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The Gargiste Festival: Showcasing the best artisan winemakers

Alma Sol stood out as a favorite for Cabernet Sauvignon.
Alma Sol stood out as a favorite for Cabernet Sauvignon.
Ken Bornstein

The Garagiste Festival is the place to discover the latest boutique wineries that have emerged on the California scene. These are the innovators in the field or the new kids on the block wanting to make their imprint on the wine industry. Personally I enjoy discovering these new wineries because one can find some real surprises.

© Nagy was one my favorite wineries at The Opening Round at The Garagiste Festival in Paso Robles
Cori Solomon

The Garagiste Festival Southern Exposure will soon be upon us. It is scheduled for March 29 & 30, 2014 in Solvang, CA. As I think about attending this upcoming festival, I reminisce on my first Garagiste Festival in Paso Robles this past fall.

The concept of The Garagasite Festival is to expose the public and the trade to those wineries that might be off the beaten path or we may not discover on our own. Behind the scenes, The Garagista Festival donates proceeds from the event to the Cal Poly Wine and Viticulture program, inspiring the development of new techniques in the industry and stimulating new winemakers to forge their path in the wonderful adventure of wines.

The Paso event took place in several venues, the first being “The Opening Round” at The Pavilion on the Lake. Watching the sunset over the lake with a glass of wine in hand, experiencing the wines of seventeen winemakers from the Central Coast was a pleasant way to end the day. The main event took place at the spectacular Windfall Farms. The grand tasting is in a stable and again there were some great surprises.

At The Opening Round, four wineries really stood out from the others. The first was Archium Cellars. Coming from a background in the entertainment industry, owners Zach Jarosz and Ian Sergy founded the winery in 2011. They chose the name Archium because it means archive in Latin. “We look at each year of our viticulture and winemaking that goes by as an "archive" of our best efforts that we can be proud of.” says Zach Jarosz. Both Zach and Ian are documenting an adventure into the Rhone varietals. Even Archium’s label follows the theme of our journey. Starting with the Dissident, which symbolizes, “one who challenges a belief system, set of laws or established doctrine, to along the path taken rules are questioned in hopes that we may discover and create our own…” The 2011 Dissident a blend of Syrah and Grenache does just that with its hints of violet and smooth finish. “Faction: a group of people connected by a shared belief or opinion.” “This is where our story begins…” It is the sharing of a bottle of Archium’s wine and in the case of the 2011 Faction, which is a marvelous Syrah. Finally the 2012 Rosé was what drew me to experience Archium wines. This is bright Provence styled Rosé using Grenache. One is overwhelmed with the fragrance and taste of peaches and roses. Unfortunately the Rosé and Faction are sold out but if their new vintages are good as the last, you will be in for a real treat.

C. Nagy Wines is another winery to watch. Owner, Clarissa Nagy has a bright future as a spectacular winemaker. She is currently the winemaker for Riverbench but C. Nagy is her own private label. For those liking a fuller bodied Pinot Noir, Clarissa’s Pinot Noirs are expressive and definitely fit into the bigger Pinot Noir style. At the same time they have an elegance that is unsurpassed. The 2010 Pinot Noir Garey Ranch Vineyard is fragrantly floral. There are hints of violets and roses with a silky softness that shines through. The 2010 Syrah from White Hawk Vineyard presents itself as peppery with flavors of cherries and plums. The vineyard’s location on a hillside with a sandy soiled slope is ideal for a cool-climate Syrah. If you enjoy Pinot Blanc, the 2011 Bien Nacido is a must try. There is creaminess to the wine that gives way to vanilla citrusy flavors, almost like you are enjoying a Crème Brulee. The 2012 Viognier, White Hawk Vineyard has a grassy aroma with hints of spicy and stone fruit.

Dubost Ranch is located in the Adelaida area just west of Paso Robles. This family owned winery goes back five generations. When the family first settled in the area they owned a general store. Today they have 320 acres. Many of the wines they produce have a Spanish and Italian influence. The family had a tragedy in 2010 when they lost their son to an accident on the Ranch. Sometimes through sadness and sorrow comes greatness. In speaking with Kate Dubost, I could see tears come to her eyes but it was evident, as I tasted that this family’s love comes through in many aspects of the wine. This is quite apparent in the 2009 Vingence, a memorial wine to Jacob and a combination of Syrah, Zinfandel, Sangiovese and Tempranillo. This wine expresses its love in a big well-rounded way. In addition, the artwork on the label was created from a painting by Jacob and is known to the family as legacy art. The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Starr Ranch Vineyard is very bright with hints of cherry and beautifully fragrant and colorful. The 2009 Reserva, Starr Ranch is a blend of Syrah and Tempranillo that is co-fermented to become a very well balanced wine with a nose of raspberries.

Barton Family had a nice 2012 Sauvignon Blanc that displayed a good balance between acidity and minerality. The wine was spicy yet smooth. The 2011 Zinfandel was another winner. It too was balanced and smooth.

Other wines worth mention at the Opening Round event are:

Frequency Wines 2012 Syrah, Mormann Vineyard

MCV 2011 Red, a very drinkable blend of Grenache, Syrah and Petite Sirah

Pence Ranch 2011 Pence Estate Pinot Noir

Here are my favorites from the Grand Tasting at Windfall Farms:

By far the winery that most impressed me was Alma Sol. Owners John and Lisa Shaw come from a background in the publishing industry. Lisa’s parents own a vineyard in Paso Robles, Cuevas Vineyard, so it was inevitable that the two would develop a keen interest in wine and winemaking. The winery specializes in Bordeaux wine and blends with a few non-Bordeaux varietals. The emphasis is on showing that Paso Robles can make a truly spectacular Cabernet Sauvignon and this they do. Alma Sol means, Soul and Sun and as John says, “Both are essential to life in general but also to feeding the passion for what we do as winemakers. Those two elements – in multiple meanings – drive how we care for and select our vines, grapes, and winemaking process.” The 2009 Alma Sol Cabernet Sauvignon – Napa Valley was one of my favorites. With its deep dark color this Cabernet is 100% Cab. I found it a big wine yet displayed a softness. This is a great wine to hold on to. The 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon – Napa Valley is another wine to hold but it differs from 2009 in that it is a blend Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Malbec. Alma Sol produces a non-vintage wine called Ritual, which combines Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petite Syrah. Named for the Ritual of drinking it is Alma Sol’s everyday drinking wine.

Being impressed with the wines of Alma Sol, we visited their tasting room. We revisited many wines we tasted at Garagiste and sample some others including the 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – Paso Robles. This wine is full of cherries, currants, vanilla and cocoa flavors plus a little hint of spice. Two other very drinkable wines we sampled were the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon – Paso Robles and the 2010 Cuatro Caminos – Paso Robles. The later is a proprietary blend made up of Cabernet from four distinct vineyards using four different types of barrels. You really cannot go wrong with any of the Cabernets from this vineyard.

Goodland Wines offered some excellent samples from Santa Barbara County. The 2011 Happy Canyon Sauvignon Blanc was very bright with good acidity. The 2011 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir was a lighter Pinot with lovely hints of raspberry. The 2011 Ballard Canyon Syrah was very drinkable. The Syrah was the richest and fullest with a wonderful cherry flavoring.

HammerSky Vineyards showcased a 2010 Naughty Princess Viognier. The title was befitting, as you tasted hints of apples and a slight spiciness that could be construed as naughty on the finish. The 2010 Estate Zinfandel and the 2010 Party of Four Blend (Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet) both exuded cherries and a peppery spice especially on the nose.

Those looking for what the Italians would call wines for the table will find Giornata very interesting. The wine that intrigued me was the 2012 Ramata Pinot Grigio. The wine is light, clean and crisp. It is fermented for three months on skins and than aged in a terra cotta clay pots called Amphora making this wine very unique.

You can never go wrong with Caliza or Alta Colina. Both wineries had some new releases. Caliza’s 2012 Kissin’ Cousins, a blend of Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Roussanne is a bright crisp wine that exudes flavors of sweet peaches. The 2010 Sympatico combines Tempranillo, Syrah and Grenache. This is a big wine that hints of cherries with a nice peppery spice. Alta Colina’s 2011 Ann’s Block Petite Sirah was a winner. The 2011 Claudia Cuvee Estate Marsanne is a bright with notes of rich peach.

Other wines worth mention are:

Cutruzzola Vineyards 2010 Riesling Riven Rock Vineyard, a very mild tasting wine that is not to spicy with notes of pineapple a hint of sweetness.

Filipponi Ranch Winery 2012 Verdellho is balanced smooth with flavors of kiwi and white peaches.

Samsara Winery 2010 Melville Vineyard Syrah with its hints of cherry, clove and allspice.

Westberg Cellars 2011 Turtle Rock Willows Tickled Pink Rose, a blend of Syrah and Mouvedré that is bright refreshing with a little spice yet soft and mellow hinting watermelon and strawberries.

I was dully impressed with the quality of wines each winery exhibited at Garagiste making this event one to put on any wine lovers list of tastings to partake in.

The Garagiste Festivals are held twice a year. In the fall Garagiste is in Paso Robles while in the spring the event travels south to Solvang.

Archium, Dubost, C Nagy, Pence Ranch, and Frequency Wines all mentioned in this article will participate in the upcoming Garagiste Festival in March along with some of my other all time favorites Crawford Family Wines, Kessler-Hawk, Kitá Wines, Shai, Tercero and Transcendence.

Those interested in attending the upcoming Garagiste Southern Exposure in Solvang or looking for general information click Garagista.

If you would like to follow more of Cori Solomon’s articles, she would love you to subscribe to her column by clicking the box next to her photo.

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