Cocktail Corner: Garagiste Wine Festival

Courtesy Garagiste Festival.

Courtesy Garagiste Festival.

A Spirited Toast to All Things Alcoholic! By Leslie Dinaberg  

April Fools’ Day is coming soon, and what better way to celebrate the lighter side of life than one of my favorite wine festivals: the 2017 Garagiste Wine Festival: Southern Exposure.

The unique thing about this event is that it showcases micro-production wines made made by garagiste winemakers, commercial artisan winemakers who handcraft under 1,500 cases a year and pay close, hands-on attention to every wine they make.
Starting in 2011, the nonprofit Garagiste Festivals have introduced hundreds of outstanding artisan winemakers to thousands of passionate wine consumers, members of the trade and media, raising the profiles of many of the winemakers nationally for the first time, and raising thousands of dollars for the education of future winemakers.  The festival benefits the Cal Poly Wine and Viticulture Department.
Courtesy Garagiste Festival.

Courtesy Garagiste Festival.

“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.
Here’s the schedule for this fun event:

Friday, March 31: “Rare & Reserve” Kick-Off Party: 6:30-9 p.m. with tastings of limited Club Only, Verticals, Library and Pre-Release bottles

Saturday, April 1: Seminars 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
“What’s Wrong With This Picture? Educate Your Palate About the Most Common Wine Flaws” moderated by winemaker and festival co-founder Stewart McLennan, is led by Marcy Mallette, Winemaker/Technical Representative for Laffort USA


“An Exploration of Grenache: Not Just for Blending Anymore” featuring Zac Wasserman (Frequency Wines), Sonja Magdevski (Casa Dumetz) and Cris Carter (Weatherborne), along with their wines.

Saturday, April 1Grand Tasting 2-5 p.m.

Sunday, April 2: Passport Day, where, for the first time ever, local Santa Ynez Valley wineries will be offering special opportunities for Garagiste Festival attendees. Vineyard tours, winery tours, barrel samples, free and discounted tastings, discounted pricing and club-member-for-a-day benefits are just some of the treats being offered by participating wineries.

Courtesy Garagiste Festival.

Courtesy Garagiste Festival.

Get ready for a comfortable and relaxed tasting experience with personal winemaker interaction, high quality wines, first-time and soon-to-break-out discoveries (*seven winemakers will be pouring for the first time), diverse grape varieties and a renegade and fun-loving spirit on display.

Winemakers scheduled to pour include: Artisan Uprising, Ascension Cellars, Bevela Wines, Bradley Family Wines, Brian Benson Cellars, Camlow Cellars, Carivintas, Carter Paul Wines*, Casa Dumetz Wines, Central Coast Group Project, Cholame Vineyards, Cloak & Dagger Wines, Clos des Amis, Coda Wines, Comartin Cellars*, Cordon Wines, Dascomb Cellars, El Lugar Wines, Frequency Wine Co., Golden Triangle, Iter Wines, Jalopy Wine Company*, Jamie Slone Wines*, JP3 Wines, Kaleidos Winery, Larner Vineyards, Levo Wines, Mallea Wines, Mattina Fiore, McKinney Family Vineyards*, MCV Wines, Metrick Wines*, Mollie Wines, Montemar Winery, Ryan Cochrane Wines, Seagrape Wine Co, Serrano Wines, Skyenna Wines*, Tercero Wines, Turiya Wines, Weatherborne and West of Temperance. 

Tickets are very limited and Garagiste Festivals always sell out. To purchase tickets and for more information, visit

Hope to see you there! Cheers! 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 on March 24, 2017.

Cocktail Corner: Lucky Dogg Winery Opens

Brent Melville and his new Lucky Dogg wines, courtesy photo.

Brent Melville and his new Lucky Dogg wines, courtesy photo.

A spirited toast to all things alcoholic! By Leslie Dinaberg

What’s in a name? For Brent Melville‘s new Lucky Dogg Winery it’s a little bit of kismet and a whole lot of luck.

Searching for the perfect moniker for his winery venture, Melville struck inspiration gold on the golf course.

“My friend, referring to my ‘lucky’ streak, called me a ‘lucky dog.’ And it all clicked. We want to share the good karma of our grapes with others, through the resulting wines that we produce,” says Melville, Lucky Dogg Winery president/owner/winemaker. “I had a good shot and my friend was like ‘hey, you’re a lucky dog. “And I started thinking about it, and I was like, gosh darn it, I am. And I started thinking about karma and positive energy. Everybody has a little lucky dog in them, you know. If I grow really good fruit and make great wine out of it, I will then pass on the good vibrations to the consumer. … Basically our philosophy is it’s all about the goodness from the beginning of growing the plant to the end of the consumer drinking the wine.”

Melville knows a lot about growing good fruit.

His roots run deep in the wine industry, where he has managed farming operations for his family’s vineyards for the past 25 years. Starting in 1989, when his family purchased a vineyard in Calistoga, CA, that would become the original “Melville Vineyards,” he worked grape harvests in that vineyard through 1995, then moved on to the family’s new vineyard purchase of 40 acres in Lompoc in 1996. In 1997, the family bought an adjacent, 55-acre parcel of land, now the existing “Melville Vineyards and Winery” in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA.

Melville now runs the 100-acre Verna’s Vineyard in Los Alamos, giving him particular control over the cultivating methods behind his own label’s wines, as well as strategic farming practices for the four other Central Coast labels who pull grapes from Verna’s Vineyard: Tensley WinesCasa Dumetz WinesConsilience Wines and Frequency Wines.

The tasting room is a casual, family-friendly—and dog-friendly—place to hang out. “We especially encourage families that have children to come in to the tasting room …  we have a kid’s corner. They can do crayons or play games while the mom and dad can have a glass of wine. And we allow dogs in the tasting room as well,” says Melville.

“Usually most tasting rooms are very prim and proper and they’ve got the classical music on. But we wanted to be very family-oriented because we’re not going to be doing a lot of case production at the facility or at the tasting room. We’re going to keep it very small and very intimate. We’re an estate winery, which means we don’t buy fruit from anybody else. It all comes from the ranch named after my Grandma, Grandma Verna,” he continues.

Lucky Dogg’s first five releases include:

2013 Viognier 

“This is a stainless steel Viognier. There was no oak involved and we picked the grapes at the perfect time to do it and it’s a wonderful, wonderful wine, something totally different. Not a lot of people do a stainless Viognier,” says Melville.

Tasting Notes: Aromas of pear, apricot, honeysuckle, maple, crushed rocks and pineapple rind with hints of vanilla, and maple. The mouth feel is lush and soft with crisp tropical and stone fruit flavors, and a long finish. This is a very well balanced wine with good tension that has a very silky mouth feel with a refreshing pop of acidity and vanilla tannin. Pair this wine with any Thai dish, specifically a peanut sa-tay. This would also go well with a spicy shrimp dish, scallops or a brie en croute. 

Vineyard: Verna’s Vineyard, Ryann’s Block (named for Melville’s oldest daughter Ryann, age 12)

Fermentation: Whole cluster pressed, no ML, inoculated in barrel

Aging: 6 months in 100% stainless steel

Production: 118 Cases bottled

2013 Rosè of Pinot Noir

“The Pinot Rosè  is probably the best summer wine and probably one of our best sellers in the tasting room right now,” says Melville. “It is also a very unique wine because a lot of people don’t do Pinot Rosè. It sat on skins for less than 24 hours and then was pressed into a stainless steel tank and then cold fermented for four months and we bottled it in January.” 

Tasting Notes: Aromas of plum, strawberry, ripe raspberries and just a hint of anise. Invokes a sensation of sweet acidity on the pallet, with flavors of vibrant strawberry, tannic spice and a mineral finish. This is a perfect summer time wine and pairs great with anything on the BBQ. This is your warm day, front porch relaxing, anytime wine.

Vineyard: Verna’s Vineyard, Pressley’s Block (named for Melville’s younger daughter Pressley, age 10)

Fermentation: 2 days on the skins, no ML, inoculated in barrel

Aging: 6 months in neutral French oak

Production: 123 Cases bottled

2013 Pinot Noir

Tasting Notes: This is a very complex Pinot Noir with scents of wet gravel, sweet tobacco, pomegranate and earth. This is an old world style Pinot Noir that has a classic Burgundian start with smokey tobacco flavors, fresh, ripe fruits in the middle and a long tannic finish with mouth watering acidity. This wine is drinking beautifully now but will also continue to progress with time. Pair this with a roasted pork loin or beef tenderloin but will also work well with a grilled salmon or portobello mushrooms.

Vineyard: Verna’s Vineyard

Fermentation: Destemmed, cold soaked 14 days, punched down 3 times/day

Aging: 9 months in neutral French oak

Production: 196 Cases bottled

2013 Syrah “Brady’s Blend” 

Melville describes this wine, named for his son Braeden, age 8, as, “a very cool climate Syrah, not your big fat jammy or berry Syrah, it’s more of a peppery olive finish to it.”

Tasting Notes: Heavy and inky, this wine embodies everything that is traditionally Syrah. On the nose you will find smoke, dark chocolate, ground white pepper, sweet tobacco, fig, ripe plums, and hints of leather. The wine has great texture, very little acid and a long spicy finish that lingers on the tip of your tongue. Pair this wine with a grilled flank steak, flat iron or hanger steak.

Vineyard: Verna’s Vineyard

Fermentation: 15% Whole cluster pressed, cold soaked 10 days, punched down 3 times/day

Aging: 8 months in neutral French oak

Production: 185 Cases bottled

2013 Reserve Syrah

“Our reserve Syrah is actually a clonal selection and the clone is called 383. It’s just a very unique clone for the Syrah family, and so we bottled it separately from all the rest because we thought it was our best flagship wine,” says Melville.

Tasting Notes:  The most decadent of our wines, the Reserve Syrah has a warm climate texture with cool climate flavors. You will find aromas of cocoa beans, cherries, dark bitter chocolate and a hint of cigar smoke. The mouth feel has a fresh, lush texture with strong minerality, assertive oakiness and a touch of black olive. Pair this wine with a big juicy rib-eye or just drink it on it’s own.

Vineyard: Verna’s Vineyard, clone 383 

Fermentation: 15% Whole cluster pressed, cold soaked 10 days, punched down 3 times/day 

Aging: 8 months in neutral French oak

Production: 100 Cases bottled

Also available at the tasting room is a late harvest Viognier, “which is made specifically for all those sweet tooth people out there. Being in the business somebody always comes into the tasting room and they’re like, ‘hey do you have anything sweet for us?’ And I’m like ‘yeah; we have the perfect wine for you,'” laughs Melville.

This is just the beginning.

“I’m coming out with a bunch of different new wines next year and I’m actually going to come out with a Viognier beer,” he says. “I think it would be really cool to be the only tasting room in Santa Barbara County that does beer and wine. There’s a difference between having beers from other people and making your own. I’m making my own. … And all of this is very, very small production. I don’t want to get into the business of selling my stuff to liquor stores or supermarkets or restaurants or anything like that. I want to keep it very simple.”

Lucky Dogg Winery currently produces about 750 cases, and aims to maintain a boutique winery status, with an eventual total of about 1,500 cases. Melville will leverage Verna’s Vineyard’s reputation for producing Burgundian and Northern Rhone-style Santa Barbara County wines, in his future plans to release a stainless steel Chardonnay, among others.

Lucky Dogg Winery’s tasting room is located at 1607 Mission Dr., Suite 102 (at the corner of Mission Drive and Atterdag Road), Solvang. The tasting room is open from noon-6 p.m., Sunday through Thursday; and from noon-7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday. The label will be launching a Wine Club (called “The Doghouse”) in the coming months. For more information, call 805/691-9774 or visit


Click here for more cocktail corner columns.

Originally published in Santa Barbara SEASONS on July 25, 2014.

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.”

Cocktail Corner: The Garagiste Festival

Courtesy Garagiste Festival

Courtesy Garagiste Festival

A spirited toast to all things alcoholic! by Leslie Dinaberg  |

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—may not be a well-known word around here YET, but it will certainly be flying off the tongues of the lucky folks who gather for the second annual “Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure” in Solvang March 29-30.

The garagiste movement is responsible for making some of the best wine in the world, much of which will be showcased later this month when 56 of Santa Ynez Valley’s and Santa Barbara County’s high-quality, limited-production commercial garagiste winemakers gather at the beautiful, Mission-style Veterans Memorial Hall, 1745 Mission Dr., Solvang.

Last year’s one-day event sold out and, in response to both consumer and winemaker demand, the nonprofit festival (which benefits Cal Poly’s wine and viticulture program) has expanded to two days full of tasting seminars, high-quality wines, first-time and “soon-to-break-out” discoveries, personal winemaker interaction and diverse varietals.

Courtesy Garagiste FestivalWith almost 50% of the winemakers pouring at the event for the first time—13 pouring their first vintage, and 80% lacking  tasting rooms—this festival offers a truly one-time-only opportunity for guests to discover some of the hottest, yet-to-be-discovered wines.

Winemakers pouring on Saturday, March 29 from 2–5 p.m. include: Archium Cellars*, Ascension Cellars*, Carucci Wines*, Casa Dumetz, Cholame Vineyard, Cordon Wines, Crawford Family Wines*, Dubost Ranch*, DV8 Cellars*, Graef Wines*, Ground Effect Wines, Harrison Clarke Wines, Kaena Wine Company, Kessler-Haak Winery, Kita Wines*, Larner Winery, Luminesce, Moretti Wine Co.*, Pence Ranch, Press Gang Cellars, Roark Wine Co., Ryan Cochrane Wines, Seagrape Wine Company, Shai Cellars, Tercero Wines, Transcendence Wines, Turiya* and Vinemark Cellars*.

Winemakers pouring on Sunday, March 30 from 1–4 p.m. include a-non-ah-mus, Baehner-Fournier, Bradley Family Winery*, Brophy Clark Cellars*, C. Nagy Wines, Calilove Winery*, Cloak & Dagger, Clos Des Amis*, Dascomb Cellars*, Desperada*, Dilecta, Fontes & Phillips*, Frequency Wines, Gioia Wines*, Guyomar Wine Cellars*, J. Wilkes Wines, La Fenetre Wines, LaZarre Wines, Montemar Winery*, Nicora Wines, ONX Wines, Plan B Cellars*, Refugio Ranch, Scott Cellars*, Solminer Wine*, STANGER Vineyards, Weatherborne Wine Co.* and Zinke Wine Company*.

(Wines designated with an asterisk * are new to the festival.)

In addition to the grand tastings, each day will feature one of the festival’s popular (and limited seating) morning tasting seminars. On Saturday from 11 a.m.– noon is Rhones Rule: The Wines of Ballard Canyon, focused on Santa Ynez Valley’s brand new AVA, Ballard Canyon, and featuring Michael Larner of Larner Vineyards, Larry Schaffer of Tercero Wines and Mikael Sigouin of Kaena Wine Company. Sunday from 11 a.m.– noon the seminar is A Pinot Noir Primer from the Roots Up, featuring Joshua Klapper from La Fenetre Wines, Adam LaZarre from LaZarre Wines and Clarissa Nagy from C. Nagy Wines.

The nonprofit Garagiste Festivals showcase high-quality, cutting-edge, small-production commercial wineries that produce fewer than 1,500 cases a year. “One of the most fulfilling things about Garagiste Festival events is seeing important new winemakers not only get discovered for the first time but, in many instances, explode out of the box,” says Garagiste Festival co-founder Doug Minnick.

“With Southern Exposure, Garagiste Events is proud to continue to serve as both starting gate and incubator for some of the Central Coast’s (and the world’s) most important small-lot winemakers and to offer consumers the unique joy of connecting with artisans whose passion and maverick spirit pulse through the terroir’ of their wines,” says Garagiste Festival co-founder Stewart McLennan.  “And all at an event that is heavy on fun and light on pretension—which is perhaps the thing we are most proud of. As our attendees will attest, Garagiste events are a blast!”

Tickets are now on sale at


Click here for more cocktail corner columns. Originally published in Santa Barbara SEASONS on March 7, 2014.

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.”