Five years ago, when Stewart McLennan and Douglas Minnick started a festival focused on small winemakers, no one could pronounce garagiste, the French word used to describe hobbyists who made wine in their garages. Today, the Garagiste Fest, which happens this weekend in Paso Robles, is not only pronounceable; it is one of the most anticipated events on the Central Coast wine calendar, even boasting offshoot events in Los Angeles and the Santa Ynez Valley.
Here’s a brief look at just five of more than 70 producers participating, all of which make an intimate 1,500 cases of wine a year or less, and many of which don’t have tasting rooms of their own.
Cloak & Dagger: Reportedly starting his brand under the radar in 2010 when he had to lay low due to uncertain, unclear circumstances, Ray Schofield takes the secrecy motif deep with his wines, which come from as 15-acre Hidden Valley Vineyard in the Templeton Gap area south of Paso, where pinot noir does work. He also makes syrah, cab, and sangiovese, among other varietals, and is appropriately mum on which wines may show up this weekend.
Nicora: Last year, I met Nicolas Elliott on my first visit to Tin City, the warehouse/manufacturing zone south of Paso where more than a dozen creative, relatively young winemakers are breaking boundaries on all fronts. The name Nicora is a blend of his own and the name of his great-grandfather — Ora, who built a business from scratch — and Elliott is using what he learned from folks like Eric Jensen of Booker and Scott Hawley of Torrin to hone his own brand. On Saturday, he’s pouring his 2013 Buxom, a potent, inky, best-barrel blend of 96 percent syrah and 4 percent grenache.
Ranchero: At a dinner this past spring with Ranchero winemaker Amy Butler at The Range in Santa Margarita, she pulled out a decade-old Edward Sellers syrah she helped make earlier in her career, and it was still amazingly savory and alive. Her own wines, especially the grenache blanc and viognier, are vibrant and fresh, but most intriguing when it comes to carignan, the obscure grape on which she started this brand. She’ll be pouring those three varietals, as well as her grenache-mourvedre blend, this weekend.
Rendarrio: A passionate surfer originally from Orange County, Cal Poly grad Ryan Render was inspired by a 1999 trip to Châteauneuf-du-Pape and started his own brand in 2003 after a brief career as an oak barrel salesman, which made him an expert on the critical wood front. He’s bringing quite a collection to share this weekend, including his 2013 Baja-ha chardonnay, 2012 First Born King (a grenache-syrah), and the 2012 League of Shadows (a merlot-cab).
Stanger Vineyards: Eight vines of table grapes growing outside of the Chicago-area home of Roger and Cheryl Janakus prompted a fascination with making wine, which they solidified in 2000 by buying Journey’s End Ranch on Paso’s Westside. There they grow cab, tempranillo, syrah, pinot noir, and malbec and produce both varietal wines as well as genre-bucking blends, both of which can be tried at the fest.
Tickets are selling fast, but see californiagaragistes.com to take part in this weekend’s Garagiste Festival in Paso Robles, with events Thursday night through Saturday’s main event.