The annual Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure is one of the most relaxing and low-key wine events of the season. But when you taste something you like, you'd better jump on it. You may not get a second chance to buy.
This year (the second), it extended over two days at the historic Veterans Hall in the Danish-themed town of Solvang, where 20-some winemakers, a different lineup each afternoon, poured their wines. To qualify as a garagiste, producers must make less than 1,200 cases. For some, it's quite a bit less.
That's why you might taste a Roussanne or a Viognier you love, only to find out only 25 or 50 cases were made, which means you better sign up to buy some right away. You're not going to find that particular bottle on the shelves of your local wine shop. Most wineries on this scale sell direct or through a tasting room.
While I tasted a number of excellent Pinot Noirs from Santa Barbara County, this time around I also discovered some intriguing whites and rosés, along with reds from less familiar grapes such as Mourvèdre or Grenache.
Curt Schalchlin (Sans Liege), consulting winemaker for Marc Simon's DV8 Cellars, made just 59 cases of the fresh, mouthwatering 2012 Viognier "Turn One" ($25). But next year, they're making double the amount. Michael Larner of Larner Winery made a very pretty Viognier too, scented with violets ($28). And Larry Schaffer at Tercero was pouring a fruity, floral 2012 Viognier from White Hawk Vineyard ($25).
Steve Clifton made a lovely fresh white from the Italian varietal Vermentino for Moretti Wine Co. ($24). The crisp 2013 Moretti Bianchetto, a blend of Arneis, Tocai Friulano and Malvasia Bianca, would be great with a platter of chilled seafood ($20).
The white Rhone varietal Roussanne seems to do very well in these parts too. I found a couple of examples I liked very much, namely DV8's floral 2012 Roussanne "Grand Prix" ($29) and the 2012 Roussanne from Tercero.
I'm a big fan of Liquid Farm's Santa Rita Hills Chardonnays, so it was a thrill to taste their 2013 Mourvèdre Rosé from Vogelzang Vineyard ($24). Sashi Moorman's first wine for Pence Ranch is the 2013 Santa Barbara County rosé made from Pinot Noir and it's a stunner, a bargain at $18. (Good news: Next year, they'll release a Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir for $24.)
Keep an eye out, too, for Tercero's elegant 2013 Mourvèdre rosé, which will be released this month and is on the wine list at the new Faith & Flower in downtown Los Angeles. Winemaker Larry Schaffer foot-stomped the grapes himself.
A lively 2009 Grenache from Larner Vineyards tastes of cherries ($40), while the velvety 2010 Reserve Syrah is intense and seamless ($65).
If you missed the event, there's another possibility for getting your hands on local garagiste wines: Sign up for Wandering Dog Wine Bar's wine club. Membership gets you three shipments per year of limited-release and small-production wines from the Central Coast. Each shipment contains two bottles of wine and will not exceed $78, shipping included. To sign up, call (805) 686-9126.