By Jay Drysdale
The grape Cabernet Franc is the next red wine trend waiting to happen. The frustrating part is that we are just beginning to understand this grape. Cab Franc has been nominated by many to be the iconic red grape for BC because of its ability to produce wines more complex and intriguing than its big brother Cabernet Sauvignon (Cab Sauv). As optimistic as that is, Cab Franc only accounts for 8.46%* of all red grape varieties and a mere 4.31%* of all grapes planted in BC. Compared to Merlot at 34.31%* and 17.49%* respectively, Cab Franc rank fifth below Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cab Sauv, and Syrah with plantings totaling a mere 391 acres*.
* the 2008 BC Wine Grape Crop Survey
On the world stage Cab Franc is quietly gaining in acreage and almost ready to jump on the sommelier bandwagon to be the next fad grape. France is still king when it comes to growing Cab Franc with over 35,000 acres in Bordeaux alone that don’t include acreage in the Loire, Bergerac, or Madiran where there are significant plantings. I am guessing Italy will start making some noise with Cab Franc as they unexpectedly have over 17,000 acres planted mostly in Fruili, yet there are plantings in Veneto, Tuscany and even as far south as Puglia.
California has about 3400 acres and Washington with almost 1200 acres. The reaches of Cab Franc even extend into Catalonia Spain, Hungary, and Slovenia.
I’m a huge fan of the grape and believe our micro climates produce an amazing caliber style of wine. The frustration comes from a lack of consistency in style and not having a long track record to examine from. I currently count 17 wineries in BC producing it as a dominant varietal with the majority of the juice going into blends. There is a fear when producing Cab Franc that you will end up with too much green character. There is a fine balance between ripeness and too much herb flavour in the wine. It has taken many years to understand the herbaceous notes in Cab Franc as a good thing versus being frowned upon in Cab Sauv, an argument that still exists whether its terrior or under-ripeness.
BC Wineries producing Cabernet Franc
Antelope Ridge – Golden Mile fruit that is built to age. Big Tannins, ageworthy acidity, and a nice earthy complexity. These wines need 4-10 years to develop into what they were built for. $22
Blackwood Lane – Has release two vintages with grapes coming from North Oliver and Osoyoos. Good complexity that emphasizes darker fruits, chocolate, and pencil lead. $44
Burrowing Owl – Has been making Cab Franc since 1998 with one of the best track records for quality and has been the driving force behind establishing this grape as a contender. There is a beautiful balance of red fruits and herbs that play against the oak program. These wines are built for the decade and your patience will be well rewarded with earthy and leathery bottle age and the character of forest floor develops from the herb flavours. $33
Eau Vivre – This new winery in Cawston released their first Cab Franc. The fruit came from the Osoyoos Lake East Bench region and shows red fruits with a unique peppercorn and herbaceousness. Look forwared to seeing how they develop. $25
Fairview Cellars – Estate fruit with a good track record dating back to 1999. Each year the varietal character becomes purer and purer as the fruit ranges from red and blue flavours to leather and coffee and parsley to mint. The good oak program and pure fruit means these wines are getting more age-worthy each vintage. Good luck cellaring them as they are also fun to drink young. $26
Gehringer Brothers – Doesn’t really count in this category but is one of the first in BC to produce a Cab Franc Ice wine and Late Harvest dessert wine. Strawberry jam on toast sums up the flavour profile on these amazing wines. Try the late harvest with a spicy charcuterie platter, you’ll love the experience.
Hester Creek – Has been making a muscular Cab Franc since 2002. These age-worthy Reserve wines frame in the dark fruits with leather and coffee tones in a big oaky frame. Even the oldest 2002 Reserve Cab Franc is still drinking young and requires another three or four years. Estate grown fruit from the Golden Mile. $26
Herder – two vintages of Cab Franc with a nice red fruit profile. Subtle complexities don’t show well young but give the wine time and you will be well rewarded. Hints of coffee and vanilla play well with the sage and cassis flavours. I look forward to each vintage. $26
Hillside – As with many wineries, different winemakers bring different winemaking styles and Cab Franc has been made at Hillside since 2002 and ranged in styles from muscular and age-worthy to herbaceous and easy to drink. The grapes are from Naramata and I look forward to trying the 2007. $25
Peller Estate Private Reserve – The best valued Cab Franc on the market ringing in under $15 and tasting as good as many wines twice its price. Dark fruits with a range of easy drinking complexities. I believe the grapes are coming from the South Okanagan. $14
Pentage – Been producing Cab Franc since 2004 in a very soft yet complex manner. Noted for its long finish and subtle oak integration, Grapes coming from Skaha Lake District and the South Okanagan. I’m not sure these wines have to much age-ability, but they are sure great to drink young. $28
Poplar Grove – The 2004 Cab Franc is still one of my favourites. Layers upon layers of complexity wrapped up tightly in silky tannins with a finish that lasted for minutes. The 2005 was still too young that last time I tasted but I do look forward to trying it again in a couple years. This wine spends 30 months in production before release. I believe its Naramata fruit. $40
Quinta Ferreira – This winery is fun to watch. Made 105 cases of Cab Franc for 2007 and it was gorgeous, fun, and I look forward to more. The ripeness of the fruits almost give the impression of sweetness but the soft tones of cedar and vanilla welcome the soft tannins. $26
Sandhill – For some reason this wine flies under the radar, but when you find it, this wine will make a believer out of anyone. The value, the complexity, the age-worthiness, its got it all. The grapes are coming from the south part of the Black Sage Bench. $20
Seven Stones – First release was in 2007 and packed full of red fruits and oak with a solid core of herb. Nice mouthfeel with solid acidity. All fruit is estate grown in Cawston. $25
Sumac Ridge – Another consistent value that has flown under the radar for some time. Good ripe fruit framed in by lots of oak. Vintages date back to 1998 and these grapes are coming from Black Sage Bench. $20
Tinhorn Creek – Found some of the oldest vintages dating back to 1997. The 2007 is showing a softer style than seen in the past as more fruit complexity is coming to surface and the oak taking a softer back up roll. Most people consume this wine too young thinking if it inexpensive it won’t last that long. If anyone has any 2003 out there, you will be well rewarded right now. These grapes are coming from both the Golden Mile and Black Sage Benches. $18
Zero Balance – Came out of the gate with a Cab Franc last year that was decent juice for $20. Good fruit, balanced herb and a slight candy style. All fruit coming from Naramata. $20
Noteworthy Wineries that previously made Cab Franc
Golden Mile – released a Cab Franc in 2004 that was beautiful. Layers of complexity that held a core of herb flavours. Silky mouth-feel and a lighter color. Used to retail around $18
Hainle – The winery is now Deep Creek, but they were making Cab Franc up until 2003. This wine is still for sale and will be for some time as the price tripled overnight from $27 to $70???
Hawthorne Mountain – Made a great valued Cab Franc for three years from 2002-2004. Used to retail around $15. Finished my last 2004 about a year ago and was sad to say goodbye.
What does the future look like for Cab Franc? Its positive from a learning perspective. As growers we are gaining valuable knowledge as to how this grape fits into our soil and climate. As winemakers we are learning how to approach this grape to create a finished product that offers up world class quality.
Will this grape be the Icon for BC reds? I don’t think so, or more importantly I don’t think we should have an iconic red, but rather an iconic region. That is another blog topic.