Vins de garage

Vins-de-garage, or garagistes

I have been on the trail of garagiste winemakers of late. Naturally, when I started exploring wine (and drinking - lots!) the first thing I was shown and read about were the top vineyards and wines. It's a good place to start when working out the hierarchy of the wine world, and the role of the major players in it. It is also a good place to learn about the importance of terroir and the role of the winemaker in shaping the wine. Now, though, I want to learn about the rest - the 99%, if you will. That involves getting to know many areas of the world with distinct characteristics. But funnily enough, a search for rarer, artisanal wines leads me back to Bordeaux. 

The dawn of vins de garage or garage wines, and the garagistes who make them, came in the early 1990s with the small parcels of carefully produced wine by Jean-Luc Thunevin and Murielle Andraud, founders of Chateau Valandraud. Another great (or rather more well known example) could be Chateau le Pin. Their own story is well-documented here.

So what's involved?
For starters, there's no hard and fast rules on garagiste wines, except that in France, they must conform to appellation control rules if they want to be known as such. In the U.S., a garagiste wine festival happens every year in Paso Robles, California. 

Generally garagistes and their wines follow some or all of these guidelines:

1. Low yields (possibly also due to having not a lot of vines)

2. Very little use of chemicals 
3. Heavy pruning and trimming of vines (further reducing yields at harvest)
4. Very importantly, late (and I mean late) harvest for maximum ripeness. 
5. Foot-crushing of grapes
6. Hand picking and de-stemming
7. Minimal to no filtration. 

What you come to understand is the small-scale process of garagiste winemaking that is a result of passion and hard-work. But it is also possible to see why they are criticised as being collector's items (if they're good).

What's it taste like?
The wines (again with Chateau Valandraud as our example) seem to be able to be consumed younger - that is, closer to their vintage date - than more traditional Bordeaux wines which are highly tannic and require aging. Critics have said that garagiste wines do not accurately represent the terroir or the ethos of the place they're made, but that's not necessarily true. Australia also has a 'Garagiste' wine label based on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. 

Chateau Le Pin ferment their wines in stainless steel, and let the malolactic fermentation occur in barriques, and it's not really tampered with in any major way. There's no micro-oxidisation or other fooling around with balance. But there's a distinction between Le Pin - which has incredible terroir and pedigree - and more genuine garagiste wines. Generally from lesser known or hailed plots of land, true garagiste wines are crafted to reflect their exact location, not pose to be something they're not. Expect to taste sculpted wines that have been managed and cajoled into tasting far superior to what you would expect having looked at the vineyard or the winery (or garage). 

Stephan von Neipperg's 'microchateau' or garagiste wine 'La Mondotte' has been described as 'muscular'. von Neipperg also claims that all he is doing is reviving wine-making techniques from the middle of last century. What you might expect then is perhaps something more artisanal and pure. His other vineyard Canon-La Gaffeliere is said to be 'soft and feminine'. Maybe a lesson for the garagistes is that not-so-good vintages can't be made into dazzling masterpieces simply by fooling around with the winemaking process, something that von Neipperg also admitted. Wines like La Mondotte are highly extracted but fermented with indigenous or natural yeasts (rather than man-made, chemical or introduced yeasts).

Apart from the French wines mentioned (there are even more pure garagistes than those mentioned) garagiste winemaking can take place almost anywhere, provided you have the patience, the expertise and a bit of money. California has a particularly active garagistes scene, and I might highlight one I stumbled across, called Taft Street Winery. You can find them here. In California there are no rules (except the maximum production of 1,200 cases)about terroir and the kinds of appellation rules that you will find in France. Occasionally the California producers are certified organic, such as AmByth Estate. 

It will be interesting to see how this spreads (even though some say it has already died). What do you think? 





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I think I was captured by how essentially natural or organic the whole process of winemaking is. It's farming, it's viticulture, it's weather and soil, and many more things. It's the winemaker. But after all these things, after the cap is unscrewed or the cork popped, I (and you) get to enjoy it. Then we talk about it and learn some more. Which is, I guess, the reason why you're here! Here you'll find stories, links, wine education samples and wine reviews. I am entirely independent and my wine reviews and ratings are based on my own thoughts and opinions. I accept no endorsements for products or good reviews. Enjoy! I can be reached for comments, feedback and questions at Good drinking to you! David

On the Hill of Corton

On the Hill of Corton


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