Oenophiles with a fondness for unique, hard-to-find wines had no trouble locating some of the best last weekend in Solvang when 42 micro-production wineries poured tastes of more than 200 high-quality handcrafted wines.
The seventh annual Garagiste Wine Festival, this time with a Southern Exposure theme, drew hundreds of visitors to the Solvang Veterans Memorial Hall to talk with winemakers who have a nontraditional approach to the art and craft and to sample the fruits of their labor.
After kicking off Friday night with the "No Repeats, Rare & Reserve," where winemakers poured limited club-only, library and prerelease bottles and barrel samples, the festival continued Saturday morning with “Original Garagistes: A Deep Dive & Tasting,” a seminar by Ken Brown, one of Santa Barbara County's pioneering winemakers and innovators.
Spirits were high Saturday afternoon as a party atmosphere reigned throughout the Veterans Memorial Hall during the Grand Tasting.
Sunday was Garagiste Passport Day, when area wineries offered discounts and special deals to festival attendees.
Originating in the Bordeaux region of France in the 1990s, the “garagistes” were a small group of winemakers who went against the national grain in believing that technique could overcome terroir — the effect of soil and climate — in the final product.
The name “garagiste” meant someone who made “vins de garage,” or “garage wine."
But the Garagiste Wine Festival that returned to Solvang for three days of educational seminars as well as fun was born in Paso Robles in 2011 and has since spread to Los Angeles and Sonoma.
The festival’s focus is on commercial winemakers who produce less than 1,500 cases of wine per year, and the ones who poured last weekend came not only from Santa Barbara County but from throughout the state.
Although the festival aims to educate wine lovers and provide them with a taste of rare vintages from innovative winemakers, it also serves to bring a new generation to the garagiste movement.
Proceeds from the Solvang festival and others around the state go to support the Garagiste Festival Scholarship fund for students in the Cal Poly Wine and Viticulture Department.
Since its inception, the festival has raised more than $125,000 for the scholarship.