Let the Harvesting and Festivals Begin!

grape leaves and ripe bunches of grapes
Beautiful ripe grapes
As I sit at my desk writing, I hear the whirr of a
helicopter overhead, in response to the latest breaking news story in Los
Angeles. This harkens back to my early days in LA, when the choppers raced up
the 405 Freeway in hot pursuit of the white Ford Bronco driven by OJ Simpson; which
reminds me of the cross-country trip I took to get from NYC to the land called “California,”
where an El Niño
storm system seemed to be washing the entire city out to sea. Ah, good old
California, where the drama is high … and the weather is perfect.
And now, as the end of summer is upon us, and the days are
getting shorter, and the kids are getting ready to leave for college, the
harvesting of the wine grapes has begun.  And just as importantly, so have the wine
Based on some discussions I’ve had with vintners recently, the
year 2013 is showing signs of being a very good year for grapes in California,
with crops being harvested approximately 2-3 weeks earlier than last year.  And yields are looking good too, which is
excellent news in lieu of the horrific news out of France, where up to 90% of
the crop in some regions was destroyed by summer hail storms.
The huge State of California is a land of varied and perfect
microclimates for grape growing, and the boom in the wine industry over the
last few decades has been a huge boost to the state’s economy. Per the Wine
Institute (www.wineinstitute.org), California
has 3,800 bonded wineries, responsible for more than 90% of all wine production
in the United States, with a retail value amounting to a whopping $22 billion
in 2012. In terms of yields, which are measured in hectoliters (hl) per hectare
– where 1 hl is approximately equal to 133 bottles of wine – the US is the world’s
fourth largest wine producer, behind France, Italy, and Spain, with yields close
to 21 million hl. That’s a lot of wine, and the majority of it is made in the
Golden State.
Living in Southern California, I feel lucky to be so close
to some of the most spectacular wine country in the world, whose beauty rivals
that of Old World wine regions in Italy and France (which are not too shabby,
either). I try to get up to California wine country regularly, and wine
festivals are now a big part of my life. The one event I never miss is The Garagiste Festival (www.pasogaragiste.com) in Paso Robles,
held at the glorious Windfall Farms, a 724-acre thoroughbred breeding farm
(formerly owned by Jeopardy’s Alex Trebek). This year’s festival, the third,
runs November 7-10.
Garagiste (pronounced “gar-uh-zhē-stuh”)
is defined by Collins Dictionary (www.collinsdictionary.com) as “a small-scale entrepreneurial wine-maker, originally from the
Bordeaux region of France, especially one who does not adhere to the traditions
of wine-making.” The Paso Robles and Santa Ynez regions (as well as many other
areas of the world) are chock full of entrepreneurial garagistes, artisanal wine makers who are producing bold wines that
in some cases defy traditional, old-world winemaking, typically being fruit
forward and higher in alcohol and residual sugar.
The Garagiste Festival focuses on wineries producing fewer
than 1,200 cases per year – quite small when compared with larger wineries like
Kendall-Jackson (www.kj.com) that produce
upwards of 5 million cases annually. “The fact that [the garagistes] are
producing in such small quantities means that they are very hands on and paying
very close attention to what they’re making,” says Doug Minnick, co-founder
with Stewart McLennan of the festival.
And this attention “shows in the product,” he adds.
Minnick says that virtually every winery at the event has
the actual wine maker or owner or both pouring their wines, not their tasting
room employees, so talking with these artisanal winemakers is one of the
biggest treats of the festival. Their stories of how they came to make wines
are each unique and inspiring. Their passion is contagious … and their wines
are delicious.
The Garagiste Festival last year attracted wine lovers – who
tend to be more knowledgeable than average wine festival attendees, per Minnick 
from  as far as Australia, and
from about 18 different states. As Minnick says, and I agree, “There’s nothing
else like this festival out there.”
Another positive aspect of the The Garagiste Festival is that
its proceeds go to support young winemakers at the Wine and Viticulture Program at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Go to www.pasogaragiste.com for ticket information. I hope to see you there.
Until next time, cheers!