Summertime is wine tasting event season in California. Every weekend brings at least one major, long-standing event to cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego with entire weekends like San Luis Obispo’s Roll Out the Barrels (2014 was the 24th edition) ongoing in wine country. How does a new wine event stand out and attract participants in this crowded schedule? The organizers of the Garagiste Wine Festivals came up with a winning formula in 2011. Their niche: festivals which showcase winemakers who produce less than 1,500 cases of wines annually.
“We serve two masters: the audience who we introduce to under-the-radar winemakers and the small-lot winemakers who we help sell their wine and introduce them to new customers,” explains Doug Minnick, one of the Garagiste Festival’s co-founders along with Stewart McLennan.
In July, the team brought the festival to Los Angeles’ Union Station for the first time after previous events in Paso Robles (at Windfall Farms) and in the Santa Ynez Valley. “Three out of four organizers live in Los Angeles, and the timing seemed to make sense, as the audience for this concept is bigger than we initially thought,” said Minnick while greeting and toasting friends at the sold-out Los Angeles fest that attracted more than 500 ticket holders and 45 garagiste winemakers.
The phrase garagiste (pronounced gar-uh-zhe-stuh per the website) comes from France’s Bordeaux wine region and refers to small-production wine makers, sometimes working in their “garages” (basically anything not a chateau). The Garagiste Wine Festivals are dedicated to bringing these undiscovered, artisan winemakers, whose production is limited, to a wider audience.
The Union Station event took approximately six months to produce and was set in the station’s historic ticket hall. (The hall was the site of the James Beard Foundation’s Taste America sit-down dinner by culinary stars in 2013, just one of the many events that take advantage of the transit hub’s Art Deco styled interiors, expansive courtyards and downtown location). A portion of the wine festival’s proceeds was donated to the non-profit Mending Kids International; previous festivals have contributed a portion of funds to Cal Poly’s wine and viticulture program.
Among the sponsors and vendors were Town & Country Distinctive Event Rentals & Services (tables/other event furniture), Stolzle crystal glasses (wineglasses) and Distinctive Glassware handled the custom etching for the souvenir wine glasses that were distributed to participants. The fourth annual flagship festival will return to Paso Robles, November 6-9th in a larger facility at the Ponderosa Pavilion at the Paso Robles Fairgrounds. Winnick expects to add a San Francisco edition in 2015.