The American Garagiste Winemaker: Five Years and Thriving

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Garagiste Festival releases data on growing movement: 56% of US wineries are making 1500 or fewer cases(1); garagistes continue to work with wide variety of grapes and are opening more tasting rooms, but fewer are opting to grow their own grapes

We founded The Garagiste Festivals five years ago to gather and bring attention to, the growing but under-the-radar population of micro-production winemakers who we knew were making some of the most exciting, cutting-edge wines in the world

When the Garagiste Festival launched in 2011 in Paso Robles, few people were familiar with the word ‘garagiste**,’ an esoteric term for a small group of French renegade winemakers which had rarely, if ever, been used in association with American winemakers. Today, the American “garagiste” moniker(2) covers over 4,797 wineries in the US, or well over half of all US wineries, according to Wines & Vines, a significant increase over the past three years.

From Canada to South Africa to Australia, the term is now being applied to artisan small-lot winemakers with pride. As part of its fifth anniversary, the Garagiste Wine Festival, the first to shine a spotlight on the American garagiste movement, has released data, updated from its 2012 survey of Garagiste Festival winemakers,(3) along with data from Wines & Vines, that paints a picture of today’s American Garagiste winemaker. The fifth anniversary Garagiste Wine Festival takes place in Paso Robles and Atascadero, November 5th through 7th.

“We founded The Garagiste Festivals five years ago to gather and bring attention to, the growing but under-the-radar population of micro-production winemakers who we knew were making some of the most exciting, cutting-edge wines in the world,” said Doug Minnick, Co-founder of The Garagiste Festival. “As our Festivals have grown and expanded, they have helped spur the growth of our participating wineries, as well as of the Garagiste movement itself. It has been a true win-win-win: matching consumers with the hard-to-find artists they enjoy discovering, helping garagiste wineries find a highly targeted and self-selected audience, and all in support of our work with Cal Poly."

Fifty percent of wineries

According to Wines & Vines, of the 8,543 US wineries, 4,797 produce 1,500 or fewer cases per year. Nearly half of those, 2,186, are in California and over 200 are in San Luis Obispo County alone. In 2012, 3,713 wineries produced up to 1200 cases a year (which was the limit in the first years of Garagiste Festival), a number that grew to 4,090 in 2015.

So, who is making those wines?

The owners themselves. Less than 10% of garagiste wineries hire a consulting winemaker today, versus 20% in 2012. Husband and wife teams continue to represent just over a third of the wineries. And what do these winemakers look like? Based on Festival demographics, in 2015, 13.5% of the winemakers were women (above the national average of about 10%) and a number that has grown significantly since the first Festival when only 6% were women. Interestingly, more wineries in 2015 have dispensed with their ‘day job’ and are taking the leap to go ‘garagiste’ full time.

And what are they making?

The majority of Garagiste Festival winemakers hail from California’s Central Coast, making the diversity of what they bottle very impressive. On average, Garagiste Festivals boast over 28 different varieties poured, with bottlings showcasing more than 45 individual grapes since the first festival. Rhones have made the biggest jump in preference over the past three years, and tend to dominate, but “Whatever suits me!” is by far the grape of choice.

What regional varietals do you focus on?
2012 | 2015
38% | 37% - Whatever suits me!
31% | 28% - Rhone
15% | 19% - Burgundy
8% | 11% - Bordeaux
8% | 5% - Spanish

Many more winemakers are focusing on single variety wines than in 2012, when 68% of the wineries made a blend; today, only 39% are making blends. But there has been little change in color preference, red still rules. Twenty-nine percent make exclusively red wines, while only 2% make exclusively white. Sixty-nine percent make both red and white bottlings.

And how are consumers getting their garagiste wines?

The Garagiste Festival is one place: since 2011, garagiste winemakers have poured over 1800 different wines for thousands of consumers. In addition to the festival, almost all the winemakers sell their wines direct-to-consumer, online via their websites, with over half (57%) of them also selling through their own wine clubs. And, increasingly, they are meeting the public on their own turf: the overall percentage of garagistes with tasting rooms has grown about 18%, from 2012 to 40% in 2015. Over the past three years 34 festival wineries have opened tasting room doors, with more in Santa Barbara County (58%) than Paso Robles (42%).

And where are the garagistes getting their grapes?

The trend with garagistes appears to have moved away from owning land (a very expensive proposition) and is moving towards sourcing, which offers winemakers more flexibility in what they make and where they get it. Only 20% of the wineries pouring in 2015 are ‘All Estate’; 35% own some land but still source other grapes, and 45% source all of their grapes. These winemakers don’t have to be tied to the land to make great wine, nor to their own winery: around 65% use a shared facility.

The Garagiste Festival Fifth Anniversary Winemakers

Hundreds of garagiste winemakers have poured at a Garagiste Festival over the years and, on November 6th, at its Rare and Reserve Winemaker Mixer, the Festival will recognize a select group: its ‘Fifth Anniversary Winemakers,’ i.e. winemakers who poured at the festival’s inaugural event, have continued to participate in the festival, and who have thrived and grown in the years since the first festival in 2011. They are Aaron Wines, Alta Colina Vineyards, Caliza Winery, Cloak & Dagger Wines, Jacob Toft, Kaleidos Wines Nicora Wines Ranchero Cellars, Rendarrio Vineyards STANGER Vineyard, Tercero Wines and Vines on the Marycrest. These charter members of the Garagiste movement, most of whom were producing well under 1,000 cases of wine per year back in 2011, attribute much of their success to their participation in the Garagiste Festival.

Here’s what the Fifth anniversary Winemakers are saying:

  • “The Garagiste Festival has been a huge stepping stone for us throughout the years and we continue to grow because of it,” says Nicholas Elliott of Nicora Wines.
  • “The Garagiste Festival does an amazing job connecting adventurous wine drinkers with adventurous winemakers,” says Maggie Tillman of Alta Colina family winery, which opened its tasting room this year.
  • “Every event consistently attracts a crowd who are genuinely interested in the wines and the stories behind them. Over the years, we have made many customers, important business contacts and indeed friends. Many of our wine club members discovered our wines at a Garagiste event,” said Ray Schofield of Cloak and Dagger Wines.
  • Victor Abascal of Vines on the Marycrest, who opened his tasting room in 2013 said: "When we were just starting out, the Garagiste Festival made us feel welcomed, and important. The Garagiste Festival ‘got us’. We will always remember and appreciate that."

The fifth annual Garagiste Festival held in Paso Robles and Atascadero also includes over 65 ‘garagiste’ winemakers pouring over 200 wines; a five-course winemaker dinner; tasting seminars headlined by’s Madeline Puckette, Kaena Wine’s Mikael Sigouin, Paix Sur Terre’s Ryan Pease and Golden Triangle’s (and Festival co-founder) Stewart McLennan; Winemaking Symposiums, the Grand Tasting and much more.

The non-profit Garagiste Festivals benefit The Garagiste Scholarship Fund of the California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo Cal Poly Wine and Viticulture department.

To buy tickets and for full festival schedule and details, go to To get the latest event info, sign-up for The Dirt at Or follow us on Twitter (@GaragisteFest) or on Facebook.

Festival winemakers include: Aaron Wines, Alma Sol Winery, Alta Colina Vineyards, Artisan Uprising, Ascension Cellars, Barton Family, Bellissimo Cellars*, Bon Niche Cellars, Caldera Cuvee*, Caliza Winery, Chene Wines*, Cholame Vineyard, Cloak & Dagger Wines, Clos Solene, Culton Wine Co., Cutruzzola Vineyards, DENO Wines, Diablo Paso, Dilecta Wines, Domaine Degher, DuBost Winery, Erin E. Wines*, Falcone Family Vineyards, Felten Cellars, Flywheel Wines, Four Lanterns*, Golden Triangle*, Guyomar Winery, Hoyt Family, Irie Wines, Incendium Wines*, Jacob Toft, Kaleidos Wines, La Montagne*, Last Light Wine Co., Levo Wines, Lynch Wines, Mattina Fiore*, MCV Wines, Michael Rose Cellars*, The Missing Leg, Murder Ridge*, Nicora Wines, Nobelle Wines, Pagter Brothers Winery*, Paix Sur Terre, Powell Mountain Cellars, Prizm Winery*, Pulchella Winery, Ranchero Cellars, Ranchita Canyon, Rendarrio Vineyards, RN Estate, Sea Shell Cellars, Seven Angels Cellars, Seven Oxen Vineyard*, Soaring Hawk Vineyards, STANGER Vineyard, Starfield Vineyard, Stolo Family Vineyard, The Farm Winery, Theopolis Vineyards*, Tlo Wines, Turtle Rock Vineyards, Two Moons, Two Shepherds, Turiya Wines, Vinemark Cellars and Vino Vargas.
*Pouring for the first time at the Paso festival

Sponsors include: Baker Wine & Grape Analysis, Barrelhouse Brewing Co., Broken Earth Winery, The Carlton Hotel, Diam, Distinctive Glassware, ETS Laboratories, Enartis Vinquiry, Farm Credit West, G3 Enterprises, Glenn Burdette, Hampton Inn & Suites, KSBY6, La Quinta Inn & Suites, La Tonnellerie Saint-Martin, Laffort USA, mWEBB Communications, The Oaks Hotel, The Paso Robles Inn, The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, SLO Digital Dogma, SLO New Times, Stolzle Glassware, Ted Hamm Insurance, Umpqua Bank, Visit,, WiVi Conference & Trade Show, Wines & Vines, Wine Industry Insight, and Vineyard & Winery Management Magazine.

For sponsorship info, email info(at)garagistefestival(dot)com.

**Garagistes (garage-east) is a term originally used in the Bordeaux region of France to denigrate renegade small-lot wine makers, sometimes working in their “garages” (anything considered not a chateau), who refused to follow the “rules,” and is now a full-fledged movement responsible for making some of the best wine in the world. The Garagiste Festivals were the first to shine a light on the American garagiste winemaker in 2011. Since then, the festival has helped consumers discover the remarkable wines of hundreds of true garagistes, who handcraft under 1,500 cases a year and pay close, hands-on attention to every wine they make.

About The Garagiste Wine Festivals

The Garagiste Wine Festivals ( are the first and only wine festivals dedicated to the undiscovered and under-recognized American artisan ‘garagiste’ producers who are making some of the best, most exciting, handcrafted small-lot production wines in the world. Founded by fellow garagistes Stewart McLennan and Douglas Minnick, the Garagiste Festivals are committed to discovering the best and most innovative limited-production winemakers and promoting and showcasing them to a broad audience of discerning wine consumers. In addition to its flagship annual festival in Paso Robles, CA, the Garagiste Festival line-up includes Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure, featuring Santa Ynez Valley garagistes; the Garagiste Festival: Urban Exposure, in Los Angeles; garagiste mini-tastings presented from So Cal to Tahoe; winemaker dinners, a newsletter, garagiste profiles and more. The festivals were named one of the ‘Top Nine Incredible Epicurean Vacations’ in the world by ABC News,* “one of the premier wine events of the year,” by the LA Times and “Best Festival” by Sunset Magazine’s ‘Best of the West.’ The festivals are produced by Garagiste Events, a non-profit dedicated to furthering the education of future winemakers and those training for employment within the wine industry. Proceeds from the festivals support the Garagiste Festival Scholarship fund of the California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo Wine and Viticulture Department.

Media Contacts:
mWEBB Communications for The Garagiste Festivals
Melanie Webber, melanie(at)mwebbcom(dot)com, 424-603-4340
Crystal Hartwell, crystal(at)mwebbcom(dot)com, 714-987-1016

(1) According to Wines&Vines as of October 13, 2015
(2) According to the Garagiste Festival benchmark: a garagiste is a commercial winery that produces 1500 or fewer cases
(3) Data from survey of winemakers who pour at Garagiste Festivals

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Crystal Hartwell
mWEBB Communications
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