November's second annual Garagiste Festival offered more than 1,000 attendees tastes of more than 30 varietals during its four-day run, and for the second year in a row, raised $10,000 for Cal Poly's Wine & Viticulture program. The temperatures during Saturday's main tasting were a tad lower this year than during the debut event in 2011, which helped chill the whites but, according to some guests, made getting sufficient aromas off red wines a bit more difficult.
Amy Butler of Ranchero Cellars, who was awarded the 'Spirit of Garagiste' honor, was described by festival co-founder Stewart McLennan as "essentially as a one-woman show, hand-crafting some of Paso Robles’ best wines.
"Amy was chosen for her style, her passion, her habit of flying in the face of conventional wisdom to make wine the way she wants to — and, of course, for producing extraordinary wines. Amy truly represents the rebel spirit of the garagiste movement."
The Spirit of Garagiste Award is dedicated to the winemaker who best exemplifies the do-whatever-it-takes spirit of the small-lot winemaker (or garagiste), while also producing excellent wines.
Butler, featured in the festival’s Emerging Varietals seminar, operates Ranchero Cellars, which is named for her 1960 Ford Ranchero. She is committed to making small batches of wine using unique varietals, and is famous for her ability to wrestle Carignane — which has a reputation as a "wild and uncivilized" varietal — into the bottle with extraordinary results. Viognier is another favorite of Butler’s, which she produces both as a blend and on its own.
Dr. Jim Cooper, director of Cal Poly's Wine & Viticulture program, expressed gratitude for the second $10,000 donation — in 2011, the debut Garagiste Festival raised the same amount.
"Thank you Garagiste Festival for exemplifying the best of our industry, including its innovation, excellence and passion. This was one of the best, most exciting wine festivals I have ever attended, and we were especially pleased to be pouring Cal Poly student wines at the festival for the first time. This donation will be put to excellent use helping us produce wine industry professionals who will continue to ensure that the U.S. leads the world in winemaking.”
The college's Wine and Viticulture Program includes nearly 300 undergraduate majors, making Cal Poly's among the largest programs in the country.
The festival, produced by Garagiste Events, is the nation's sole occasion dedicated to showcasing artisan garagiste winemakers — those who produce fewer than 1,200 per year, and, perhaps by default, buck winemaking traditions and focus on the simplicity of winemaking.
Organizers said that 70 percent of the festival's attendees reside outside of San Luis Obispo County, coming from states as varied as New Jersey and Georgia and as "far afield" as Australia.
"This year's sold-out events — and our tasting series leading up to the festival — provided wine lovers the opportunity to not only get acquainted with some of the best small-lot, handcrafted wines this nation has to offer, but also meet the winemakers who make them," said Doug Minnick, co-founder of the Garagiste Festival, in a news release.
The event included a winemaker dinner with top chef Ludo Lefebvre, held at Thomas Hill Organics; a winemaker mixer at the tasting room of last year’s Spirit of Garagiste award winner, Vines on the Marycrest, as well as seminars on syrah and emerging varietals; a winemaking symposium held at Vintner’s Vault, and finally, the pouring of more than 48 wines at the festival’s Grand Tasting at Windfall Farms’ Stallion Barn.
The winemakers who poured at the festival included Aaron Wines, Alta Colina Vineyards, Ambyth Estate, Anglim Winery, Argot Wines, Barton Family, Bodega de Edgar, Bodegas M, Bon Niche Cellars, Caliza Winery, Cayucos Cellars, Center of Effort, Changala Winery, Cloak and Dagger Wines, Cutruzzola Vineyards, Edmond August Wines, Filipponi Ranch Cellars, Giornata, Ground Effect Wines, Henson Wines, J Dusi, Jacob Toft, JK Wine Company, Kaleidos Winery, La Filice, Les Deux Chats, Liquid Farm, Luminesce, Nicora, Paix Sur Terre, Paso Port Wines, Per Cazo Cellars, Pipestone Vineyards, Ranchero Cellars, Rangeland Wines, Red Zeppelin Winery, Rendarrio Vineyards, Sinor La Vallee, St. Hilaire, Stage Left Cellars, STANGER Vineyards, Thomas Alexander Wines, Two Shepherds, Vin Alegre, Vines on the Marycrest, Von Holt Wines, Westberg Cellars and Zin Alley.