What's So Great About Being Small?

Creative, experimental winemaking is blooming in the shadows of the supermarkets

By Doug Minnick, Co-Founder, The Garagiste Festivals

What's the big deal about small production? What difference does it make, and who really cares how much wine a winery makes?

We know that "craft beer" has re-shaped the brewing industry, but what does that really mean when a "craft" producer such as Sam Adams makes over 2.5 MILLION BARRELS per year? And garagiste winemakers are making about 60 barrels. Not sixty million or sixty thousand. Sixty. Six-0.

You won't find garagiste* wines in supermarkets or large liquor chains amongst the Cabernet and Chardonnay - they just don't have enough wine to satisfy the requirements of large distributors.

And perhaps most importantly, you won't find the big wineries making this incredibly wide range of varietals and styles. Not only are these micro-producers using every grape imaginable, but Garagiste winemakers are taking experimental and sometimes risky approaches like whole-cluster fermentation, extended maceration, native yeasts, low-alcohol, biodynamic farming, blends - that more often than not result in unique and exciting wines.

Most of these approaches just aren’t practical in the large volumes of the supermarket wine producers. These techniques are the purview of the small winemakers; true artisans in the purest non-marketing sense of the word. They are changing the way wine is being made and a whole new audience is discovering that this kind of hands-on, artistic winemaking is worth seeking out.

That’s where the Garagiste Festivals come in. Wines from these producers can be hard to find even in small shops and restaurants here in Paso. Most do not have the time or resources to market their wine widely, and the financial realities of making wine in these tiny amounts demand that winemakers sell directly to the customer with no middle-man as much as possible. Many sell out just to their allocation lists. It helps to know them personally.

And how do you do that? Most don't have tasting rooms, aren’t on wine country maps, and are too busy tending the vineyard and making the wine to do much marketing. Determined wine country travelers who are dedicated to seeking them out may find one or two on any given visit, but they are not easy to find. During the 6th annual Paso Robles Garagiste Festival, 60+ garagiste winemakers will be in one room together, pouring hundreds of amazing small-batch craft wines for two days.

Personal connections with their customers are crucial to these winemakers. And for the consumer, finding an undiscovered winemaker is very much like finding a new band in a club before they have a hit record and being able to brag about it to your friends for the rest of your life. I knew them when!

That’s what makes the Garagiste Festivals such “a crazy thrill of discovery” according to KCET TV. Our unique festivals bring together over 60 micro-production wineries at one time and give wine consumers a chance to not only taste these ultra-premium, cutting-edge wines, but to meet the winemakers themselves, who pour at these festivals. Not salespeople or brokers; the winemakers themselves. This is true passion on display, face to face and in your glass. These folks love to meet their audience and tell their story.

Tickets available here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/6th-annual-paso-garagiste-wine-festival-tic...

https://www.facebook.com/The-Garagiste-Festival-171568979573300/

* GARAGISTES – (garage-east) n, Fr. – A term originally used in the Bordeaux region of France to denigrate renegade small-lot wine makers, sometimes working in their garage, who refused to follow the “rules.” Now a full-fledged movement responsible for making some of the best wine in the world. Who’s laughing now, Francois? Syn: Rule-breakers, pioneers, renegades, mavericks, driven by passion.