Saturday’s first ever the Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure in Solvang featuring the wines of small "garagiste" producers from the Santa Ynez Valley was a sold-out event. Held at the Mission-style Veteran's Memorial Building in Solvang, it was exuberant, crowded — and fun.
The 32 vintners pouring their wines were arranged along the two long sides of the hall. Winemakers didn’t have much elbow room, but everyone was cheerful and voluble, relishing the chance to introduce their latest vintages to a wine-loving public.
Many of these wineries are so small, they don’t have distributors and sell their wines exclusively through mailing list. This was the chance to get on the email list and find out about new offerings or how the vintage is going, as well as make a rewarding personal connection. Unlike wine events that seem more like raves than tastings, this one is small enough and focused enough that it’s still enjoyable.
Wines that caught my attention included 2010 Pinot Noir "Presqu’ile Vineyard" from Joshua S. Klapper at La Fenêtre, 2009 "Watch Hill" Grenache and 2009 Mourvèdre from Larry Schaffer at Tercero Wines, 2010 Pinot Noir "Uplands" from Blair Pence at Pence Ranch Estate Vineyard and 2010 Syrah Kevin Law at Luminesce. The oldest garagiste wineries in the tasting were Kaena Wine Co. And J. Wilkes, both founded in 2001. The youngest? Cholame Vineyard, Frequency Wines, Ground Effect and Ryan Cochrane Wines, all from the class of 2010.
If you missed the tasting this time around, keep an eye out for this event and the original Garagiste Festival in Paso Robles, which was also a sell-out this fall. Both nonprofit festivals are "dedicated to discovering and promoting artisan 'garagiste' winemakers and showcase high-quality, cutting-edge, small-production, commercial wineries that produce fewer than 1,200 cases a year." The festivals benefit the Cal Poly Wine and Viticulture program.
Afterwards, friends and I headed over to Full of Life Flatbread in Los Alamos. It looked like everybody else at the tasting had the same idea. The wood-fired oven in the back was turning out pies as fast as the pizza man could make them. While we waited for ours, I watched the dip and sway of the long wooden peel as he moved those flatbreads in and out of the roaring oven.
In the end, an afternoon and early evening felt like an entire weekend away.