Cabernet Franc, the staff favorite

So what do you think about Cabernet Franc, like the bell pepper and herbaceous characteristics, or if you are like me, prefer the spicy, peppery versions without any greenness?

Cabernet Franc is one of the 20 most widely planted grape varieties worldwide with plantings in Europe and the New World, even as far as China. It is a  Bordeaux variety that often plays a supporting role in the fine wines of that region.

Did you know however that in 1997, DNA evidence supported the theory that Cabernet Franc crossed with Sauvignon Blanc to create Cabernet Sauvignon, the grape that arguably makes the finest wines. Not so sure about that though as Pinot Noir could probably make a strong case in that argument.

As a stand alone wine, it is most famous on the region of the Loire Valley, where it is widely planted in the Chinon, Anjou and Bourgueil regions.

Closer to home, winemaker and customers in Virginia are hailing Cabernet Franc as the next big Virginia grape, let’s take a closer look to see if this statement holds any water.

It does bud and ripen a week earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon, sometimes even earlier than that, allowing it to thrive in cooler climates. It is a vigorous, upright-growing vine that does really well in sandy or chalky soils [the exact soils we have ours planted on here at Keswick Vineyards]

It is also thick-skinned and less susceptible to botrytis and rots than other varieties, so yes I think it is more suited to our climate here in Virginia than others. But what about those herbaceous and green pepper undertones?

Virginia Cabernet Francs in my opinion too often display these characters we refer to as green. Do not get me wrong, I love bell peppers and green vegetables, just not when I am drinking wine. We work incredibly hard in trying to minimize these very characteristics that have come to define Virginia Cabernet Franc wines.

How do we do that? Firstly we only crop at about 2.5 tons per acre, we have found that for our specific site, that higher tonnages per acre tend to really accentuate these characteristics, so naturally we reduced the tonnage. We try to pick at optimum physiological ripeness, we pay very little attention to the actual sugars, choosing to focus more on the quality of the skin and seed tannins. We sort our fruit post de-stemming, a pain staking long process where by all bits of stems and leaves that by passed the de-stemmed get removed. Practice minimalistic winemaking techniques and hopefully what you get is a full-bodied wine displaying aromas of black pepper, red fruits and sometimes even violets.

So yes, I think Cabernet Franc in Virginia has a bright future. No matter what your preferences are, you are sure to find many fine examples made throughout the Commonwealth, at very reasonable prices. as long as they are not green, I am a huge fan.

The reason for this debate is because tomorrow we release our 2009 Cabernet Franc in our tasting room.

Let me tell you a bit about the wine. It is a 100% varietal wine, matured for 10 months in mainly American oak barrels and was bottled un-fined and un-filtered in July of 2010. It is young so the tannins are a bit stiff, they should continue to soften with time spent in the bottle, we think you could lay this wine down for up to 6 years or so [assuming ideal cellar conditions]. It displays aromas of black pepper and coffee, with flavors of red fruits [raspberries and cranberries] and subtle oak nuances. I use the term subtle as I hate wines that feel like you have shoved a 2×4 plank in your mouth, oak should season the wine not dominate it.

 So come on by tomorrow and taste our newest offering, I look forward to hearing what you have to say about it. If you believe what the staff here say about it, you will love it.




4 comments on “Cabernet Franc, the staff favorite

  1. Jay says:

    We’re not a big fan of the green pepper and vegetal tones found in the majority of Cab Francs we’ve tried in Virginia and from other regions as well, outside of those made in Bordeaux. It can be seriously off-putting. That’s probably one of our favorite things about the Keswick FCs.

    So here’s a question. When not made into a single-varietal bottling, what grapes that grow well in VA does CF blend with. In Bordeaux it’s blended with Cab Sauvignon and Merlot primarily, along with Malbec, PV, and Carmenere to a lesser extent, right? Keswick makes a fantastic PV but Merlot seems to be a tough grow in VA. Have you ever done something non-traditional in a blend with CF, like Touriga?

    • Jay
      Thank you for your comments. The right bank of Bordeaux tends to use more Cabernet Franc than the left bank but it is still a small part player for the most part. In terms of what to blend with it, we have tried numerous options over the years, including Touriga, but in that case we felt that it made the wine a little thin. Touriga is a very fruit forward wine with soft tannins and we felt it changed the Cabernet Franc quite dramatically. With our Merlot, PV and Cabernet Sauvignon being made into our Estate Wines, we have focused on Cab Franc as a stand alone, as long as we get it right in the vineyard I think it needs very little blending. We do always experiment and if in the case, blending something else into makes the total wine that much better, then we will definitely do that
      Have a good day

  2. David Green says:

    Virginia Cabernet Franc is my favorite too, I agreed with you about not too much oak in any wine.

    Recently, we brought and enjoyed drinking Keswick 2008 Red Blend Trevillian.

    We like mostly un-fined and un-filtered wines where we can buy them!


    • Dave
      Glad to hear you enjoyed the Trevillian. We are continuing the trend of not fining and filtering the wine, however most wines are run through some sort of filter as cosmetic considerations are important for the consumer. While sediment is accepted in older wines, sediment in young wines can sometimes be a bit off putting
      Take Care

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