Taste Rare, Small-Production Wines at Sonoma’s Garagiste Festival

The festival invites winemakers who produce 1,500 cases of wine or fewer per year to share their wines with consumers at the one-day event.

Depending on which winemaker you ask, 1,500 cases of wine may seem like a lot — or a little. For the major wineries that make upward of 500,000 cases per year, it’s merely a drop in the wine barrel.

For others, like winemaker Bart Hansen, 1,500 cases is more than double what he makes. That’s why his wines are perfect for the upcoming Garagiste Festival on April 30 at the Sonoma Veterans Memorial Hall.

Launched in Paso Robles in 2011, with satellite events in Sonoma County since 2018, the Garagiste Festival invites winemakers who produce 1,500 cases of wine or fewer per year to share their wines with consumers at the one-day event. Hansen, who previously made medium- to large-production wines for Kenwood Vineyards and Benziger Family Winery, now makes just 625 cases under his own label, Dane Cellars.

“When you work at a large winery, you understand the importance of producing a consistent product for consumers every year,” Hansen said. “You’re always looking at previous vintages to see where you need to go. With small-production wines, I can fully embrace the diversity of each vintage and make the wines I truly want to make.”

Coined in Bordeaux, France, in the early 1990s, the term garagiste was given to rebellious winemakers who were fed up with the region’s strict, centuries-old rules for winemaking. Rather than adhere to tradition, these adventurous men and women made small lots of uncharacteristically robust wines in garages, warehouses and anywhere else they wanted. Threatened by this novel way of making wine, the traditionalists called these turncoat winemakers garagistes. While the term was intended to insult, it was eventually a badge of honor to those who took pride in going rogue.

The Garagiste Festival was inspired by the pluck of these independent French winemakers and their determination to forge a new, creative path. While American winemakers don’t face the same stylistic limitations many French winemakers do, they do share the burden of needing a cash flow.

(Perri Jaye Vineyards)
(Perri Jaye Vineyards)

Winemaker Perri Haughwout, who produces about 100 cases of wine for her micro-winery, Perri Jaye Vineyards, funds the small label by selling the pinot noir grapes she grows in her 2.6-acre vineyard. Winemaking is a passion project she took up later in life, and she only reserves a small lot of the fruit for herself.

“I am not driven by aspirations of fame and fortune. I just want to showcase my beautiful vineyard and the special wine it produces,” Haughwout said.

“When you are as tiny as I am and you don’t have access to a tasting room, the Garagiste Festival is a great opportunity to connect with consumers who are looking for small wine gems. I feel like I fit right in.”

At the Garagiste Festival, the wines are poured by the winemakers themselves, which lends an air of intimacy to the wine tastings and encourages dialogue among the winemakers and attendees. Great varietal diversity is nearly always present, so there is plenty of opportunity to expand your palate and try something new.

The red wines average no more than $45 a bottle, and there is nary a limo or bachelorette party in sight. What you will find, however, are limited-production wines you can’t taste anywhere else.

“There is a real sense of community at the Garagiste Festival, “ said Hansen, who also hosts the popular wine-centric podcast, The Winemakers. “I’ve had people who listen to my podcast come up to me and introduce themselves. For me, that builds connection.”

You can reach Staff Writer Sarah Doyle at 707-521-5478 or sarah.doyle@pressdemocrat.com.