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SYV GF 2015The weekend described as “wildly exuberant and fun” by the Los Angeles Times returns to Solvang at the end of March with wine from cutting-edge micro-production wineries, a new winemaking symposium, winemaker mixer and Big Red “Shoot Out.”

Tickets for the weekend’s events, held at the Veterans Memorial Hall, remain available, but are very limited and Garagiste Festivals always sell out. For the full Southern Exposure schedule, seminar details, participating hotels and to buy tickets, visit http://garagistefestival.com

Proceeds from the weekend will once again benefit the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Wine and Viticulture program.

New this year are two new events kicking off Southern Exposure on Friday, March 27:

  •  Happy Yeast Make Better Wine: This educational (but fun) winemaker symposium features Cal Poly professor and winemaker Matt Brain of Baker and Brain. Time: 5 to 6:30 p.m.
  •  No Repeats: Rare & Reserve Winemaker Mixer: Winemakers will bring out the best of their best for attendees, including Club Only, Library and Pre-Release bottles, and compete in the “Big Red Shootout,” a friendly competition in which they blind-taste each other’s wines and vote for the best red in the room. Time: 7 to 9:30 p.m.

Come Saturday and Sunday morning will be Garagiste’s signature tasting seminars, which will be moderated by Stewart McLennan, radio host and co-founder of the Garagiste Festival with Doug Minnick.

On Saturday, March 28, will be “The Diversity of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA: It’s Not All Pinot & Chardonnay,” featuring Dan Kessler of Kessler-Haak, Chad Melville from SamSARA Wine Co. and Peter Work from Ampelos Cellars.

On Sunday, March 29, comes “The Elephant in the Bottle: The Great California Alcohol Debate,” with panelists Norm Yost from Flying Goat Cellars, Keith Saarloos from Saarloos & Sons and Stillman Brown from Zeppelin Winery.

“We could not be happier to be back in Solvang for the third year in a row with yet another extraordinary slate of 60 talented and innovative micro-production winemakers from Santa Ynez and Santa Barbara, over 20 of whom are pouring at the festival for the first time,” said co-founder Minnick.

“More and more winemakers are telling us that The Garagiste Festivals are the only wine events they participate in because they are so full of passionate, knowledgeable (but decidedly un-snobby) fans of these very special handcrafted wines.”

Aaron Watty's label is Big Tar Wines, and this year's Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure will be his first.

Lee Tomkow photo/Aaron Watty’s label is Big Tar Wines, and this year’s Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure will be his first.

One of those winemakers is Aaron Watty, whose small label is Big Tar Wine Company. I met Watty in 2007 in classes at Allan Hancock College, when he worked in the tasting room of a Santa Ynez Valley winery.

This festival will be Watty’s first foray into Garagiste, and he’s excited to introduce the public to his wines, which include cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc, sangiovese and pinot noir.

He has spent the last six harvests working with fruit from Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, and calls that AVA “the perfect place to grow Bordeaux varietals. I am making this my focus, because its what I know and love.”

At a private tasting in December, where I tried his wines for the first time, Watty told me that his production is between 400 and 500 cases. His first vintage was 200 cases, in 2012.

Watty made only one barrel of his 2012 pinot noir, and it’s a blend of three vineyards: Rio Vista, Sebastiano and La Encantada.

“I think the Garagiste Festival is a great event for small winemakers who do not have an outlet to show their wines,” he told me in a recent e-mail.

“The amount of people and press that the group provides let the small wineries get together and ‘show off.’ There are not many opportunities to pour like this.” Like most of the winemaking participants at Garagiste, Watty doesn’t have a tasting room.

He does have an extensive background in restaurants, including at Gotham Bar and Grill and Picholine in New York City, and Moody’s Bistro in Truckee, which he opened and managed. He continues to keep a foot in the restaurant business, he said, working a few shifts per week at bouchon in Santa Barbara.

Watty worked with Rick Longoria in Lompoc during the last harvest, learning more about pinot noir and chardonnay, he said.

Participating Saturday in the Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure are: Apical Cellars, Archium Cellars, Baehner Fournier, Bellissimo Cellars, Bradley Family Winery, Brophy Clark, Carivintas Winery, Carucci Wines, Clos Des Amis, Cordon Wines, Cotiere, Crawford Family Wines, Dascomb Cellars, Ferguson Crest, Kessler-Haak Vineyards, LaMontagne Winery, Larner Vineyards, Levo Wines, No Limit Wines, Pence Ranch, Press Gang Cellars, Roark Wine Co., SamSara Wine Co., Scott Cellars, Seagrape Cellars, Section Wines, Solminer Wines, Turiya Wines and Weatherborne.

Winemakers on Sunday include Alta Colina Vineyards, Ascension Cellars, Barbieri Wines, Big Tar Wines, Central Coast Group Project, Center of Effort Wines, Cloak & Dagger Wines, Conarium Wines, Dilecta Wines, Dreamcote Wine Co., Falcone Family Vineyards, Graef Wines, Imagine Wines, J. Brix Wines, J. Ludlow Vineyard, Mattina Fiore, MCV Wines, Mount Dorado Winery, Old Creek Ranch Winery, Pace Family Wines, Ryan Cochrane Wines, STANGER Vineyards, Tercero Wines, Tierra y Vino, Vines on the Marycrest, Vino Vargas, Wandering Dog Wines, Workman Ayer and Zeppelin Winery.

Launched in Paso Robles in 2011, the non-profit Garagiste Festivals were the first to shine a light on the American garagiste winemakers, commercial artisan winemakers who handcraft less than 1,500 cases a year and pay close, hands-on attention to every wine they make.

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press for centralcoastwinepress.com