Sarah Spitz - Garagiste Festival

Garages aren’t just for up-and-coming bands anymore.

“The Garagiste Festival: Urban Exposure” celebrates its fourth anniversary as the first and only wine festival dedicated to artisanal, under-the-radar, micro-production wineries that specialize in small-lot, hand-crafted wines, releasing fewer than 1500 cases per year. It takes place this Saturday at Santa Monica’s Bay Woman’s Club.

The word “garagiste” comes from France, where traditional wine makers in the Bordeaux region used the term to denigrate small, craft wine makers working in “garages”—anything considered not a chateau—who chose to make limited production wines their own way.

Now it’s a full-fledged, world-wide movement. And beginning in 2011, the Garagiste Festival was the first to introduce US consumers to undiscovered and under-recognized American micro-producers.



True to the “garage” ethos, this tasting is a no-snob zone.

“There are plenty of snobs around the wine business, but not these winemakers,” says Festival co-founder Douglas Minnick. “Only the winemakers—not salespeople—pour their wines. And believe me, these folks are the farthest thing from snobs you will ever find in the wine world. They have a passion for the wines they are making and absolutely love meeting people face-to-face to share their wines and their stories.”

Unlike other tasting events, it’s also a no-mob zone. With only a limited number of tickets available and showcasing just 50 wineries from Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez, San Luis Obispo counties, Livermore, Mendocino, Napa, Paso Robles and Sonoma, it’s a relatively intimate event. Eight of these will be sharing their wines with the public for the very first time.

And that’s just the way the founders like it. Minnick describes the festival as a passion project.

“My Garagiste Festival partner, Stewart McLennan, and I were discussing some ideas about how to shine a spotlight on these small ‘garagiste’ winemakers, many of whom we knew and were making the wine that we personally enjoyed drinking. No one had ever gathered them under one umbrella before, and we saw an opportunity to give this movement a center and a name. We knew these winemakers were exciting and cutting edge, but the majority don’t have tasting rooms, aren’t on any ‘wine country’ maps, and don’t have a lot of time or large marketing budgets to spread the word. That was a shame, so we wanted to help bring an audience to them.”

With his background as the producer of a major music industry event for several years, Minnick had the right experience to help bring the idea to fruition.



Now there are several iterations of the Garagiste Festival in various regions: Southern Exposure features Santa Ynez Valley wineries; Urban Exposure in L.A.; Northern Exposure takes place in the Bay area and there are additional mini-tastings from Southern California to Lake Tahoe, along with winemaker dinners and a newsletter.

What makes Garagiste unique, Minnick says, is that, “Most other festivals are either varietally- or regionally-focused, which narrows the range of the wines being presented. Here you will find the widest, most diverse range of wines and styles anywhere. This also makes it a fantastic opportunity to learn about wine, no matter how much you already know—or don’t know. And you will never, ever find a supermarket wine at the Garagiste Festival, these are truly rare wines.”

And Minnick maintains, Garagiste is special because of the personal connection to the winemaker. “It makes the wine that much more enjoyable, if you ask me. To draw a parallel with my old music business days, it’s similar to finding a band in a club before they have a hit record. It’s fun to be a part of the process from the beginning, and the winemakers love it, too. Wine should be fun, not some exercise in elitism.”

There are two tiers of tickets, VIP Early Access (only 125 tickets available) beginning at 2 p.m. which includes tastes of “rare and reserve” wines; and the Grand Tasting from 3 to 6 p.m. Each tier features 200 wines from 50 producers, bread, cheese, charcuterie and a souvenir crystal glass. There’s also a Silent Auction.

Garagiste Events is a non-profit dedicated to furthering the education of future winemakers and those training for employment within the wine industry. Proceeds from support the Garagiste Festival Scholarship fund of the California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo Wine and Viticulture Department.

Attendees are encouraged to take Lyft, Uber and Expo rides, and as a reminder, the Santa Monica Bay Woman’s Club is an historic architectural building, with limited handicap access for guests to reach some of the wineries and food on the second floor.

For tickets, visit