, Zach and Ian both have careers in other industries, which adds time management to the myriad challenges a winemaker faces. Ultimately, like most passionate winemakers, they find making their own wine to be a truly rewarding endeavor. Their pride in what they do was evident as they showed me around their Ventura Briar Cliff Vineyard Archium CellarsCounty vineyard one afternoon last May. They view each vintage as an archive of their efforts in winemaking, thus their name, “Archium”, latin for archive. As a consumer, that really brings home the concept of taking in and appreciating all that goes into that glass of wine, even before tasting it.

Earlier this month Archium Cellars bottled their 2014 Rosé and I’m anxious to taste it and any other new releases they may have at this weekend’s Garagiste Festival. Like so many of the wineries pouring at the festival, they do not have a tasting room, so this is a rare opportunity to taste their wines and over 250 other wines being produced in small quantities in the Santa Barbara County and Paso Robles wine regions. Here is a complete listing of the wineries pouring each day at this year’s event, March 28-29, 2015. Who will stand out this year?




Artisan Uprising

by Xochitl Maiman – January 30, 2015

Before the popular Garagiste Festival brought about awareness of the artisan winemaker movement in the Central Coast, two brothers from Reseda, California were beginning their own “artisan uprising”.

The Vondrasek Brothers-Aritsan Uprising

David and William Vondrasek had been following a decades old family tradition started by their grandfather, of making wine for family enjoyment. Their first home vintage was in 2001, but it wasn’t long before they were producing more wine than they could drink, so….well, you know the story….one thing leads to another and in 2012 they celebrated the release of their officially licensed first vintage of Artisan Uprising.

Artisan Uprising wine Paso Robles

“Art is what you do with the science”

Having already developed a winemaking style that they felt was unique, David and William also wanted their branding to convey their message and their desire to build up the artisan winemaking movement. While their wine, made from fruit sourced from two premium Paso Robles vineyards, clearly reflects their artisan touches, the label on the bottle serves as the gateway to the concept. Created by one of the Vondrasek sisters, the label depicts an artist “leaving everything behind him except the tools he needs to create his art.”

These dedicated “artisans” shared their wines with a small group of wine writers yesterday, presented with the divine culinary stylings of Executive Chef Laura Scollan, of WEST Restaurant and Lounge at the top of the Hotel Angeleno. (Note: I’ve attended wine tastings in some very interesting and often historic venues in Los Angeles. Oddly enough, having lived in L.A. my entire life, I had never been inside the iconic round hotel located just off the infamous “405” freeway at the Sunset Blvd. offramp. While previously owned by the Holiday Inn chain of hotels, it is  now privately owned and completely renovated, feeling very much like a boutique hotel)

Our wine pairing luncheon was served in a private suite one floor below the restaurant, (views were spectacular in every direction!) and closely supervised by the hotel’s food and beverage director, Steffen Mrowczynski. Each course was presented by the Chef and served by an excellent wait staff.

Course 1: 2014 Rosé of Merlot (24 Cases) – Gorgeous salmon color, dry, rich mouth feel, tiny bit of watermelon jolly rancher in finish – beautiful rosé.

Cider Glazed Scallop - Artisan Uprising Tasting

Cider Glazed Scallop – Tri-colore Cauliflower, Truffled Parsnip Purée

Course 2: 2012 Merlot (124 cases) – Unfiltered, earthy nose, rustic, yet “silky-smooth”, beautifully balanced and integrated. Touch of dark chocolate in long finish. Just loved this Merlot!

Chicken Roulade – Wild Mushroom Mousse, Prosciutto

Chicken Roulade - Artisan Uprising

Course 3: 2012 Malbec (37 cases) – This malbec with 5% merlot to “open it up”, reins in the alcohol at just 13.8%. Good fruit and acidity – long finish.

5-spice duck - Artisan Uprising

5-Spiced Duck Breast on Buckwheat Soba Noodles with Micro Greens – Duck Confit Spring Roll

Course 4: 2012 Petite Sirah (39 cases) – Thick and deep berry red. Bit of anise in the finish. Wonderful now, but has great potential for aging. 

Braised Short Rib on Sunchoke-Okinawan Purple Mash, Baby Spinach

Braised Short Rib - Artisan Uprising

Interestingly, I found that while the food pairings were spot on, I enjoyed these wines more on their own without food. Their complex flavor profiles would be enjoyed immensely served with great conversation, a good  movie, or …….. a spectacular view!

View from Hotel Angeleno - Artisan Uprising tasting

Whatever the occasion, check these guys out. The case production was small on their 2012’s, so try them soon while they last. Good news, though, the 2013’s, which we also tasted, show great promise and they are expecting their case production to grow to a whopping 375 cases with that vintage!


My Thoughts on Wine Blogging

Wine Blogging – What it Means to Me

– Xochitl Maiman    September 7, 2014

Xochitl Maiman wine blogging

Harvest at Cass Winery a few years ago.

In the 2 months since the Wine Bloggers Conference was held, there have been many posts about the conference experience , the wines, the winemakers, and much has been said about wine blogging and wine bloggers. Some wineries don’t see the “value” in wine bloggers – some wine bloggers don’t think other wine bloggers are “doing it right” or are credible enough. So here’s my take on the whole wine blogging thing – for what it’s worth and to whom ever cares. But, after all, isn’t that what a blog ultimately is – a place to voice an opinion, make a statement, share your thoughts?

I started this blog, however many years it was ago, so that I could share my love and admiration for the wines and winemakers of the Central Coast, primarily, and to bring awareness of the many small wineries and their wonderful wines to other wine enthusiasts. I love to write, and I thought this would be a good way to exercise the muscle. That’s it. I never claimed to be a journalist or sommelier. I’m not writing for a Pulitzer or to be offered a job by Wine Spectator or the Wall Street Journal. I write for fun. I love wine. I love wine people. I love vineyards. I love to share my wine/winery discoveries with others.

In my blog posts, you’re not going to find long, colorful descriptions of a wine or my “expert judgement” on a wine’s quality. Suffice it to say, that if I mention a wine in one of my posts, it means I enjoyed it in whatever time and setting it was, with whoever I was with at the time and with whatever food I was enjoying with it. That’s the way wine is. Most wines, (rarely do I come across a wine that is just plain bad, thank goodness), to some degree, are chameleons, and will change their color (not literally) slightly with the circumstances in which one is consuming it. So all I’m ever saying is, I enjoyed this wine, I suggest you try it too and decide for yourself if you like it. Everyone’s palate is different, but there is a lot of wine out there. All I’m doing is helping the reader narrow down the field a bit – offer a bit of direction to their own wine discovery.

As for the wineries that don’t see the value in wine bloggers, here’s what I say. Yes, I agree, that there are many different types of wine bloggers. As for me, if I’ve called a winery asking for a tour or tasting, they can be certain I’ve done my homework. Something about that winery has caught my eye and inspired me to learn more – see/taste for myself. I’m not necessarily going to pepper my posts with quotes, as one blogger suggests all good bloggers must do. Worse yet, I might not even find the time to actually write a blog post about a tasting or winery visit. (Often, there just isn’t enough time in a work day for me to write for myself). My work is in social media – I understand the value of social engaging and sharing. So while I may not blog as often as some, or as eloquently or professionally as others, I am making a conscious effort to continually support the efforts of the wineries I visit by participating on their social properties, posting images, proper tagging, sharing of events and providing opportunities for those in my wine sphere of influence to try the wines I find. And when I do post, I am careful to link to winery websites and include good imagery. Most importantly, my objective is to convey to the reader the “feeling” I had during my visit – how a winemaker looked when he was describing his first wine, the excitement and twinkle in the eye of a new winery owner, the awesome beauty to behold from a tasting room deck looking out onto a sea a vines, the majesty of a giant oak guarding a vineyard block, how a vineyard made me cry (yes it happens quite often), the first taste of a ripe viognier grape……. it goes on and on. Those are the experiences I want to share – that I want my readers to seek out for themselves. If this is the kind of wine blogging you’re interested in reading, I would be honored if you’d stop by from time to time.

I am so lucky to live in a state where wine country, lots of it, is just a couple hours away. I am blessed to have an ever growing circle of friends who appreciate wine and all that goes with it. I am grateful for the many opportunities I am given to learn more, taste more, and meet more of the very special people joining the wine industry every year. And in reference to the latter, I want to thank every winery, winemaker and organization that has offered my a seminar, a tour, a visit, an hour of their valuable time….a taste of their wine – each has contributed to and fostered my never ending love for…wine. Cheers!


Les Deux Chats bottles their 2010 Viognier and Rousanne

The late afternoon before we were to drive to Paso  Robles for some badly needed down time we discovered that our tires were bald and had to be replaced before we could hit the road. We picked up the car in the late morning and left an hour later than I had wanted to. And who knew that the weekend we had planned to go to Paso Robles  was also the same weekend that families were busy moving their college kids onto campus and into their rooms in Santa Barbara? While the weather was perfect, traffic was terrible! And yet, with all that, we only arrived an hour later to Paso than I had hoped. Still had time to catch up with some friends who were bottling that day…I hoped.

Made a call and yes, Chris Connolly of Les Deux Chat said to come on over to In Vino Veritas – they were still working.

We had met Chris and his wife, Patty, at a Paso Robles wine tasting in LA a few years back. We were introduced by mutual friends who knew them from the entertainment industry and we all ended up having dinner together that evening. It was then that I found out they were making wine in their garage, making them the first garagiste winemakers I had actually met. Viognier and Zinfndel were the grapes they had chosen and they had just put their first vintage into barrel.

Well things have evolved nicely for the Connolly’s and while they have not given up their day jobs, they are pursuing their passion to make fine wine. We had the pleasure of joining them, their family and friends, as they were bottling their 2010 Ripken Vineyard Viognier and Roussanne. Tasted both and am happy to say they are indeed making some fine wine.

Also happy to say that Les Deux Chat will be participating in the Garagiste Festival in Paso Robles on November 12, 2011. This is a new festival celebrating the artisan winemaker and over 40 Central Coast wineries with small case production will be pouring their wines. As many of these wineries do not have tasting rooms, this will be a unique opportunity to taste and purchase these wonderful wines and meet the passionate people behind them. And don’t forget to say hi to Patty and Chris! Cheers!



Bottling of Les Deux Chat 2010 Viognier 047









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!