When I signed up for a media tasting at Garagiste North: The Small Guys Wine Festival I expected a bunch of gumboots-wearing, heavily whiskered, purple-stain panted winemakers I never heard of.
I could not have been more wrong.
The original Garagistes emerged in the 1990s as a group of Bordeaux home winemakers who worked in their actual garages to make small lots of high-quality, ready to drink “Vins de garage” that received rave reviews and surprisingly high marks.
The Garagiste movement quickly spread to California, and mostly recently came to British Columbia. The Garagiste North Wine Festival was started in 2014 by publisher Jennifer Schell and grape grower Terry Meyer Stone, and this year’s Vancouver Garagiste North Wine Festival occurred on April 17 at Wise Hall. As always, it’s meant to showcase our province’s “Small Guys.”
Well, they may be small in production, but clearly these folks are not working in garages. All of the winemakers I met are working in real wine cellars that they either own, work for, or contract with. No purple stains here.
Meet the Garagistes
The first winery I found was Black Cloud, run by Bradley Cooper and his wife Audralee Daum. No discovery here, I’ve been in their wine club for two years. Still, a sample of the juicy Red Sky rosé was a welcome starter.
Bradley now makes his wine in the cellar of Serendipity Winery, where he works, as he did previously in Township 7 Winery. But his Black Cloud production is still only 450 cases, so he’s a small guy.
Across the room, I found River Stone Winery’s Ted Kane (no relation) who I also know well and have enjoyed his wide array of crisp white wines and complex reds.
I’ve been to Ted’s self-designed winery, and I can tell you – it ain’t no garage. But although he’s making eight or nine different wines every year, he’s making a squeak under 2000 cases in total. So, still a “small guy.”
Others that have been around a while were Forbidden Fruit, Niche, Marichel, Saxon, and Kraze Legz.
New to me was Black Market Wine Company with owner/winemaker Rob Hammersley there, pouring his intriguing blends. The 2014 Secret Society White is a ripe, tropical blend of Gewürztraminer/Ehrenfelser/Chardonnay. 2013 Syndicate Red is a lush, full-bodied blend of Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Petite Verdot. Yum!
Hammersley makes his wines at the BC Wine Studio in Okanagan Falls, where his wines are cared for by expert vintners. Which is good because Hammersley and his wife live in Calgary! One or both of them will drive the eight hours to OK Falls once a month to check on their wines. Talk about a devotion to future prospects!
I also enjoyed meeting Daniel and Christine Bibby, proprietors of Nighthawk Winery, who own vineyards and a winery tucked into a beautiful valley on Green Lake Road west of OK Falls. This is one place I want to visit this summer when we’re in Oliver.
The Bibbys make seven wines, three of which I tried: the rich, round 2014 Viognier, the aromatic 2014 Gewürztraminer, and a bright, lovely 2015 Rosé. Still, their production is just 1870 cases. Small.
Kitsch Wines is similarly family owned and well appointed, located in east Kelowna. The operation is run by Trent & Ria Kitsch, but was endowed by his parents, who made their money founding Saxx Underwear.
The winery specializes in white wines and Trent was there pouring his fruity 2015 Pinot Gris, a lightly-oaked 2015 Chardonnay, and an off-dry 2015 Riesling, all good.
But here’s the thing: the Kitsch’s not only have a swanky tasting room, cellars and vineyard, they also have a hired winemaker, Grant Biggs. Here’s is a shot of the estate that Trent was showing us.
The winery tops out at 1023 cases, which is small, but come on. The Kitsch’s actual garage could probably house a family of ten.
Garagiste in the eye of the beholder
Ok, so in BC, being a “small guy” winemaker doesn’t necessarily mean that you work in a cramped garage. I get it.
It’s possible to name a festival for contradictory concepts and that’s fine. Actually, I like it. It’s kinda ironic.
But all the semantics in the world does not detract from the stylish and exciting products these winemakers are creating on a low-production basis, all of which is meant for consumption by us British Columbians. Their diminutiveness is to our benefit.
Where else could I walk away from a tasting with my wine club shipment?
So in the words of the Rolling Stones, I just want to say:
Let’s drink to the hard working people,
Let’s drink to the salt of the earth!