So many portraits of this kind begin with a straight up retelling of the winery's founding mythology that it's a great temptation to skip it. They've just told it for the two thousandth time, and, besides, the website does a bang-up job.
But this one's so geographically quaint, with the added advantage of having nothing to do with Tuscany, it warrants a recap: Alan Baker, sitting alone in a kayak in Minocqua Lake, steadying a randomly purchased bottle of Alsatian Riesling between his knees. Then and there in Wisconsin's North Woods, with the call of the loon overhead, perhaps, the water below teeming with pike, he has his "a-ha!" moment: Hey . . . wine!
Baker gave up a career as an audio engineer for Minnesota Public Radio, specializing in classical music—yes, he dropped by Lake Wobegon, now and then—for an uncertain rendezvous with the grape. Such is its siren song. "I was 40, didn't have the fortune, didn't have the UC Davis degree. I had to invent a new way in," Baker says. So he developed a wine-themed podcast that was picked up by NPR. Through interviewing winemakers and other erstwhile efforts—volunteering labor at wineries, then buying grapes from them at market price—he gained insights, and ran out of money.
While working a gig at Crushpad in San Francisco, he consulted future partner Serena Lourie on her first batch of wine. The two opened Garagiste in 2011, sharing the tasting room with winemaker Christian Stark. The space is a former auto body shop, outfitted with a small production winery behind the bar, and thus aptly named. There's plenty of room to mill about, and, in good weather, the garage bays open to the street. Visitors may purchase wine by the glass and take in a view of Fitch Mountain or enjoy live music on Friday evenings.
The wines on the current menu are spot-on. Stark's 2011 Saarloos Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley Grenache Blanc ($28) is a fine, dry quaff, with aromas of white flowers and crisp, lychee and pear fruit. Perfumed with wild spices and apricot, Cartograph's 2011 Floodgate Vineyard, Russian River Valley Gewürztraminer ($22) is decidedly bone-dry. Their 2010 Floodgate Pinot Noir ($40) is soft and velvety, piquant with cherry candy and cranberry, and has a dry, but quenching palate, something like Red Zinger herbal tea. Stark's 2011 Sierra Foothills Primitivo ($36) is a plush dollop of plum and cherry fruit, accented with chicory and vanilla. But what of Baker's cherished Riesling? They're still searching far and wide for that "a-ha!" moment.
Garagiste Healdsburg, 439 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg. Open Wednesday–Monday, noon to 7pm. Tasting fee, $10. 707.431.8023.