I Am a Garagiste. Literally.

25 Sep

Be careful what you wish for.
Dreams do come true…Depends on the day.


By Doug Minnick

The blog below was originally written in 2011. Much has happened since then, so we’re reprinting this again to get you caught up. Then we’ll get into what we’re up to now. But first, a look back at how it all began…

dougvineyardMy friends and I make wine in a garage. Okay, it’s a nice garage, and we have an air conditioner in it, but it is still a garage.

Sometimes I stand and stare – glass in hand – at the barrels, the blue drums, the kegs, the carboys, and all the other crap we’ve accumulated over the last three years – and reflect on how we got here.

The wine is pretty good. Really good, if I do say so myself, and that’s the most amazing part of the story. We often call ourselves the Four Stooges – which paints a pretty accurate image of some of our winemaking processes. Slapstick indeed. How did rookies like us ever manage to make such good wine? We had help. Here’s how it happened:

I’ve been in love with Paso Robles and Paso wine for a dozen years now. To my dismay, I don’t live there…yet. But I’m on my way. As my friends and I would sit in LA drinking Paso wine, we would sometimes raise the late-night idea of making our own wine. Then we would realize it was December and harvest had just ended, pour another glass, and return to our familiar roles as dedicated consumers for another year. This scenario was replayed for a few years in a row, until 2010, when we remembered the idea in June.

By this time we had made several friends in Paso and we floated the idea to Steve Cass, owner of Cass Winery. Unsure of the process and just putting out feelers, we were a little surprised when Steve said it would be no problem to get some fruit from him.

It was on! Now we had to figure out what the heck to do next. We began reading winemaking books and websites, having long discussions about what kind of wine to make and fretting about all of the things that could go wrong along the way.

douggarageWe were excited, but nervous, too. What if we screwed it up so bad we had to pour it out? Even worse, what if it was technically okay, but we didn’t enjoy drinking it? What if we couldn’t figure out how to move heavy objects without a forklift? I would wake up in the middle of the night with endless (literal) nightmare scenarios. We figured we’d be lucky to make something drinkable if we made anything at all.

Then Paso happened. The friendliest, most welcoming place I think I’ve ever been. World-class winemakers began giving us the benefit of their experience, lending us tools, offering advice and guidance, even sharing the occasional secret. To a bunch of Stooges! And so, the wine is drinkable. Hard to stop drinking, actually.

One can learn a lot of winemaking techniques and chemistry from books and websites, but there’s a lot more to winemaking than chemistry, especially the first year. There are budgets, equipment, schedules, teamwork and the logistics of moving heavy things to be considered. We couldn’t have done it without the help we received from so many generous Paso winemakers.

Not everyone has such ready access to professional winemakers, though, and that’s why we have created our Sunday Winemaking Symposium Series as part of The Garagiste Festival.

Matt Brain, a Cal Poly professor and one of the winemaker/owners at Baker and Brain Wines will share some of his deep knowledge and give you the same kind of mentoring we were lucky to get. Those of you who have heard Matt speak know how engaging and informative he is. Adam LaZarre, another prolific and very outgoing winemaker, will be joining him so this will be both fun and educational. Guaranteed. It’s the Garagiste Festival, after all.

If you’ve been thinking about making your own wine, or just getting a closer look at the process, this seminas will be a great way to get a head-start on your first vintage.

Doug is the co-founder of The Garagiste Festival and can often be found driving up and down Interstate 5 with dry ice steam wafting off bins of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre (and a little Cab) with his fellow stooges, Dan Andersen, Ted Behlendorf, and Scott Gruber.

“Beginning Winemaking 101: Getting Your Hands Dirty” Seminar is sponsored by Laffort and will be led by Matt Brain on Sunday, November 9th, from 11:00am-1:00pm. It is open to everyone at all levels of experience. Just bring your desire to learn. For more details see check out our 2014 Event Schedule. 

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