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

The popular annual event will showcase more than 40 wineries that produce less than 1,500 cases per year.

Beloved by wine geeks near and far, the Garagiste Wine Festival: Northern Exposure will return to Sonoma County on Saturday, April 29, at the Sonoma Veteran’s 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 less per year to share their wines with consumers at the one-day event. The Northern Exposure edition will feature wines from Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and El Dorado counties, as well as Lodi, Sierra Foothills, Suisun Valley, Anderson Valley and Santa Clara Valley.

More than 40 micro-wineries will be on site to pour their limited-release wines, tiny gems that are often difficult to come by given that 90% of these winemakers don’t have a tasting room. This year, 17 new wineries are scheduled to participate, including Monroy Wines of Geyserville.

“As a virtual winery, we don’t have many opportunities to pour wine for people, so it’s easy to get lost in the crowd,” said Adolfo Hernandez, who founded Monroy Wines with his wife, Nohelia, in 2018. “The Garagiste Festival lets people to sample our wines. Once they taste them, they love them.”

Hernandez, who also works as an associate winemaker for Benovia Winery in Santa Rosa, produces about 400 cases of wine per year for Monroy Wines, which focuses on barrel-fermented cabernet sauvignon from Chalk Hill and sauvignon blanc from the Fountaingrove District.

“Barrel-fermented cabernet sauvignon is a unique, labor-intensive process, and it’s something I like to share with others,” Hernandez said. “I’m really looking forward to telling people what we’re about.”

What is a garagiste?

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 became a badge of honor to those who took pride in going rogue.

The Garagiste Festival was inspired by these independent French winemakers and their determination to forge a new path.

The face behind the brand

For Ashley Holland, founder and winemaker at Read Holland Wines in Santa Rosa, the Garagiste Festival is not only a chance to connect with fellow winemakers. It’s an opportunity to share her story with consumers.

“I am often so busy that it can be difficult to get my wines in front of people,” said Holland, who launched Read Holland in 2016. “The Garagiste Festival gives me a huge advantage to make my brand come alive and tell the story I’m often too busy to tell.”

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