Cocktail Corner: Valentine’s Weekend Garagiste Wine Festival

A spirited toast to all things alcoholic! by Leslie Dinaberg

2016 Garagiste FestivalWine and romance pair together so well, why not celebrate Valentine’s Day weekend at the fourth annual Garagiste Wine Festival Southern Exposure 2016.

This fun and very unique wine festival takes place Feb. 13-14 at the Veterans’ Memorial Hall in Solvang. In honor of Valentine’s Day weekend, the festival features micro-production local sparkling wines, in addition to handcrafted red and white vintages poured by hard-to-find, cutting-edge commercial artisan garagiste wineries from Santa Barbara County, Santa Ynez Valley, Paso Robles, Napa and more.

Not only is this an ideal way to try hard-to-find, up-and-coming wines (and meet their makers), proceeds from the event benefit The Garagiste Festival Scholarship Fund at Cal Poly Wine and Viticulture Department.

Courtesy Garagiste Festival.

Courtesy Garagiste Festival.

The Los Angeles Times calls this a “wildly exuberant and fun wine event,” and I couldn’t agree more. (Click here for a previous Cocktail Corner about the event.) The event features Grand Tastings of different vintages on both Saturday and Sunday. In addition, each Grand Tasting is preceded by a tasting seminar.

From 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. on Saturday they’ll be Digging Deep into Mourvedre: This seminar explores different styles of Mourvedre and helps you understand why it is one of the most widely planted varietals in the world. Bob Tillman (Alta Colina Vineyards), Larry Schaffer (Tercero Wines) and Eric Mohsemi (Zaca Mesa Vineyards) will explain the joys of this under-the-radar grape as you taste your way through an amazing array of Mourvedre’s to showcase what this grape brings to the bottle.

Sunday’s seminar, from 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and sponsored by BubblyFest, is called Rise of the Bubbles – The New Breed of California Sparkling Wine: Start Valentine’s Day off right by tasting some of the exciting new bubbles—white, pink and red—that are being produced by small winemakers in California. You’ll explore the wines of Norm Yost (Goat Bubbles), Tyler Elwell (Halcyon Wines) and Dan Kessler (Kessler-Haak Vineyards).

 “We are proud to continue our mission of bringing the best new garagiste winemakers to our audience and, just as importantly, bringing the story behind the wines straight from the winemakers themselves,” says Garagiste Festival Co-founder Doug Minnick. “Great wines and great winemakers in the beautiful countryside of the Santa Ynez Valley? We think this is the perfect Valentine’s Day gift.”

Launched in Paso Robles in 2011, the nonprofit Garagiste Festivals were the first to shine a light on the American garagiste winemakers, commercial artisan winemakers who handcraft under 1,500 cases a year and pay close, hands-on attention to every wine they make. To purchase tickets and for more information, go to:

Winemakers scheduled to pour include: Archium Cellars, Ascension Cellars, Baehner Fournier Vineyards, Bevela Wines*, Brophy Clark Cellars, Carucci Wines, The Central Coast Group Project, Cloak & Dagger Wines, Clos des Amis, Coda Wines, Cordon Wines, Dascomb Cellars, El Lugar Wines, Graef Wines, Halcyon Wines*, Iter Wine*, Kessler Haak Vineyard, La Montagne Winery, Larner Vineyard, Levo Wines, Mallea Wines*, MCV Wines, Millesime Cellars*, C. Nagy Wines, Pace Family Wines, Press Gang Cellars, Rhythm Wines*, Ryan Cochrane Wines, Scott Cellars, Seagrape Wines, small + tall wines*, Stirm Wines*, STANGER/JP3, Tercero Wines, Travieso Winery, Trojak-Knier Winery, Weatherborne, West of Temprance* and Workman Ayer.

Hope to see some of you there.


Click here for more cocktail corner columns.

Leslie Dinaberg

When she’s not busy working as the editor of Santa Barbara SEASONS, Cocktail Corner author Leslie Dinaberg writes magazine articles, newspaper columns and grocery lists. When it comes to cocktails, Leslie considers herself a “goal-oriented drinker.”

 Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine on January 22, 2015.

Cocktail Corner: Wine Notes

The beautiful home of Westerly Wines, photo by Leslie Dinaberg

The beautiful home of Westerly Wines, photo by Leslie Dinaberg

A spirited toast to all things alcoholic! By Leslie Dinaberg

Purely by coincidence, I spent the last two weekends tasting a number of limited production wines—while the number of bottles may be small, their variety is large and their quality is excellent.

Westerly Wines

First up was a lovely tour, barrel sampling and wine tasting at the Santa Ynez estate home of Westerly Wines. What a treat! Winemaker Adam Henkel played host for the private event. He’s a Kentucky-born charmer who came to the vineyard a few years ago, after a decade in Napa Valley making wines for Harlan Estate and Swanson Vineyards.

Westerly Wines Winemaker Adam Henkel with one of the ceramic "eggs" used in the white winemaking process. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Westerly Wines Winemaker Adam Henkel with one of the ceramic “eggs” used in the white winemaking process. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

First of all, the estate is beautiful. Based in the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA, it was once part of a 3,900-acre horse ranch, Westerly Stud Farms, and horses still graze the neighboring estates. Our first wine was a 2013 Westerly Sauvignon Blanc, a bright, fresh and balanced wine that was perfect for a warm, spring afternoon. Then Henkel took us into the barrel room, where we sampled the 2014 Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay and the 2013 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir, both of which were quite promising. This winery is state-of-the art, with reds fermenting in concrete conical tanks, French Oak and traditional stainless steel, while the whites cold ferment in concrete “eggs,” as well as small French Oak barrels and stainless steel tanks. It’s amazing the number of different winemaking vessels available, and Westerly seems to have them all on hand.

Then it was onto the picturesque dining room, where owner Roger Bower greeted us warmly. At lunch we tasted an excellent Bordeaux varietal, the 2010 Westerly Fletcher’s Red, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. We also tasted the 2012 Cote Blonde, a blend of 87% Syrah and 13% Viognier co-fermented together to create my new favorite wine. It’s really nicely balanced and full bodied with a wonderful smell of dried apricots of flowers. Trust me, it’s delicious! It was a great introduction to these (new to me) wines. I definitely won’t be a stranger!

The winery is not open to the public, however wine club members are invited to special events and staff will be pouring at a number of upcoming wine festivals, including the 2nd Annual Santa Barbara Food & Wine Weekend at the Bacara Resort & Spa April 16-17. Click here for details.

The Garagiste Festival

Speaking of festivals, if you want to know what’s new and exciting in the world of wine, the Garagiste Festival is the place to be. Named for the GARAGISTES (gar-uh-zhē-stuh), which comes from a term originally used in the Bordeaux region of France to denigrate renegade small-lot wine makers, sometimes working in their garages, who refused to follow the “rules” of traditional winemaking, the festival focuses on producers of less than 1,500 cases, which means these are wines you are unlikely to find very easily. The Solvang festival had two days of Grand Tastings, with different wines poured a each one.

One of my favorites was the 2012 Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay from Seagrape Cellars, which is a side project for Buttonwood Farm Winemaker Karen Steinwachs (started with her late husband, Dave). Another festival fave (I was focused on whites) was Baehner Fournier Vineyards 2013 Sauvignon Blanc from Vogelzang Vineyard in Happy Canyon.

This is the special rose flight from Wine + Beer, photo courtesy JZPR.

This is the special rose flight from Wine + Beer, photo courtesy JZPR.

Wine + Beer

Rosé was also on the menu this week. As part of its one-year anniversary celebration, Wine + Beer in the Santa Barbara Public Market is offering a special “Drink Pink” rosé tasting series that runs through April 7 features some excellent local winemakers:

Tatomer “Spaatburgunder” Rosé, made of 100% Pinot Noir

Stolpman Vineyards Rosé, Ballard Canyon, made from 100% Grenache

Margerum Wine Company “Riviera” Rosé (97% Grenache, 3% Counoise and Cinsaut)

Dragonette Cellars Rosé, Happy Canyon (70% Grenache, 25% Syrah and 5% Mourvedre),

Liquid Farm “Vogelzang Vineyard,” Happy Canyon, made from 100% Mourvedre.

Tasting flights are only available through next week, but the wines—so perfect for spring —are all for sale by the bottle in this bustling tasting room. Cheers!

Click here for more cocktail corner columns. Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on April 3, 2015.

Leslie Dinaberg

Leslie Dinaberg

When she’s not busy working as the editor of Santa Barbara SEASONS, Cocktail Corner author Leslie Dinaberg writes magazine articles, newspaper columns and grocery lists. When it comes to cocktails, Leslie considers herself a “goal-oriented drinker.”