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Because I often write about and advocate for the wines, wineries, and winemakers of my home state, many of my wine friends and acquaintances refer to me as the ‘Virginia wine guy.’  They mistakenly believe I only drink local wines and sometimes chide me for having a ‘Virginia wine palate.’

Though I am a big supporter of the Virginia wine industry (specifically thoughtful winegrowers and well-made wines), I do taste and drink wines from all over the world and visit at least one wine region outside the U.S. each year.  

Based on my personal purchases and tasting notes in Evernote the last two years, my consumption at home has been pretty much limited to wines from the value-driven regions of the Loire Valley and Beaujolais, Champagne (the reasonably priced Champagne), and of course Virginia.

From reviewing my wine consumption notes it’s clear I’ve become a comfort zone drinker (perhaps this is a LoireBeaujolaisVirginiaSomeTimesChampagne palate) and I do need to get back to drinking across the world.

To kickoff the palate expansion series I started with my favorite red grape — Cabernet Franc. I took the occasion of the inaugural Cabernet Franc Day on December 4 to explore American Cab Francs not from Virginia.

Lori Hoyt Budd of Paso Robles-based Dracaena Wines founded Cabernet Franc Day to bring attention to this underappreciated grape often relegated to the role of blending.

The versatile and aromatically charming Cabernet Franc may be best known as a blending grape used in Bordeaux to add floral and spice notes to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and the signature red grape of the Loire Valley.  

The exact origins of Cabernet Franc are a little fuzzy but it’s believed to have been established in the 17th century in the Libournais region in southwest France.  French clergyman Cardinal Richelieu is credited with bringing Cab Franc cuttings to the Abbey of Bourgueil (in the Loire Valley region) where an abbot named Breton tended the vines.  I visited the region last year and many there still referred to Cab Franc as Breton.  

Somewhere along the way, Cabernet Franc hooked up with Sauvignon Blanc to sire the more popular and ubiquitous Cabernet Sauvignon (confirmed by DNA testing in 1997).  Cab Franc is also the parent or grandparent of  Carmenère, Gros Cabernet, Merlot, and Hondarribi Beltza.

According to Which Winegrape Varieties are Grown Where?, authored by Kym Anderson and Nanda R. Aryal of the University of Adelaide, there are 132,446 acres (53,599 ha) of Cabernet Franc planted across the globe, making it the 17th most planted grape variety in the galaxy (statistics as of 2010).  

The majority of the world’s Cabernet Franc, nearly 70% (91,300 acres; 36,948 ha), is planted throughout France. Italy is home to the second largest Cab Franc acreage, with 15,602 acres (6,314 ha) planted. The United States is third with roughly 5,475 acres (2,215 ha) of Cabernet Franc planted throughout the country.

Hungary and Chile have the fourth and fifth largest plantings of Cabernet Franc in the world with 3,341 acres (1,352 ha) and 3,264 acres (1,321 ha), respectively.  The grape is also widely planted in South Africa, Spain, Canada, Argentina, Australia, and even China.

The history of Cabernet Franc in the U.S. is also opaque. Cabernet Franc vines were first planted in California in the late 1800s, which were subsequently lost to phylloxera.  The variety made a comeback in California in the 1960s, mainly as a blending grape. Today a growing number of wineries are planting more Cab Franc for single-varietal bottlings.  

California has more acreage dedicated to Cabernet Franc than any other state.  According to the 2015 California Grape Report, of the 464,029 bearing acres of wine grapevines planted in California, about 3,323 are planted to Cabernet Franc.

Washington state has the second largest planting of Cabernet Franc in the U.S. with 972 acres (393 ha).  My home state of Virginia has one the largest plantings of Cabernet Franc with 382 (154 ha) acres dedicated to the variety. Cabernet Franc is thriving in Virginia and is the second most planted grape in the state.

As more wine growers — notably those in emerging regions — come to appreciate the grape’s potential as a varietal wine, acreage dedicated to Cab Franc is increasing throughout the wine world.

To celebrate #CabFrancDay, our local wine group gathered at my house on Sunday afternoon to taste ten new-to-me American Cab Francs not from Virginia.  The following were my favorites of the tasting (each provided as samples):

Leah Jorgensen Cellars
Oregon — Newberg
www.leahjorgensencellars.com
To the extent a middle-aged, married dude like me can have a wine crush, I have one on winemaker Leah Jorgensen. These wines! Beautiful and delicious. The thoughtful aesthetic. Passion for Loire Valley wines. And this from her website, ‘Clos Rougeard from Saumur-Champigny has always been my true north… that wine is arguably the best Cabernet Franc in the world.’  Yes! I share Ms. Jorgensen’s belief about Clos Rougeard and passion for the wines of the France’s Loire Valley.  

Jorgensen grew up in the Washington, DC area and worked in wine sales in the District (which included representing the portfolio of noted importer Louis-Dressner) before moving to Oregon where she worked in wine sales and for several wineries.  Jorgensen studied enology and worked at several wineries while planning her label, which launched in 2011.

leahjorgersen

Leah Jorgensen Cellars 2015 Blanc de Cabernet Franc ($30)  
A white, still Cabernet Franc. Very nice. A first (commercially available) in the U.S. I visited the Loire Valley last year and tasted several seriously delicious white still Cab Francs and loved this one just as much. Bright gold color in the glass with notes of apricot, lemon and light spice. Waxy honeycomb texture, much like Chenin Blanc.  Lovely lemon acidity.  Would love to drink this on the patio of Merroir Oyster Bar with a dozen Olde Salts and lemon mignonette. Just 90 cases produced.

Leah Jorgensen Cellars 2015 Cabernet Franc ($25)
Beautiful and balanced, this wine is made from 100% Cab Franc grapes sourced from two L.I.V.E. certified (a sustainable viticulture certification) vineyards in Southern Oregon: Crater View Ranch and Sundown Vineyard.  A lush, slightly smoky, dark Cab Franc; aromas of violet and dark berries jump from the glass followed by cigar and spice. Medium-tannins and lovely acidity.  Pepper and black tea notes that I generally associate with Cab Francs from Saumur-Champigny linger on the finish.

The Southern Oregon wine region is sometimes referred to as Loiregon because of the similarities with the Loire Valley.  I do not believe the two regions are comparable — the Loire Valley is the Loire Valley and Oregon is Oregon — but I can understand the reference after tasting these two wines.   Since there are only 162 acres of Cabernet Franc planted in the entire state of Oregon, they have a long way to go in terms of plantings.

Well done Leah Jorgensen!

Ehlers Estate 2013 Cabernet Franc ($60)
California — St. Helena, Napa Valley
www.ehlersestate.com
Located in the historic appellation of St. Helena in Napa Valley, the original 10-acre Ehlers Estate vineyard dates back to the late 1800s. Today, Ehlers Estate is comprised of 42-organically-farmed acres (certified in July 2008) planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Sauvignon Blanc. Though I found wine in Sonoma and Napa in 2006 and roamed the northern California wine trails often during my early wine years, I wasn’t aware of Ehlers Estate wines until my friend (and former Virginian) Beth started working there. Beth serves as the wine club manager and enthusiastic ambassador for Ehlers and is the reason the winery supported #CabFrancDay.   

ehlerswm

Dark ruby color; notes of plum and vanilla with hints of graphite framed by baking spice, mushroom and black tea.  Round mouthfeel; firm tannins; flavors of plum, ripe cherries, baking spice, mushrooms lead to a lengthy spice finish. Notable acidity. This wine was singing on the second evening open. Recommend opening several hours before drinking.  A California Cab Franc gem!   

Glorie Farm Winery 2014 Cabernet Franc ($19)
New York — Marlboro, Hudson Valley
www.gloriewine.com
Loved this wine!  And Glorie Farm’s tag line, ‘conceived in a love affair between agriculture and wine.’  Established in 2004, Glorie Farm produces about 1,300 cases of wine annually.  Other than a fantastic Baco Noir from my friend Carlo DeVito’s Hudson-Chatham Winery, I believe this to be the only other wine I’ve had from the Hudson Valley wine region.  Rarely does a wine make me want to visit a region. This one does.  Located about 75 miles north of New York City, the Hudson Valley wine region is home to some of the oldest vineyards in America. French Huguenots planted the first vines in the region in 1677 (58 years after Acte 12 of 1619 that required settlers in Virginia to tend at least 10 grapevines).

There are just 30 acres of Cabernet Franc planted in the Hudson Valley wine region, some of which are 30 years old.  Glorie Winery founders Doug and MaryEllen Glorie, along with Bob Bedford and Linda Piero of Hudson Valley Wine Magazine, recently established the Hudson Valley Cabernet Franc Coalition to promote the grape to help establish a brand identity for the region.

gloriecabfranc

Ruby color in the glass, this wine offers aromas of raspberry, cherry, forest floor around a core of black tea and mineral. On the palate, flavors of raspberry, blueberry, burnt sugar, wood and tea leaves leads to a lengthy pepper-berry finish. Lovely acidity. This wine would fit comfortably in a lineup of Cab Francs from Chinon, Bourgueil or Saumur-Champigny.  Just $19.  Crazy good value. Seek this out.

Gibbs Cabernet Franc ($25)
California — St. Helena, Napa Valley
www.gibbsnapavalley.com

GibbsCabFranc.JPG
Unmistakably Californian. Big, inky, concentrated. Made from Cabernet Franc with 5% Petit Verdot from the Gibbs family vineyard in St. Helena.  I’m of the opinion that even small amounts of PV can overpower the floral aromatics of Cab Franc. Deep garnet in color, aromas of ripe blackberries and plum jump from the glass.This wine shows it’s 15.7% alcohol level and the 20 months spent in French oak so I recommend holding on to this wine a few years before opening. This is not my style of wine but my wife loved it so it’s on our ‘to buy’ wine list.  A fantastic price for a wine from this region.

St. Supéry 2012 Rutherford Estate Vineyard Cabernet Franc ($65)
California — Rutherford, Napa Valley
www.stsupery.com

stsupertycabfranc
Situated along Highway 29 in the Rutherford region of Napa, St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery opened in 1989.  This single-vineyard Cab Franc is from St. Supéry’s 35-acre estate vineyard that surrounds the winery, which is planted to Cab Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Cab Franc.  Another clearly Californian Cab Franc; big and ripe. Purple in the glass, offering notes of blackberry, plum and licorice; dusty (no Rutherford Dust pun intended); lengthy pepper, plum finish.

Tessier 2015 Alegria Vineyard Russian River Valley Cabernet Franc ($32)
California — Healdsburg
www.tessierwinery.com
Thoughtful. Balanced. Seriously delicious. Until the North Coast Rhone Rangers Grenache Day tasting on September 16 hosted by winemaker William Allen at his newly-opened Two Shepherds tasting room in Windsor (remarkable wines!) I had not heard of Tessier wines.  That evening I found myself at the Tessier table chatting with owner and winemaker Kristie Tacey and being charmed by her new-to-me Grenaches.  Kristie was a research scientist until 2006 when she took a job at an urban winery in Oakland, CA.  She started the Tessier label after that winery operation was sold.  The first vintage of Tessier was 2009.  Today, Kristie produces 600 cases of Grenache (seriously delicious Grenache), Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc sourced from vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains (Corralitos), El Dorado, and the Russian River Valley.

tessiercabfranc

Made from grapes grown in the Alegria Vineyard in the Russian River Valley, this wine would fit comfortably in a lineup of Loire Valley Cab Francs.   Dark crimson in the glass, offering notes of violets, blackberry, blueberry, and black tea leaves that remind one of a Cab Franc from Saumur-Champigny.  Solid tannins and acidity with a lengthy violet-blueberry finish.   I opened this bottle over dinner with friends a few weeks before the #CabFrancDay tasting so not included in tasting of ten American Cab Francs last Sunday. 

Takeaway from this edition of the palate expansion project — drink more American Cabernet Franc!

Check out the following articles from other writers that participated in #CabFrancDay:

If I’ve missed other Cab Franc Day articles, please leave a comment and I will update this list.

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