The Garagiste Festival, Off the Beaten Path Wines

Wine garagistes are kind of like the quintessential “bad boy” or “bad girl”, maverick winemakers that are edgy, self assured (they do things their way!), and exciting to be around, for their out of the box thinking and surprisingly delicious wine results.   But to find these off the grid wines is not so easy, which makes the Garagiste Festival a must for those seeking the next big thing.  Billed as “Urban Exposure, Bringing the California wine country to the city” the 2016 Garagiste Festival came to LA this past July, with over 60 winemakers who poured 200 plus wines.  Setting up shop at The Wiltern Theater, the garagistes poured their wines and chatted with wine lovers, who had four hours to explore, taste,  and get out of their Chardonnay comfort zone. 

It was an afternoon crash course that defined “garagiste” here in California.  Originally, the term was used in the Bordeaux region of France to belittle small production winemakers who rejected the established rules of the region, and often worked out of their garage. Here in California, these wine pioneers also think outside the box, producing small lots of premium wines, mostly under 1,500 cases and often much less. These rebel winemakers experiment with the unexpected, but always follow their passion. Most of them don’t have a tasting room, so this festival provided the perfect opportunity to taste a rising star and discover your next “house” wine.

Here are highlights from just a handful of garagiste winemakers that I had the opportunity to explore during the tasting.

Azmina and Jim Madsen of The Farm Winery poured big red blends, from the Westside of Paso Robles, that, despite their concentration, had a lightness of being, a nuanced elegance that expresses the wildness of the Adelaida District.  The Madsen's run in good company, their winemaker, Santiago Achaval, a renowned Argentinean winemaker, is a lifelong friend who teamed with the Madsen's to make their dream come true. 
The 2012 “The Big Game” is a Bordeaux-Rhône style red, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Petit Verdot, layered and complex, round and polished, it’s powerful yet balanced, really fabulous! 
The 2012 Cardinal, made of old vine Cabernet Sauvignon, in fact the oldest Cab vines in all of Paso, is pure and intense, dense and exotic, it’s refined yet full of Cabernet character, this wine can give Napa Valley Cab a run for its money! 
And the 2012 LPF (standing for Liquidity Preference Function!), a Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot blend, is dense and spicy, yet elegant in its balance of fruit and structure, but still a youngster, needing a bit more time in the bottle to relax into its own.  The Farm Winery currently has six wines, with the 2012 the most recent release.

The Garagiste Festival has been gaining steam the past few years.  Originally launched in Paso Robles in 2011, LA was added to the mix the past couple of years, giving more exposure to these hard to find wines.  Founded by Stewart McLennon and Doug Minnick, who are passionate about connecting these cutting edge winemakers with wine lovers who seek out the novelty of the unknown, these non-profit festivals serve an additional purpose besides promotion.  The proceeds are donated to the Cal Poly Wine and Viticulture Program, based in San Luis Obispo, which supports the education of budding winemakers and others training for wine industry jobs.  Minnick feels their non-profit acts as a de facto trade organization, and “helps people who make amazing wines get their word out”. 
If you’re intrigued by wine’s fringe element before it becomes chic, check out the upcoming 6th annual Garagiste Festival.  Billed as 2016 Paso Fest, the festival returns to Paso Robles, November 11-13, 2016, a two day event with grand tastings, winemaker panels, tasting seminars, and an after party, where you can mingle with these rebel winemakers.  Tickets are available online, at 
Embrace “garagiste” and discover a whole new dimension, free spirited winemakers with boundless passion and limited funds, who strive to put their own spin on California wine, breaking the rules, all in one place.