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.


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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: 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.”

Cocktail Corner: Bacon & Barrels

Seeing the World Through Bacon-Flavored Glasses, photo by Tyler Moselle

Seeing the World Through Bacon-Flavored Glasses, photo by Tyler Moselle

A spirited toast to all things alcoholic! By Leslie Dinaberg

My bacon-phile colleagues and I were living high on the hog last weekend at the first annual Bacon & Barrels Festival at Saarloos + Sons‘ wine field in Los Olivos.

To label this sold-out event decadent would be an understatement. The festivities included creative bacon (and pork) dishes from top Central Coast chefs, bacon-based and bacon-inspired cocktails, wines and beers concocted by mixologists, brewers and wineries, live music and even a pig petting zoo.

Let me just say, they had me at “bacon” (which pop poet Katy Perry so brilliantly called “the meat candy of the world”) but everything at Bacon & Barrels was pretty fabulous. Our very first bite was an amazing crunchy melted cheese and pork sandwich from Ranch & Reata Roadhouse in Santa Ynez. It was exceptional, and that was before my first tipple.

Ranch & Reata's Yummy Pork Sandwich, photo by Tyler Moselle

Ranch & Reata’s Yummy Pork Sandwich, photo by Tyler Moselle

As to the barrel side of things—wine, spirits, beer—there was a lot of good stuff to choose from, including wine from Tercero, Liquid Farm, Casa Dumetz, Tessa Marie, Sunstone, Press Gang Cellars, Buttonwood, Point Concepcion, Alta Maria Vineyards, Refugio Ranch, Consilience, Tre Anelli, Riverbench (which just opened up a new tasting room in the Funk Zone at 137 Anacapa St.), Cold Heaven and of course, our hosts, Saarloos + Sons.

So much bacon goodness to choose from, as Jim Gaffigan says, “Do you want to know how good bacon is? In order to improve other food, they wrap it in bacon.” Indeed! The Ballard Inn & Restaurant, The Willows, Fresco, Georgia’s Smokehouse and Full of Life Flatbread were a just a taste of the yummy bites that were on hand.

But given the heat on Saturday, beer paired especially with all of that porky goodness. The Jefe Del Porko award went to Sides Hardware and Shoes—A Brothers Restaurant, for their bacon burger and peach and bacon panzanella, which was mouth-watering indeed, especially with the pale ale from Figueroa Mountain. The Bruery, Stone Brewing Company, Sierra Nevada, Firestone Walker, Ninkasi Brewing, Central Coast Brewing, The Brewery at Abigaile, Almanac Beer Company, Mendocino Brewing Company and New Belgian Brewing Co. (with a fun “Lips of Faith” series of collaborative beers) were all on hand to wet our whistles.

Hard not to Enjoy Cupcakes when they're covered with bacon! Courtesy photo

Hard not to Enjoy Cupcakes when they’re covered with bacon! Courtesy photo

Try as I did to limit my libations to beer that day, I was unable to resist Root 246‘s amazing bacon-infused Manhattan, garnished with a drunken cherry and served in an ice cube shot glass. Try that with the Stuffed Salted Bacon Maple Cobbler Cupcake from Enjoy Cupcakes (coming soon to the Santa Barbara Public Market) and I guarantee you’ll be in hog heaven. My calendar is already marked for the next festival, July 18-20, 2014.


Click here for more cocktail corner columns.

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.”