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by Ken Zinns

After taking a few wine courses through UC Extension in the early '90s, Bay Area architect Ken Zinns developed a serious interest wine. Ken has been touring and tasting wines for nearly 20 years, and has come to love not only the wines, but also the people behind them. Ken's interest in wine is more than passive, and he's been working at several urban East Bay and San Francisco wineries since 2001, and has been the assistant winemaker for both Eno Wines in Berkeley and Harrington Wine in San Francisco.

Garagiste Wine Festival: Northern Exposure – April 27th, 2024

Report on the Garagiste Wine Festival: Northern Exposure event, held on Saturday April 27th, 2024, at the Veterans Memorial Hall in Sonoma. This tasting showcased wines from small and lesser-known wineries in California.

The event’s Grand Tasting ran from 2-5pm, and this year’s attendees who purchased VIP tickets were able to start at 1pm and have early access to a number of rare and reserve wines poured by various producers. Along with the afternoon tasting, there was a silent auction with proceeds going toward the Garagiste organization’s educational opportunity program.

The non-profit Garagiste Events organization was founded in 2011 by Stewart McLennan and Doug Minnick in Paso Robles. Both founders made a little wine themselves, and they were looking for a way that smaller producers could band together to showcase their wines. Since many small wineries receive little public exposure – most of the ones at this event do not have tasting rooms – and individually most have a limited marketing budget, working together has made sense.

The term “garagiste” originated in Bordeaux. It began as a derogatory term for producers felt to be small and insignificant enough that they could make their wine in a garage, but it soon picked up the additional meaning of artisan vintners who weren’t afraid to be different from the big wineries. For California’s Garagiste Events organization, producers must make no more than about 1,500 cases of wine per year to qualify.

Since 2011, there have been regular Garagiste events in Paso Robles in the fall, and tastings have been added in Santa Barbara County (“Southern Exposure”) and in Los Angeles (“Urban Exposure”) as well as the “Northern Exposure” event held in Sonoma. Nearly 650 producers have participated in Garagiste tastings since their inaugural event. Proceeds from the festivals’ silent auctions are donated to the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Wine and Viticulture Program and are used toward granting scholarships as well as creating other opportunities for students in the program there.

Grand Tasting General Impressions:

Some Favorites


Boonville Road 2018 Cole Ranch Riesling
Calstar 2023 Sauvignon Blanc
Carpenter 2022 Fanucchi-Wood Road Vineyard Skin-Fermented Trousseau Gris
Kendric 2022 Viognier
Oxlee Graham 2023 “Elinor’s” Alder Springs Vineyard White Blend
Six Cloves 2021 Alder Springs Vineyard Chardonnay
Spur Road 2023 Nozzari Vineyard White Pinot Noir
The Grenachista 2022 Estate Grenache Blanc


Calstar 2017 Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir
Cary Q 2019 “Hollis” Shake Ridge Ranch Mourvèdre
Intent 2018 Odyssey Vineyard Syrah
Lúnasa 2020 Poston Crest Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
Lussier 2021 Signal Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir
McCarter 2022 Forchini Vineyard Pinot Noir
Montagne Russe 2019 Alder Springs Vineyard Syrah
Oxlee Graham 2022 “Dayle’s” Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
Six Cloves 2022 Buf-Wehr Vineyard Pinot Noir
Spur Road 2022 Nozzari Vineyard Pinot Noir
The Grenachista 2021 Mounts Vineyard Grenache Noir
Theopolis 2021 Estate Petite Sirah
Thomas T Thomas 2019 Estate Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley


Boonville Road 2021 Alder Springs Cabernet Franc
Burning Bench 2012 Moon Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir
Carpenter 2021 Old Road #3 Vineyard Pinot Noir
Cary Q 2023 “Crazy/Perfect” Fenaughty Vineyard Cinsault
Fest 2019 Pigasus Vineyard Pinot Noir
Intent 2020 Filigreen Farm Pinot Gris
Kendric 2020 Syrah
Lussier 2020 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon
McCarter 2023 Balleto Vineyard Gewürztraminer
T. Berkley 2021 Thalia Vineyard Cabernet Franc
The Grenachista 2023 Grenache Noir Pét-Nat
Theopolis 2022 Yorkville Highlands Pinot Noir
Thomas T Thomas 2020 “T” Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
Vidi Vitis 2021 Old Federal Vineyard Cabernet Franc (Forgotten Union)

This was the sixth annual Garagiste Wine Festival: Northern Exposure tasting held in Sonoma. The main room for the Grand Tasting was large and airy, with plenty of space for the participating wineries and for display of the silent auction items as well, and some of the winery tables were in a second, smaller room, allowing for everything to be nicely spread out. There was a good crowd on hand, but the rooms never felt overly crowded and it was fairly easy to step right up to nearly all the winery tables I visited. The event ran very smoothly – great work by Stewart and Doug of Garagiste, as well as by associates Lisa Dinsmore, Michelle Kraker, Heather Clifford, and Melanie Webber, and by the volunteer helpers.

There were just over 40 producers that participated in this year’s Northern Exposure event, about the same number as at their previous tasting in Sonoma, and the vast majority of the wineries on hand were from California’s broad North Coast region. In addition to the winery tables, artisan food vendors Boccabella Farms Olive Oils and Fleur Sauvage Chocolates as well as Rogue Candle Company were on hand at the tasting. Complimentary bread, cheese, olives, water, and other items were available for attendees, and all tasters received a stemless Stozlze wine glass to use at the event and to take home afterwards.

The Garagiste event is always a great opportunity to check out producers that I haven’t tried before. There were a number of wineries making their first appearance at the Sonoma Garagiste tasting, with four pouring their inaugural vintage there. I made it to 20 winery tables at the tasting this year – of those, eight producers were entirely new to me and a few others were ones I’d only tried once or twice before. Several of the producers that were completely new to me poured some impressive wines and were among my favorites of the day. Because I made an effort to check out unfamiliar producers, there were some others that I’d hoped to visit – including a few past favorites – but I ran out of time.

I didn’t include tank/barrel samples in the list of favorites below, though a couple of the ones I tried were very good. Also, the selected tasting impressions below don’t cover every wine I tasted at the event or every one I enjoyed, but include the wines I felt were most noteworthy.

As was the case last year, the overall quality of wines that I tasted at this year’s Garagiste Wine Festival: Northern Exposure event was high. Often when tasting wines from producers that are new to me, I find them to be hit-and-miss, but several of the producers I checked out for the first time at this tasting were very good to outstanding. Overall favorite producers this year included Boonville Road, Calstar, Cary Q, Oxlee Graham, Six Cloves, Spur Road, The Grenachista, and Theopolis, while a number of others, including Carpenter, Intent, Kendric, Lussier, McCarter, and Thomas T Thomas were just a notch below those favorites.

You’ll find few if any tasting events in California that feature so many “under the radar” wineries as the Garagiste Wine Festival. It’s a great opportunity to discover smaller wine producers who are making very good wines. If finding new wineries is something you’d like to do, be sure to check out one of the upcoming Garagiste Wine Festival events and make some of your own wine discoveries!

Selected Tasting Impressions

Boonville Road Wines

Owner/winemaker Ed Donovan established his winery in 2016, after working with other wineries for a number of years. He sources fruit from all over Mendocino County, including Anderson Valley, Redwood Valley, Cole Ranch, and the far north of the county at Alder Springs Vineyard. The 2018 Cole Ranch Riesling was a highlight, with citrus, petrol, and floral aromas, with great texture and fine acidity. The 2022 Eaglepoint Ranch Grenache featured bright red fruit and spice with an earthy note in support, a lively mouthfeel with medium body, and moderate tannins. Ed finished up with the 2021 Alder Springs Cabernet Franc – this had subtle dried herb, plum, and spice notes, with nicely-balanced richness and acidity, and firm, youthful tannins on the finish.

Burning Bench Cellars

Burning Bench vintner David Mease’s Moon Hill Vineyard is one of the few vineyards located in Marin County, located in the hills between San Geronimo and Nicasio. The small hillside estate vineyard was planted about 20 years ago with 115, 667, 777, and 828 Pinot Noir clones. David poured an older vintage, the 2012 Moon Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir, which is continuing to develop nicely, with savory herbal and red fruit aromas, medium weight, and well-resolved tannins. The 2018 Moon Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir also had a savory profile, with slightly higher-toned red fruit, earth, and spice in support, and moderate tannins on the finish.

Calstar Cellars

Vintner Rick Davis has made wine for a number of well-known producers including Flowers, Londer, and Halleck – Calstar is his own label, launched in 2001. Based in Santa Rosa, Calstar makes wines from several grape varieties, sourcing much of the fruit from cooler-climate sites. Three wines in particular stood out for me at this winery table. The 2023 Sauvignon Blanc from Russian River Valley displayed citrus and stone fruit aromas with herbal undertones, and medium-light body. Also from Russian River Valley was the 2023 Rosé of Pinot Meunier, which had floral and bright red fruit aromas with a lively texture. I liked both Pinot Noirs that Rick poured, and my favorite of the two was the 2017 Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir from Mendocino County – this featured black cherry, mushroom, earth, and herbs on the nose, good structure, and moderate tannins.

Carpenter Wines

Established in 2014 by Laura Carpenter Hawkes & Jake Hawkes, Carpenter Wines in based in the Chalk Hill region east of Healdsburg. They specialize in Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir though they also produce wine from a number of other Sonoma County grape varieties. The Carpenter wines were very good across the board, with two highlights for me. The 2022 Fanucchi-Wood Road Vineyard Skin-Fermented Trousseau Gris from Russian River Valley had a very light color, with bright citrus, stone fruit, and floral notes, medium-light weight with a pleasant finish. Sourced from the Sonoma Coast’s Petaluma Gap, the 2021 Old Road #3 Vineyard Pinot Noir was made from Swan, Pommard, and La Tâche clones – this displayed savory herbal red fruit aromas, with notes of flowers and spice, fine structure, and a lively texture.

Cary Q Wines

Cary Quintana is the owner and winemaker of her Cary Q label – she launched her winery in Berkeley in 2014 and currently makes her wines in Santa Rosa. Her focus is on Rhône grape varieties and much of her fruit is sourced from the Sierra Foothills. I’d tasted Cary’s current release wines recently – those were all good and I particularly enjoyed the 2023 “Crazy/Perfect” Fenaughty Vineyard Cinsault from El Dorado County, which featured loads of juicy upfront red and darker berry fruit with a vibrant texture and finish. I tasted a couple of Cary’s older wines on this occasion and liked them both. With 20% whole-cluster fermentation and neutral oak aging, the 2018 “Based on a True Story” Shake Ridge Ranch Red Blend of 60% Grenache, 35% Mourvèdre, and 5% Syrah had an herbal red fruit character, with notes of darker fruit and spice, and still-firm tannic structure. The 2019 “Hollis” Shake Ridge Ranch Mourvèdre from Amador County was fermented with 50% whole clusters and aged in concrete – poured from a magnum, this had aromas of plum and darker fruit, dried herbs, iron, and earth, with a lively mouthfeel and plenty of structure for continued cellaring.

Fest Wine Company

Fest works exclusively with Pinot Noir from vineyards on Sonoma Mountain. Proprietor Michael Schriefer has worked for several noted wineries in Napa and Sonoma, and his first commercial vintage for Fest was in 2019. I got to the Fest table near the very end of the event and only tasted one wine, but it was a good one, the 2019 Pigasus Vineyard Pinot Noir. This displayed red fruits, forest floor, and a floral note, with medium body, good structure, and moderate tannins.

Forgotten Union Wines

Forgotten Union’s owner/winemaker is Benjamin Leachman, who farms the small Old Federal Vineyard in the Oakville region of Napa Valley and established his winery in 2016. His wines are made under both the Vidi Vitis and Sheepish (for Carneros Chardonnay and Pinot) labels. My favorite at this winery table was the Vidi Vitis 2021 Old Federal Vineyard Cabernet Franc – this featured bold darker berry fruit, spice, and an earthy note, a fairly full-bodied mouthfeel with plenty of structure and firm tannins on the finish.

Intent Wines

Proprietor Patrick Callagy worked for over ten years at Radio Coteau before launching the Intent label with the 2017 vintage. He works with a number of grape varieties, mostly sourced from Anderson Valley as well as from the Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley. Two of the Intent wines particularly impressed me. The 2020 Filigreen Farm Pinot Gris from Anderson Valley had bright stone fruit plus floral undertones, with lively acidity and a pleasant finish. The 2018 Odyssey Vineyard Syrah from Russian River Valley displayed dark berry fruit aromas along with a savory herbal component and black olives, medium body with good structure and fine tannins.

Kendric Vineyards

Kendric’s Stewart Johnson planted and farms his Petaluma Gap vineyard located in northern Marin County – he grows mostly Pinot Noir, plus Chardonnay, Viognier, and Syrah. His family also grows Sangiovese in Amador County’s Shenandoah Valley. The first vintage of the Kendric wines was in 2004. I’d tasted some of the Kendric wines at another recent tasting – the vibrant and floral 2023 Rosé of Pinot Noir was a favorite there that I didn’t retaste on this occasion. Of the wines I tasted at the Garagiste event, two especially stood out. The 2022 Viognier featured citrus, stone fruit, and floral aromas, medium-light weight on the palate, and a lively mouthfeel and finish. The 2020 Syrah showed a subtle dark-fruited and savory profile, with undertones of flowers and pepper, and the structure for further cellaring.

Lúnasa Wines

Winemaker Jordan Jeffries and his wife Ciji are the proprietors of Lúnasa. They planted their 10-acre Poston Crest Vineyard near Calistoga in the late 2010s. Jordan has worked at wineries in Oregon and South Africa as well as Napa Valley. My favorite at this table was the 2020 Poston Crest Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – this had a savory herbal character along with plum and darker fruit, spice, earth, and an intriguing stony mineral note, with good structure and moderate tannins.

Lussier Wine Company

G.W. Lussier has worked at Pahlmeyer and Williams Selyem, and he launched his eponymous label with the 2019 vintage. He makes mostly Pinot Noir sourced from Anderson Valley and Mendocino Ridge and also makes Chenin Blanc and a couple of other varieties. I thought three of the wines at this table were particular highlights. The 2021 Roma’s Vineyard Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley, fermented entirely with whole clusters, had earth and forest floor aromas along with red fruit and spice, with medium body and fine tannins. Even better was the 2021 Signal Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir from Mendocino Ridge, showing a more savory profile, with black cherry fruit, tea leaf, and a floral note, with great structure and more noticeable tannins. The 2020 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley was a lighter-style Cab, with black cherry and currant aromas along with dried herbs and spice in support, a lively medium-full bodied mouthfeel and firm tannins.

McCarter Cellars

Owner/winemaker Dennis McCarter grew up in Sonoma County and worked as a chef for a time before eventually starting his own winery. His first commercial vintage was in 2022 – he’s sourcing fruit from Sonoma County and he makes his wines in Santa Rosa. I enjoyed all three wines that Dennis poured, with two standouts. The 2023 Balleto Vineyard Gewürztraminer from Russian River Valley spent about 24 hours on the skins before pressing, and displayed the variety’s citrus, lychee, and floral aromas with fine acidity and a long, pleasant finish. Also from Russian River Valley, the 2022 Forchini Vineyard Pinot Noir had bright cherry, tea leaf, and floral aromas, medium body, and a lively texture and finish.


Montagne Russe Wines

Montagne Russe is the label of Kevin Berofsky, who focuses on Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah, sourced from cooler-climate growing regions, including the Sonoma Coast and Petaluma Gap. Kevin made his first commercial vintage in 2015. This was the last table I visited during the event, and Kevin only had time to pour me a taste of one wine, the 2019 Alder Springs Vineyard Syrah – good choice, since this was a standout. It was very savory, with plum and darker fruit, spice, herbs, and a touch of black olive on the nose, medium weight on the palate with fine tannins on the finish.


Oxlee Graham Wines

Oxlee Graham’s Jennie Murphy made her first commercial wines from the 2022 vintage. She works mainly with Pinot Noir, as well as with Chenin Blanc, Picpoul, and Petit Verdot, from sites ranging from northern Mendocino to the Santa Cruz Mountains. The wines were very good across the board. The 2023 “Elinor’s” Alder Springs Vineyard White Blend consists of 67% Chenin Blanc and 33% Picpoul Blanc, aged in stainless steel – this displayed bright stone fruit and tropical fruit aromas with a great texture and pleasant finish. Made from 115 and Swan clones, the 2022 “Dayle’s” Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir was quite floral along with red fruit and fresh herbs, with a lively mouthfeel and finish. The 2022 “Enedina’s” Fountaingrove District Petit Verdot from Sonoma had a bolder dark berry fruit and tobacco aromatic profile, with great structure and fine tannins – nice already but worth cellaring for further development.


Six Cloves Wines

Originally from Nagano, Japan, owner/winemaker Sonoe Hirabayashi completed the UC Davis winemaking program before working for wineries in Napa, Sonoma, New Zealand, and Chile. Her first vintage was in 2017 and she makes her wines in Sonoma County. A couple of Sonoe’s friends helped her pour at the tasting. I liked all of her wines and thought that three were particular standouts. The 2021 Alder Springs Vineyard Chardonnay, from a site in far north Mendocino County, featured citrus and apple fruit with floral notes and subtle saline undertones, with a great balance of medium-rich texture and fine acidity. Sourced from Russian River Valley and fermented with 50% whole clusters with neutral oak aging, the 2022 Buf-Wehr Vineyard Pinot Noir was very aromatic, with flowers and bright fresh red fruit, along with medium body and a lively mouthfeel and finish. A barrel sample of the 2023 Castanon Vineyard Zinfandel from Redwood Valley in Mendocino County showed lots of spice aromas plus red berries and an herbal touch with moderate tannins – though this needs more time to fully develop, it has very good potential.


Spur Road Wines

Sam Buckingham and Amanda Kern are the proprietors of Spur Road. They’ve both worked for wineries all over the globe, and they make their own wines in Sonoma County. They focus almost exclusively on Pinot Noir, and farm their small estate Nozzari Vineyard in the Sebastopol Hills. I enjoyed all four wines that they poured, with two favorites. Made by gently pressing Pinot fruit immediately, the 2023 Nozzari Vineyard White Pinot Noir had citrus and pear aromas with undertones of flowers and a pleasant saline note, with very good acidity and a vibrant finish. The 2022 Nozzari Vineyard Pinot Noir was very aromatic, displaying floral and red fruit character, with a light, lively texture and finish.


T. Berkley Wines

Winemaker Taylor Berkley Boydstun worked in California, Australia, New Zealand, and Austria for nearly ten years before starting his own label in 2016. His Loire-inspired focus is Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc, and he sources fruit from Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino counties. My favorite at this winery table was the 2021 Thalia Vineyard Cabernet Franc from Knights Valley, which had aromas of dark berry fruit, tobacco, and spice, with good structure and fine tannins on the finish.


The Grenachista Wine Company

Casey Graybehl launched his Grenachista label in 2013. His focus is exclusively on Grenache – both Blanc and Noir – and he produces a number of bottlings and styles from several vineyards. He has a small estate vineyard in Sonoma Valley and makes his wines in Sonoma. Three wines that Casey poured were particular favorites, beginning with the 2023 Grenache Noir Pét-Nat – this had bright fresh strawberry and floral aromas, fine bubbles, and a vibrant mouthfeel and finish. The 2022 Estate Grenache Blanc was whole-cluster pressed and aged in a concrete egg, and displayed stone fruit and floral aromas with subtle petrol and saline notes, medium body, and a lively finish. Sourced from Dry Creek Valley and fermented entirely with whole clusters, the 2021 Mounts Vineyard Grenache Noir showed lots of red fruit and spice on the nose plus notes of flowers and fresh herbs, with medium weight on the palate and moderate tannins.


Theopolis Vineyards

Theodora Lee is an attorney with an estate vineyard in the Yorkville Highlands region of Mendocino County. The five-acre Petite Sirah vineyard was planted in 2003 and the first Theopolis vintage was from 2012. Theopolis also makes Symphony, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and blends. Longtime Theopolis team member Ashanti Brown poured the wine at the tasting. The 2022 Yorkville Highlands Pinot Noir had bright black cherry fruit along with earth and spice notes, with medium body and a lively finish. A blend of mostly Petite Sirah plus Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Grenache, the 2021 “Theo-Patra’s Cuvée Cerise” showed a darker fruit profile plus spice and subtle touches of flowers and dried herbs, with a bigger texture and moderate tannins. The 2021 Estate Petite Sirah featured bolder aromas of dark berry fruit, flowers, and earth, with notes of pepper and spice, plenty of structure and firm but not aggressive tannins on the finish.


Thomas T Thomas Vineyards

Thomas T Thomas farms his own vineyard near the town of Philo in Anderson Valley and makes his wine nearby. He planted the vineyard in 2008 and launched his label in 2017. He works mainly with Pinot Noir – exclusively from his estate vineyard – plus a little Chardonnay. All of the wines were good and I especially liked two of them. The 2020 “T” Anderson Valley Pinot Noir was aged entirely in used barrels, and had an herbal, forest floor aromatic profile along with red fruit and earth, medium weight, and fairly mild tannins. The 2019 Estate Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley, aged in 33% new oak, displayed more intense red fruit, spice, and tea leaf aromas with a more structured mouthfeel and finish – good now but should be worth cellaring for a few years too.



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