Garagiste North brought together 28 small producers and a highly appreciative group of wine lovers in Penticton on Sunday to offer a sampling of why small is better — Carpe Vinum indeed. The first of its kind in Canada, in it’s fourth year and sixth festival, Garagiste North, The Small Producers Wine Festival, celebrates the artisan winemaker creating commercially produced small case lot wines (under 2000 cases). The term Garagiste (gar-ah-jeest) comes from a group of winemakers in the Bordeaux region of France, producing “vins de garage” or “garage wine.” They were small-lot winemakers, sometimes working in their garage, who refused to follow industry laws and protocol.
The Garagiste pop-up wine store was on site and I chose three of my favourites to take home: Black Cloud‘s Red Sky (Bradley Cooper & Audralee Daum), Schell Wines inaugural Chardonnay produced by the event’s co-founder and author Jennifer Schell (The Wine Party) and her brothers Jonathan and Jaime and a Forgotten Hill Wine Co. Pinot Gris (Ben and Maya Gauthier).
Partial proceeds from the event will benefit the Garagiste North Wine Study Scholarship at Okanagan College, which is great.
“Being a small producer means giving everything you’ve got,” says Forgotten Hill Wine Co.’s Maya Gauthier. “You’re not starting with big money and you have to love what you do to make it happen. The learning curve is incredibly steep and the workload is so high that only those with a major passion for wine are willing to take it on.”
Forgotten Hill Winemaker Ben Gauthier says, “The result of that is that these small winemakers are putting their heart and soul into the bottle and it really, really shows in the finished product. Every wine has a different, individual story to tell. At the same time, we have the advantage of not being bound by any (or not many) rules: no one is telling us what to do!”
The Forgotten Hill’s Vineyard is a four acre plot on their property, planted in 3/4 Pinot Gris and 1/4 Pinot Noir. “Ours is the highest vineyard on the Naramata Bench, sitting at over 2100 feet,” says Maya. “We balance out our high elevation by having an enormous rock face behind the vineyard, which reflects heat during the day, and radiates heat into the evening. Our soil is predominantly gravel and sand, which allows us to control the vigour and produce small grapes, and low yields, with intensely concentrated flavours. We also make use of deficit irrigation, meaning that we water very sparingly, which helps to enhance the varietal characteristics of our grapes.”
Ben’s style is “meticulous minimalism” with the goal of showcasing the varietal and the terroir, without any interference. “We want the winemaking to be true to what the vineyard delivers, to the season and to the soil. All we want to do is coax things in the right direction. ”
The Gauthiers planted the vineyard in 2008, with a winery in mind as a long-term goal. Since planting the vineyard they have built a home, a bed & breakfast, and had two daughters, and now, finally, the winery has come to be. They opened in June and have a lineup that features Pinot Gris, Rosé and Pinot Noir. A Syrah and another Pinot Noir will be released in Spring 2018.
“We really enjoyed the event, and loved having the chance to interact with likeminded wine peeps,” says Maya. “We are able to swap stories, build a personal connection with each other and with the customers, and strenghten the ties in our community of small producers. Vive les Garagistes!”
“It is a really is a unique community – and a super passionate one,” says Jennifer Schell of the Garagiste. “This is what makes our festival so different and why we attract the real wine lovers to the tasting. The name Garagiste (going back to its origins from Bordeaux) represents the renegade winemaker and those who experiment with new blends and varietals. The is what is also happening here and what defines our group, our Garagiste Guild as we are calling it.”
Jennifer says plans are in the works for the first Garagiste Symposium and trade show this January focussing on the needs and culture of the small producer. The event will be taking place at Okanagan College in Penticton who are the event venue sponsors. She is also signing a new book deal — Garagistes of British Columbia.
“We also enjoyed the first event yesterday with our Riedel sponsor on board. So fabulous having our high quality wines tasted in the highest quality crystal glassware. Our focus is also to educate wine lovers about the entire process of winemaking from vine to bottle by allowing them the opportunity to talk directly to the growers and winemakers behind the label.”
“As for Schell Wines … after working with the Garagistes and putting these festivals together for the last few years with my event partner Terry (Meyer-Stone), I wanted to become a Garagiste,” says Jennifer. ” I called my two brothers to ask if they wanted to start this new adventure together and they were in. I love that we have this family project together – gives me more time with them in a very busy world. I signed up Rob Westbury at Nagging Doubt Winery as our winemaker – he is a Garagiste and also my brother’s neighbour. So this made the perfect match for us.
“We purchased the Chardonnay grapes from Kitsch Wines that is on East Kelowna Road- just 2 minutes from my parents’ farm and where my brothers and I grew up. So, this felt right with fruit from our neighbourhood representing our unique East Kelowna terroir and what wine from grapes grown on our family farm would actually taste like.
“I am also known for being a huge fan of Chardonnay – so this first wine had to be a Chard. My niece designed our logo and also the ‘doods’ for our Chardonnayism and Chardonnayist t-shirts.”
“We find the Garagiste events to be the most ‘real’ interfaces with the wine consuming public,” says Black Cloud’s Bradley Cooper. “There’s none of the that ‘we’re here to get a buzz and catch up on gossip’ at the other big shows. The average Garagiste attender is engaged, curious and aware. They’re ready to try and discover. Since we’re still unknown to many people despite starting up in 2008, we value the kind of exposure Garagiste affords.
“Small producers can sometimes innovate in ways larger operations may find difficult. There’s a certain agility with being small production,” he says.
Bradley’s winemaking philosophy is “…start with the finest grapes you can afford which will solve or eliminate many issues down the road. After that, intervene only when you must, but if you must, don’t hesitate or waffle. Wine doesn’t favour procrastinators in its formative months.”
Black Cloud’s Red Sky is pretty special. Wine people in BC and beyond will be talking about 2015 for decades to come. As Brad says, “Was it the first of many warmer vintages or was it an anomaly, a gift from southern climates? What we know at this time is that it was warmer and earlier than just about any growing season in the modern era (post 1988). Which resulted in some unusual circumstances.”
“The 2015 RED SKY started out as juice bursting with flavour and plenty of Brix, or sugar in solution. Unusually, it was also a little higher in the pH department. To avoid having a flabby rosé (who likes a flabby rosé?), we cold fermented at about 12C and boosted the natural acidity by about half a gram per liter. Cold fermenting helps lock in the fruit flavours. Yeast selection was initially feral but to ensure a strong finish at the end of the race we added our old pal Romanée Conti 212 when about 1/2 half the sugar had been depleted. The result of the yeast family feud is the complexity and savoury nature of this rosé.”
Brad describes The 2015 RED SKY as strawberry, cherry, rhubarb in the nose and in the palate. And enough tannin to stand up to just about any casual food pairing from pizza to picnics to pastrami. “Unusually, the alcohol is on the high side but the big, round body of the wine manages that with considerable aplomb.”
Here are some other highlights of my tasting day…