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<b>LOOKOUT FOR LABELS:</b>  Just four of the more than 65 small-batch wineries attending this year's Garagiste Fest are, from left, Dilécta, LXV, {baker & brain}, and Cutruzzola.

LOOKOUT FOR LABELS: Just four of the more than 65 small-batch wineries attending this year's Garagiste Fest are, from left, Dilécta, LXV, {baker & brain}, and Cutruzzola.


Secret Wines of the Central Coast

Cutruzzola, Dilecta, LXV, and Baker & Brain Among Small Wineries Pouring at Garagiste Fest


Discovering a new winery before your friends is always exciting, especially when the bottled juice is a righteous combination of thoughtful creativity and hand-crafted care. Nowhere on the Central Coast can you jump ahead in that never-ending game better than by attending the third annual Garagiste Festival this weekend in Paso Robles, where 66 wineries with very small annual productions come together to show off their hard-to-find wares. Here are four participants I recently discovered.

Cutruzzola Vineyards: An exciting example of the growing trend to site vineyards in extremely coastal climates is this seven-acre patch of pinot noir and riesling that Francis Cutruzzola and Lisa Miller planted in 2001 just seven miles from the coast in Cambria, where it took until 2009 to get a commercial harvest. “Location, location, location!” pledged Miller, who was the first of the three existing vineyards to plant pinot in that area and added the two acres of riesling in 2005. “We use only our own grapes to make our wines and use minimal winemaking intervention to maintain that expression.” The resulting wines, made by Stephen Dooley, are the epitome of mouth-watering freshness: The riesling is like writing across a slate of compressed orange blossoms with chalk made from honey, while the pinot delivers spiced cherry cookies to a tea-party picnic atop damp soil. See cutruzzolavineyards.com.

{baker & brain}: The 1,200 case-per-year project by Central Valley refugee Josh Baker (day job: winemaker at custom crusher in Edna Valley) and Toronto native Matt Brain (day job: Cal Poly enology professor) features grüner veltliner, pinot noir, grenache, grenache blanc, and a syrah-grenache Monterey County blend called Pendulum. “To us, it’s the risk that makes us different from the big guys,” said Baker. “We’re the break-neck, all-in players at the poker table with everything to lose. To large wineries, a barrel is a nuance, while to us it’s a vintage. A mistake is bankruptcy and the end of the dream we’re trying to create.” The 2011 Pendulum succeeds as both pleasurable and ponderous with flavors of a savory, well-seasoned s’more, and the grenache blanc manages to be crisp with sea-breeze salinity while retaining body made of melon and orange rinds. See bakerandbrain.com.

Dilécta Wines: When it comes to a pedigree of powerfully elegant winemaking in Paso Robles, you can’t ask for much more than Booker Vineyards (where Dilécta founder Orion Stang worked from 2007 to 2011) and Herman Story Winery (where Stang started making his own wines in the fall of 2011). “My passion for the Central Coast, its land, the people, and the creative spirit of winemaking has fueled my passion to make my own wine as a tribute,” said Stang, who remembers visiting wineries with his parents in the early ’90s and has since developed an “adoration” for the fruit. “The grapes will give back to you everything you give to them and therefore make incredible wine.” For evidence, try Dilécta’s The Tiller, a 64 percent grenache/36 percent syrah whose centralized bacon fat, smoke, and berry flavors enjoy fringes of burnt sage and a splash of rose water, or Unorthodox, a dense syrah (half from Caliza Vineyards, half from Alta Colina) full of violet, lavender, and tar. Both have tannins that should last a while. See dilectawines.com.

LXV: A project whose labels and flavors are sexy by design, LXV is an ode to the 64 arts of the ancient Indian philosophy KamaSutra that was created by Neeta and Kunal Mittal. “Every LXV wine is a sensory experience,” said Neeta, who, along with winemaker Amy Butler, hopes to “inspire your senses” with representations of the Central Coast’s best terroirs, which they serve alongside spice pairings at their downtown Paso tasting room. “LXV is truly the 65th art!” The Summer Satine is a clean, easy-drinking, not overly viscous 2012 viognier, and the 2012 Rising Tempo blends 65 percent grenache, 23 percent syrah, and 12 percent tempranillo into a refreshingly uncomplicated early release. See lxvwine.com.

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The third annual Garagiste Festival runs November 7-10 in locations throughout Paso Robles, with the main tasting event on Saturday, November 8. For info and tickets, see californiagaragistes.com.

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