What is a Garagiste?
Garagistes often work with very small volumes
You may have heard of garagistes in relation to wine. The term originates from 1990s Bordeaux, when a group of winemakers started a movement against the barriers of entry to winemaking, such as the exclusivity of inheritance and expenses involved in owning property/vineyards; they did so by making wines at home – or as the name implies, in their garages. Today, the term is used in a more general sense. Here’s how:
- Today, garagistes can refer to any winemakers who are making wine on small scale, not in their own wineries – they don’t own vines and often not even cellars, but bring grapes in from elsewhere or rent a couple of rows and space at other wineries, looking after their own crushing and producing small amounts of wine
- Garagistes have become increasingly common, with some of their wines gaining wide recognition and prestigious awards; California now even has a dedicated garagiste festival to showcase this approach to winemaking
- As you can imagine, there are less overheads involved in making wine in this way, so garagistes can get into the industry at a fairly low cost with the possibility of producing on a very small scale; this small production allows garagistes to be more experimental, as one barrel of wine that doesn’t work out is a lot less of a financial blow than many thousands of barrels!
- There are arguments for and against garagistes – on the one hand, this gives a new wave of winemakers the opportunity to get involved in what is often considered an exclusive industry, and we get to try some fantastic and interesting wines that otherwise probably wouldn’t exist; however, there is also the school of thought that this approach undermines the importance of terroir, history and the traditional education and role of a winemaker, and that the practiced techniques of longstanding winemakers is not something we should disregard
The term garagiste started as a reaction against traditional and exclusive winemaking structures in Bordeaux
As is often the case in the world of wine, we should consider both sides of the story, and take each with a grain of salt – give room for the new, the modern and the next generation of winemakers, but also do not forget tradition, experience and trusted technique. Also, remember that in the same way an expensive price tag does not necessarily imply a good wine, we shouldn’t assume garagiste wines are always good just because they are trending. In short, be open to trying various approaches and styles to winemaking, and if you like what the winemakers are doing, show your support by drinking their wine!
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