Posted by: David Stewart | January 9, 2015

Why Garagiste works for me – and might for you

Gargagiste (n) – 

1. a small-scale entrepreneurial wine-maker, originally from the Bordeaux region of France, esp one who does not adhere to the traditions of wine-making

2. potentially your best friend in the wine world

Celler Cecilio, Gratallops, Spain

Wine cellar in Spain. Flickr: davest

Living so close to world-class wine country, I have had the privilege of getting to know some talented and passionate winemakers and enjoying their wine. I would think I know something about wine, but then I would go to my sister’s house and get really confused in her wine cellar. She would talk about her great Burgundy or Bordeaux wines, and I would get totally confused. What kind of wine is Burgundy? What kind of grapes is it made out of? How does it compare with what they make in Oregon?

Fortunately, I got the chance to do a work rotation in southern France (I know, what a hardship). And on a weekend, I was able to check out some top winegrowing regions. Armed with some first-hand information (and a geek’s love of intricate detail), I became a little smarter. I’ve also done some reading of a coupld of key books, and feel like I now have a better handle on the kinds of wine available from different regions.

Cheap 1st cru in Beaune, Burgundy, France

Flickr: davest

So if you get to visit these regions, how do you enjoy that wine after you come home? Wine stores, bottle shops, supermarkets have plenty of imported options. Too many options! How can I figure out what to buy? I frankly get intimidated with rolling the dice and buying wines that I don’t know will satisfy.

My wine education and international buying has been really helped by Garagiste.com.

It’s about as low tech as it gets on the web. There is no online ordering, no catalog of available wines, no ability to order wine at all. Instead, you get a daily email describing a particular wine. If you reply to the mail, you can buy some of it. First come, first served.

But, oh, what email! It’s like some frustrated liberal arts major / story-teller got their thesaurus juiced up into overdrive. The mails are always entertaining, as much for their florid hype as their wine storytelling.

Price and value of the wine is usually quite good – they seem to focus on the $15 – $25 wines with an occasional wander into other price ranges.

I have been buying wines for a couple of years now from Garagiste, and I have not been disappointed in the quality or value of what I have gotten. And most useful is the chance to get a couple of bottles from some of the regions I am learning about without breaking the bank.

There is a fairly balanced article about Garagiste that appeared a couple of years ago in the New York Times Magazine. It’s a very good read.

But like anything, there are drawbacks:

  • Shipping: I bought a red wine from Garagiste from the French region of Gigondas for $26.43 per bottle. When it arrived, I decided I really liked it. I noticed that my local wine shop has it for $28. So I got a good deal, right? But hang on, Garagiste will then charge me extra for shipping. They hide the cost, because the shipments only happen in the spring and fall when the weather is decent, but your smokin’ deal might not be so good after shipping.
  • Delayed gratification: Because the wine doesn’t get shipped until the spring or the fall shipping times, you need to be patient. It can be a lot of fun getting that box shipped to you, but it’s not for the impatient.
  • Limited quantities: Suppose you get your wine and you really like it. What if you want more? Usually there isn’t any more to go around, and you are out of luck.
  • Losing the “float”: Unfortunately, the reality of buying your wine and letting Garagiste hang on to it in their cellar is that they get to take your money immediately. The banks call this the “float”, like the time after writing a check and before the money is taken out of your bank account.
  • “Hey, what’s this for?”: Those addictive little emails make it a bit too easy to order wine. Add to that the implicit fear that if you don’t get your order in quickly on today’s offer, you will be out of luck since they provide the wine first-come / first-served. I have not regretted any of the wine I have purchased, but I did get a few comments from the family’s Chief Financial Officer about what I was spending money on. Ooops.

Fortunately if you are in the Pacific Northwest and you have a reason to visit Seattle, you can request a pickup of your wine from Garagiste and save on shipping. This is a great way to preserve that good deal you were so excited about.

Now I just need to hope my daughter goes to grad school in Seattle …

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