Tank Garage challenges tradition and draws younger oenophiles
Some entrepreneurs plan out their next business venture in their heads and on their laptops. James Harder spotted his from behind the wheel of his car.
It was 2012, and Harder was driving Foothill Boulevard, a meandering ribbon of asphalt that threads the tiny Napa Valley town of Calistoga, Calif. With a population of 5,311, Calistoga has little in the way of major industry, except of course for wine.
Chateau Montelena, the Kenefick Ranch Winery, Castello di Amorosa—these and scores of other vineyards nestle in the rolling countryside surrounding the town. Wine was the reason Harder was there, too. He and business partner Jim Regusci, scion of the highly respected Regusci Winery, had already collaborated on a number of successful ventures including the T-Vine Winery. But Harder was looking for a new project, a departure from what he’d already done.
That’s when he spotted the abandoned gas station.
Harder had resolved to take that independent blending style to California, to be a renegade himself. He’d spent his career in the regimented world of traditional winemaking where a cabernet was a cabernet and a merlot was a merlot.
“It was done to death,” he said. By contrast, blending was “an opportunity to remove the handcuffs of conformity.”
So, Harder bought the garage, turned it into a bohemian tasting room and made it the centerpiece of his new brand. Tank Garage Winery, which opened for business in May of 2014, is a small operation that sells one-off wines, some online but mostly inside the old filling station (more on that later). It is not a brand that’s likely to threaten the preeminence of a Colgin Cellars or the dominance of an E. & J. Gallo. But in its colorful nonconformity and manifest coolness, Tank Garage nevertheless represents a significant development in the highly stratified business of wine, one Americans support to the tune of $32 billion annually. It suggests that artfully blended wines can find a place between the established segments of premium labels and mass-market jugs. And perhaps more significantly, Tank Garage also exemplifies how millennial drinkers and their tastes are changing the hidebound world of wine.
The brand is only three years old, but it’s gotten plenty of attention both locally and nationally.
“Tank Garage speaks volumes to the new wave of the region’s wine tasting culture,” Sonoma alternative weekly the North Bay Bohemian reported.