Meet the non-conformists: the Gargiste Wine Festival celebrates its 10th anniversary |

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MIRA ADVANI HONEYCUTT

Marking its 10th anniversary and reappearing in full force after a year of quarantine, the Garagiste Wine Festival returns to its home port next month to present “limitless” winegrowers with boundless passion.

The Unique Wine Festival, a runaway success in the second decade of the 21st century, resumes its celebration of small-batch maverick winemakers at its birthplace of Paso Robles, November 12-14, featuring 50 small vineyards from all of California although mainly from the central coast.

The festivities begin on Friday with a tasting of rare and reserve products at the Atascadero pavilion. The Saturday morning seminar on “The Past and Future of Paso Robles”, moderated by Jason Haas, Managing Director of Tablas Creek Vineyards, is followed by a grand tasting of some 200 wines. The evening ends with “Rockin ‘After Party”. On Sundays, Paso Passport offers open house tours to the tasting rooms of several participating winemakers.

The festival, which shines a spotlight on often unrecognized small winemakers, was founded by Stewart McLennan and Doug Minnick, entertainment mavericks and the minds behind this small batch movement. Neither being a winemaker at the time, they evolved to craft their own wines – McLennan makes Sharpei Moon in Paso while Minnick produces Hoi Polloi in Newhall, California.

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For McLennan, the light bulb turned on when he came across an article in Robert M. Parker’s “Wine Advocate” journal where the wine guru was spotlighting some of Bordeaux’s budding winemakers producing wine in vintages. garages; thus the French name garagiste, meant as a reprimand, but adopted by these winegrowers, has become a buzzword.

The concept of the Garagiste Festival is to present winegrowers making small batches in their garages, barns, custom-made crushing facilities or even their own cellars. The warning for winegrowers wishing to join the Garagiste group is that their annual wine production must not exceed 1,500 cases. Some, like Napa’s newcomer Ondulé, only produce 225 cases per year of Bordeaux-style wines.

“We’re small and focused,” McLennan told me over the phone. “It’s a huge advantage for consumers because they can meet and chat with the winegrowers. We are proud of it.

Not only do winegrowers meet passionate consumers, they attract investors. Ask Kevin Bersofsky, owner / winemaker of Roller Coaster in Healdsburg.

“There were two people who loved our wines and wanted to invest,” he said in a phone conversation. It was at the Festival Paso Garagiste 2019. The partnership was sealed in 2021.

Roller Coaster is one of four participants from Sonoma / Napa. attend the Paso festival, with Greyscale Wines, Ondulé and Mastro Scheidt Family Cellars.

In addition to Paso, the festival has expanded to three other locations – Solvang, Los Angeles and Sonoma, drawing participants from northern and southern California, the Central Coast as well as Lodi and the Sierra Foothills.

Bersofsky is drawn to the festival – in 2019 he attended all four festivals – for its privacy, unlike other major wine festivals where the small producer often goes unnoticed. “Everyone is unknown and upcoming,” he commented.

“We do more good business in Paso than at any other festival,” said the Marin-based winemaker who started in his garage in 2006. It wasn’t until 2013 that his small production was forced. to move when a neighbor called the national authorities responsible for alcohol, tobacco, firearms and explosives. Now produced at a custom San Francisco crushing plant, production has reached an annual output of 1,000 cases of Pinot Noir predominantly with some Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Initially, Bersofsky sourced fruit from Petaluma Gap, but due to recent fires it has extended its reach to Mendocino, Santa Barbara, and Monterey counties.

Greyscale Wines owners Larry and Jean Rowe are also among those who attended all four festivals in 2019. “There’s a different vibe and we’ve done really well,” Larry Rowe said in a phone conversation. . “The bottom line is that we meet customers and they become repeat customers.”

Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at UC Berkeley, Rowe got into wine thanks to his wife Jean. “She was introduced to the backyard wine hobby by her father,” Rowe said. Their interest took them on wine trips around the world and then a trip to Bordeaux sealed their fate.

The couple started with a barrel of house brand wine in 2005. In 2011, they went commercial with their 2008 vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. Made in the Bordeaux style, the 2008 Cuvée Blanc won the Best in Class award at the San Francisco International Wine Competition.

Focused on Bordeaux-style wines, Rowe sources some top-notch Napa fruit (he won’t reveal the name of any renowned vineyard in particular) for his annual production of around 500 cases made at the crushing facility. custom Kito from Napa.

David Scheidt, owner / winemaker of Mastro Scheidt, has been participating in the festival for six years. “I was introduced by my label printer,” he said in a phone conversation.

The former Silicon Valley corporate portfolio manager quit a lucrative job to get into winemaking. “I’m probably pragmatist or crazy,” Scheidt thought. But it helped him get into the wine business. In addition to his Mastro Scheidt wines, he makes bespoke wine for 10 clients, including some well-known bay area sommeliers.

As is the model of a typical mechanic, Scheidt, started with his private production. “A friend had access to Dry Creek Cabernet and I decided to make two barrels of it. It was in 2007 and in 2011 he was fully engaged. “I increased production, got serious and got ten tons of grapes.” And he quit his day job.

The Cloverdale-based winemaker produces a dozen wines, sourcing fruit from Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake County and Fresno, totaling an annual production of 1,000 cases, including One Ton Lot, which is only 50 cases.

“We pick up a ton in my father’s truck; that’s all that’s right, ”Schmidt said. The eclectic wine portfolio ranges from Dolcetto, Sangiovese and Zinfandel to Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Scheidt compares his professional management skills to winemaking. “It’s Mother Nature. You ride with it, you can’t control it, only manage it.

As a non-profit organization, Festival Garagiste supports Cal Poly’s Wine & Viticulture program, providing annual scholarships to deserving Cal Poly students who strive to be future garages.

For a full list of participating wineries and ticket information, visit garagistefestival.com.

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