Cal Poly viticulture received a check for $10,000 at a local event honoring Paso Garagiste's first annual festival. -Courtesy Photo

The Paso Garagiste nonprofit organization donated $10,000 to Cal Poly viticulture at a special event Feb. 1, to help the department provide a better education for students

The check was issued at Hammersky Vineyards at an event held in honor of the sponsors, volunteers and winemakers who participated in Paso Garagiste’s first annual Paso Garagiste Festival, which took place last November.

Paso Garagiste’s purpose is to bring small-time wine producers together and help them develop markets. One of the group’s main goals is to also help up-and-coming winemakers.

Winemakers Stewart McLennan and Doug Minnick are the co-founders of Paso Garagiste and the Paso Garagiste Festival.

“The money will probably go toward equipment and towards a better wine-making facility on the campus,” McLennan said. “Hooray for you guys!”

McLennan said he came up with the idea to raise money for Cal Poly while watching Jerry Lohr, the owner of J. Lohr wineries, receive a lifetime achievement award. During Lohr’s speech, Lohr urged people to help the young winemakers in the area.

He thought of helping Cal Poly, and his partner agreed.

“We wanted to support the smaller winemakers, and in doing so, support the younger generation,” McLennan said. “We decided we would put on a festival for a lot of small winemakers out there that didn’t have a lot of money for marketing. We advertised it locally, but we got a lot of national press. If you made under 1,200 cases, you were eligible. We see these sort of things as being the incubator of the wine industry both locally and in America.”

The festival received attention from the Huffington Post, blogs in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, Wines & Vines Magazine and local media.

“We thought this demonstrated that there’s a ground flow of interest in these passionate artisan winemakers,” publicist and team member of the Paso Garagiste Festival Melanie Webber said. “We think they’re making some of the best wines on the planet, in one of the most exciting wine regions in the world. The fact that we were able to support the wine and viticulture department at Cal Poly made it even more meaningful for us.”

Ten Cal Poly students attended lectures and an open question-and-answer panel at the festival.

One of the most prominent winemakers who lectured at the festival was Justin Smith, the owner and winemaker at Saxun Winery. Wine Spectator selected one of Smith’s wines as the best wine of 2010.

Terry Culton, the winemaker for Adelaida Winery, and Neil Collins, the owner of Lone Madrone Winery and is a winemaker at Tablas Creek Winery, also gave talks. The other 90 people who attended the lectures and discussion purchased VIP tickets for $100.

In addition to introducing students and the public to the wine industry, the event granted people in the industry public exposure.

The general manager of STANGER Vineyards, J.P. French, said they received great attention at the Paso Garagiste Festival last year, which he said was a very successful event. French studied agricultural business at Cal Poly for his bachelor’s degree and minored in wine and viticulture. He also studied agriculture with an emphasis in viticulture at Cal Poly for his graduate work.

Former Cal Poly students making it in the wine industry were also pouring at the festival, French said.

“It’s a great event,” he said. “There were very boutique, high-end wineries there.”

French said he hopes the money donated to Cal Poly will go toward future research in the viticulture department, materials and hands-on experience for students that want to pursue a future in the wine industry.

The Paso Garagiste plans to expand its festival and donate more money to the Cal Poly viticulture department in the future. The next festival is scheduled for Nov. 10 at Windfall Farms in Paso Robles.

“We just look forward to having Cal Poly involved in our next one,” McLennan said.

McLennan and Minnick are still working on organizing the upcoming festival, and they hope to have more Cal Poly students involved. They said they want to broaden the amount of seminars and education available at the festival in hopes that more Cal Poly viticulture students will be able to volunteer and get educated at the festival.

Editor’s Note: We originally reported the owner of the J. Lohr wineries was named Joey Lohr. His name is actually Jerry Lohr. We apologize for any confusion.

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