It seems that with each passing year that I live in the Okanagan, the number and quality of festivals of some kind rises dramatically. Of course there are the seasonal wine festivals from the Okanagan Wine Festival Society, the perpetually popular Festival of the Grape in Oliver, and there have been 3 Oyster Festivals in Osoyoos since its inception in 2012. Last year’s Okanagan Food and Wine Film Festival did not continue into 2014 but happily I hear that it will be moving to the spring of 2015. There are annual events that don’t have the word “festival” in the name such as my favourite Similkameen BBQ King Championship and marathons that get you, let’s be honest, Most Definitely corked. But there’s a new player in town on the festival scene and if any more events happen as well as this one did, then you will really want to pay attention to this one in the future.
It’s called The Garagiste North, the Small Guys Wine Festival. Yes, it sort of sounds like it has height restrictions but rest assured that anyone over 5’3″ of any gender is more than welcome to take part if they produce under 2000 cases of wine annually. These people are focused on their 1 or 2 barrels that they make every year. It’s not about quantity but quality and with that comes a whole lot of fun because what’s obvious about these people is that they truly love what they do.
Jennifer Schell and Terry Meyer-Stone are the evil-genius types behind Garagiste North. Meyer Family Vineyards provided the stunning lawn space in front of their wine shop. Gregor’s Gourmet was on hand busily serving up amazing food constantly for the entire afternoon. (Honestly Greg, everyone noticed you both working away constantly all afternoon with no break at all. You deserve a huge thanks for that!) Aidan Mayes and Mandy Cole provided the music. I had my Garagiste mug shot taken (just like the ones that they used to promote the festival) and there were t-shirts and water for sale. Everything was easy to find and very well organized.
Then there was the wine. And then there were the stories that went with the wine.
“This is from the only barrel that we made last year…”
“No, you won’t find this in Vancouver…”
“We haven’t released this wine yet because it’s not finished…”
“Um, well, , we don’t have a wine shop. It’s more of a two-car garage…”
The best part of the day was the wine, which is really what everyone was there to taste anyway. Getting the opportunity just to taste these rare and hard-to-find wines was the draw and the people who attended the festival seemed to enjoy the diversity and range of styles that each winery presented. While most had small portfolios of wines, there were some that had only one or two available. (VinPerdu had only a barrel sample of Cabernet Franc.) Even with all that diversity of styles and wines, I found some interesting things that united the wineries that I spoke with.
While all the wine makers took their craft seriously, none of them took it too seriously. It was obvious they were having fun and even veterans of the scene (winemakers who work ‘day jobs’ at larger wineries) seemed to enjoy pouring these wines more than at other, bigger tasting events. Perhaps it was the casual nature of the event, but I don’t think so. I’ve been lucky to have chatted and tasted wines with more than a few of these wine makers previously and shining the spotlight on them with a festival like this seemed to bring out the best in all of them. They all seemed very proud to be there as a small wine producer and rightly so. They love what they do and it shows.
As for the wines themselves, I did not see any unanimity of varieties or styles amongst the produces there that day. With the strong sense of individuality that it takes just to be a small independent wine maker, I wasn’t really expecting to either. Generally I did find that there were more single-variety wines than blends however and that the blended wines were usually very creative and tasty. There were more than a few Viogniers around and Pinot Noir was a popular choice among red varieties, perhaps because it’s a challenge to produce a great Pinot Noir. There were whites that were both dry and off-dry and more than a few rosés which were popular on this fine, sunny day.
Some of the stand out wines for me: (listed alphabetically)
Anarchist Mountain Chardonnay – We reviewed the first vintage on this on a previous podcast and it received mixed reviews from my industry friends involved that evening. The version I tasted was the follow-up vintage and Andrew Stone told me that he had much more control over this vintage than the one that we’d tasted. It was a real stand out for this variety today. I heard other people mentioning it as something not to miss that day so it wasn’t just me. I like a Chard that has shows the primary fruit flavours but doesn’t cover it with oak. It was complex, yummy (a technical wine term), and I loved it. Hello cedar planked salmon.
Black Cloud Altostratus Pinot Noir – Quickly becoming the most sought after Pinot Noir in BC, this is Brad Cooper and Audralee Daum’s label that focuses entirely on Pinot Noir. The rosé Red Sky was lovely the but the Altostratus takes it for me. It’s a focused and chewy Pinot that jumps out of the glass, grabs your tongue by the taste buds and yells, “You want some duck with that??” Yes. Yes I do.
Carson Pinot Co. Pinot Noir – My mom raved about this one all the way home, describing it as smooth and silky. For some reason, I never got to try it so you’ll have to just believe my mom on this one. If anyone offers this wine to you at a party, just say, “Thank you.”
Corcelletes Rosé – It’s made from Zweigelt!! And you know I’m a sucker for Zweigelt. I’ve featured their Trivium in a recent podcast and have been intrigued (ok, enthralled) by the wine making and viticultural talents of the Baessler family since they started growing the Grower’s Series Pinot Blanc from Clos du Soleil some years ago. So Corcelletes has been on my radar for a while and it’s time it was on yours as well.
Lariana Cellars Viognier – What can I say? I love a good Viognier and this one had it all – complex and intense aromas, soft texture, and a long finish. With Senka Tennant as the consulting wine maker and a future vintage of Carmenere due for release sometime next year, this is a serious winery to follow online. I think I bought my Viognier at a VQA store so they shouldn’t be that hard to find.
VinPerdu Cellars Cabernet Franc (barrel sample) – I’m a sucker for Cabernet Franc. I’m also a sucker for barrel samples. So already this winery is a good fit for me. The sample was young and a bit hidden but showed some good fruit and structure that will bring it out of its shell in the next year or so. If they bottle this wine in the spring, it could be available by this time next year but that depends on how the wine progresses and what their plans are for it. As noted in this previous post, their new winery is right on the highway south of Oliver.
At larger tastings, these wineries often get overlooked in favour of the big names and their huge displays with professional sales teams. I imagine that it is probably much more difficult for small wineries to even participate in an event like the WestJet tasting or Vancouver Wine Festival since that would mean pouring samples of wine that could amount to a large percentage of their entire production, which would make it hardly worth it.
Overall, this proved to be exactly what the t-shirts proclaimed – it was “the coolest wine festival ever.” I really hope this can start to bring more attention to the smaller producers out there because there really are some amazing wines. Garagiste North has the real potential to be an exciting launch pad for some great BC wine in the future.
Cheers from wine country!
– I heard a rumour that this festival might go on the road to other, more urban, locations in the future. (Just your eyes on the street, that’s all I am.)
– Also note that I did have my sound recorder there that day and recorded some interviews. However, the microphone misbehaved – OK, I set it wrong, my bad – and so the sound quality is unfortunately not up to standard for a Wine Country BC podcast. Unless I can discover some new audio processing tricks of which I was hitherto unaware, I’m pretty sure that I can’t make a podcast out of it.