It is rare to go to a major tasting event and have one winery, one family’s story about how they came to make their wines and why they make what they do, stand out long after actually tasting their wines.
As tasting events go, the Garagiste Festival in Paso Robles is simply fun. Smallish, intimate with plenty of small winemakers happy to share what they make with heart and soul. Usually they are new, have no distribution and discovered winemaking in a smattering of different ways. Maybe they love wine and it is a challenge or ego thing. Maybe their family grew grapes and now the second generation is making the wine.
I went to the Garagiste Festival out of necessity. I had not been to the original one in the Santa Ynez Valley or the newest one in July at the historic Union Station. I love Paso Robles so it is never a chore to go there except when your 16-year-old daughter has her Youth and Government conference at a nearby Army base AND has to take the SAT the same morning. I resourcefully checked my Paso listings and found that Mommy could discover some new wines and make a long trip more fun.
We checked into the Best Western in Atascadero the night before and took it from there. I love the Carlton in Atascadero but it was all sold old for the Garagiste weekend – always a good sign for tourism. On a funny note, although horrifying at the time, aforementioned daughter forgot her ID to get into the SAT and I had to race back and forth down the 101, hitting 100 mph, to retrieve it and make it back with less than a minute to spare. All I could hope is that the police were resting up for all the wine tasters hitting town later that day.
Finally at the Garagiste Festival, Artisan Uprising was one of the first wineries I tasted (alphabetical order) and I was charmed by brothers William and David Vondrasek and the story of their Italian grandfather making wines in the basement of their Santa Monica home. David lives in Paso Robles and oversees the wines and William lives in LA where he oversees the estate and affairs of the Sacred Heart Sisters. I immediately made note that it would be nice to follow up with them back in LA when tasting would be less crowded.
And the wines are good. The brothers make wines they want to drink and they are ferocious in their artisanal approach. During fermentation, punchdowns are every one to two hours, taking turns throughout the night. They source great fruit and take fervent care of the juice in their production.
I loved the Rose of Merlot and the Malbec, one of my favorite varietals, so, when we started a tasting group in LA, I immediately thought of these brothers with their wines bearing a rebellious name and the very cool label designed by their sister.
In our amazing lunch designed by chef Laura Sollan at West Restaurant at Hotel Angeleno, the crisp, honeysuckle-orange bouquet of the Rose of Merlot paired very well with the first course of Cider-Glazed Scallop with Truffled Parsnip Mash (menu is below) but it was a wine I would drink every day with about anything.
I have not been a fan of Merlot for a while but, lately, well-made Merlots are just rocking! This 2012 from AU is one with all of the bright cherry-chocolate you look for in the bouquet and the same lingering notes on the finish. Stunning with the Chicken Roulade with Prosciutto but just as nice on its own.
The 2012 Malbec was elegant and well-balanced with notes of dark berries and a little smoke on the nose and dark chocolate with a little residual mint in the mouth. And a creative pairing with an Asian-Inspired Duck Breast and Duck Confit Spring Roll. Taking Chinese food to a new level!
We finished with the Vondrasek brothers first Petite Sirah, 2012 vintage that sparked clove and anise on the nose with a bit of toasty coffee with spice and significant tannins on the finish. A wine that will age and was perfect with the Braised Short Rib with Sunchoke-Okianwan Mash, a new one for me.
Artisan Uprising is tiny but increasing their production to 375 cases. The wines are well-priced for their quality ($18-$35) and you can find them on line at artisanuprising.com or at the next Garagiste Festival.
Artisan Uprising Wine Tasting MENU
RAINBOW CAULIFLOWER, TRUFFLED PARSNIP PUREE
WILD MUSHROOM MOUSSE, PROSCUITTO
5 SPICED DUCK BREAST
DUCK CONFIT SPRING ROLL, SESAME SOBA
BRAISED SHORT RIB
SUNCHOKE-OKINAWAN MASH, BABY SPINACH