APRIL 6, 2014: 2nd Annual Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure
So being the event director for the Festival has it's advantages, but there's not as much wine involved as one would expect while planning an event like this. With over 100 wines to try each day, I mostly concentrated my tasting efforts on wineries that were new to me (and the Festival), as well as ones that were extremely limited or hard to obtain (no tasting room). Given that I had all day access (there are some perks) I probably got around to more wineries than most attendees, but I by no means reached everyone. Since I already know the winemakers and their stories, I wasn't spending time chatting, just tasting a.k.a. drinking. Here are the wines I would buy (and did when possible) so I could drink them again. If you happen to find one of them, grab it before it's gone.
2012 Carucci Wines Viognier, White Hawk Vineyard - $28
- This is Eric Carucci's first vintage and it was just lovely. Everything a viognier should be and once was before everyone started trying to make it more like Chardonnay. Fresh, fruity, with floral aromas and a lingering finish. I'm not usually a fan of Viognier from this vineyard (they tend to have a mineral quality I don't like in this grape), but this version really captured my attention.
Crawford Family Wines - While I didn't try their Chardonnay - I was too deep into reds by then - I was blown away by all three of their pinots. Though this is his first solo endeavor, winemaker Mark Crawford Horvath has been making wine for a long time (over 16 years), so there is clearly a lot of experience coming through in these initial bottlings. These wines may be young, but they are spectacular - great flavor, balance and complexity. (There was not a dog among all the 2012 pinots I tried. This is a vintage to savor.) Their Zorovich VIneyard Pinot was my favorite, but by a very slim margin. If you find one, buy it. Only 600 total cases of wine were made this vintage, so don't miss out. I already got mine.
2012 DV8 Cellars Roussanne "Grand Prix" - $29
- I'm a sucker for this varietal because you don't find it on its own very often. This wine shows what this grape is all about - floral, full-bodied, creamy golden fruit - and why it can be a star all by itself. Sourced from the Camp 4 Vineyard, only 23 cases were made. A rare find indeed.
2010 Harrison Clarke "Cuvee Charlotte" Syrah - $55
- My favorite wine of the weekend. Just WOW! I can still smell and taste it. A cuvee compiled from their best barrels and best parcels in the vineyard. More well-known for their grenache, this Ballard Canyon vineyard and winery shows just how amazing this new AVA is when it comes to Syrah. Deep, dark fruit, mocha, spice, intense and complex with a finish that just wouldn't quit. Aged for 32 months in 40% new French oak, this wine showed perfect integration between fruit and wood. Wines like this are the reason I love Syrah so, so much.
2012 Luminesce Pinot Noir, River Bench Vineyard - $57
- I loved all of Kevin Law's pinots (he also poured a 2010 Presqu'ile Vineyard and 2011 Laetitia Vineyard), but this one was one I could not pour out. Just the right balance between fruit and earth with amazing structure and grace. Located in the Santa Maria Valley, River Bench Vineyard is quickly becoming one of the premiere pinot spots in the region. This wine shows exactly why.
2013 Roark Wine Company Rose - $15
- A serious steal. A wine Ryan hadn't planned on making, but just perfect nonetheless. He told me it's ready to drink right now and he was right. Bright fruit with crisp acidity and an unexpectedly long finish. Buy it, crack it and enjoy it.
2012 Ryan Cochrane Pinot Noir, Fiddlestix Vineyard - $43
- Ryan's wines were the talk of the Festival last year, and he created the same buzz in the room this year, adding this Fiddlestix bottling to his equally delicious Solomon Hills version. I just happen to slightly prefer the former's "terror", but you can't go wrong with either. Less than 150 cases of each available.
Sillix Wines - I can't just recommend one of Blake Sillix's wines because I loved them all equally. If he had a wine club, I'd join it. He doesn't even have a website yet, but he's a name you should definitely have on your radar. His current day job is as the assistant winemaker at Tyler, so he's getting all the right experience and it shows. He brought barrel samples of his 2013 Grenache Blanc (just amazing), as well as his 2011 Grenache and Syrah. I went back for seconds and bought a few bottles as well. All of his wines, were so well-crafted and balanced, showing off their grape characteristics while still having there own personality. Currently both are priced at $36 but I have a feeling future vintages will not be so affordable.
2012 Transcendence Pinot Noir, La Encantada Vineyard - $45
- Winemaker Joey Gummere makes both Rhones and Burgundian style wines. Usually I'm a Rhone hound, but I was blown away by this Pinot. One of the lighter-bodied of the day, but still intensely flavorful and everything I love about Sta. Rita Hills.
2010 a-non-ah-mus Grenache, Alisos Vineyard - $32
- Ron Hill traded in his vast medical knowledge to gain winemaking experience in 2008 and has never looked back. I was very impressed with his 2009 grenache, but the 2010 takes it to a whole, more delicious level. The body is more delicate than many coming out of the Central Coast but it still delivers an intensity of earth and fruit flavors that will grab your tongue and refuse to let go. Grenache is rarely elegant, but this wine shows the grapes potential for standing out on its own.
2013 Alta Colina Grenache Blanc - $28
- When a winery known for their powerful reds, also makes lovely whites, they are one to watch out for. I've been a big fan of Alta Colina since the beginning and am so proud of their evolution. This is only their second 100% grenache blanc bottling - depending on the vintage they will only make a Rhone white blend - and it is the best white they've ever made. Aromatic and complex with great balance and acidity, it shows what this grape is capable of from their property. A wine that proves whites can be just as interesting as reds. Can't wait to get my hands on some.
2012 Bradley Family Sauvignon Blanc, Adobe Canyon Vineyard - $24
- David and Jennie Bradley poured their first wine for the FIRST time at the Festival. Only 64 cases of this wine were made and that's a real shame as it showcases all of the best qualities of Sauvignon Blanc - bright citrus, crisp acidity and just the right amount of grassiness to let you know exactly what grape was in the glass. A tremendous first effort. If all SBs were this well-made it would get a lot more respect in the wine world.
2011 C. Nagy Wines Syrah, White Hawk Vineyard - $25
- I just love Syrahs from this vineyard and Clarissa Nagy just lets the fruit shine. Not the most complex Syrah of the weekend, but for the price it's hard to beat...and one I buy from her every year.
Dilecta Wines - If you love Rhone wines, as I do, you can't go wrong with either of the wines made by Orion Stang. Coming from Paso Robles, you'd expect them to be big fruit bombs, but while both his wines are intense, they also show a restraint on the palate that immediately makes you want more while thinking about all the different flavors flowing over your palate. They aren't cheap at $52 a bottle, but they are memorable and that's a rare quality to have.
2011 Nicora Wines Law Vineyard Blend - $53
- While I loved all of Nick Elliott's wines, this was a real standout of the day for me. Law Vineyard is a new venture on the Westside of Paso getting a lot of buzz. If their wines are anywhere near as good as this Syrah/Grenache blend well...I can't quite put my finger on why this tasted better as the style was decidedly Nick's just the depth and finish were just that much "more." If the critics get ahold of this wine, it will be his best score yet.
2013 ONX Wines Indie Rose of Tempranillo - $25
- I am not usually a fan of this grape variety in any form, but this rose made me doubt my usual displeasure. Made in Paso Robles from their estate fruit, this is their first go-round with a rose and it was a real pleasure. More european in style than a lot of Central Coast pinks with great earth and mineral qualities, but still enough fruit for me.
2010 Plan B Cellars Mourvedre, Happy Canyon - $28
- I'm a sucker for this grape which is still rare to find bottled on its own. Winemaker Marlow Barger manages to bring out all of the best qualities of this varietal (earthy, meaty dark fruit), while keeping the texture and structure quite classy and elegant. You don't see a lot of mourvedre coming out of Happy Canyon, but this bottle shows that perhaps more should be.
2012 Weatherborne Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills - $35
- They say it takes a lot of beer to make wine, which must have clearly helped brewer Cris Carter along the way. It's his first vintage and he knocks this pinot - sourced mostly from John Sebastiano Vineyard and a bit from Melville - out of the park. It shows a bit more delicacy on the palate than other versions from this AVA, yet it still smells and tastes of Sta. Rita Hills. A winemaker and wine to watch out for.
2012 Zinke Wine Company Roussanne - $28
- I know another Roussanne, but I can' t help it. This is their first vintage and they nailed it. Round and ripe, but not at all cloying. The mouthfeel is full-bodied, yet the acidity gave it a lightness that was unexpected. Just wanted to savor a whole glass. Their 2012 Grenache Rose is also quite good and a steal at $14. I can't wait to see what their red wines taste like.
The Garagiste Festival holds two major events each year, in March in the Santa Ynez Valley, and in November in Paso Robles, CA. For more information about their upcoming events, please visit their website.