Cabernet Franc – Not Just Our Obsession?

It looks as if the grape I’m currently most obsessed with – Cabernet Franc – is on the minds of more than a few consumers and winemakers.

Winewriter, Elin McCoy, in an article on Bloomberg.com, writes about the things that will be changing the wine world in 2016. Among a growing appreciation for English sparkling wine (very cool), more celebrity wine projects (very un-cool), and the wider-spread use of the Coravin (we are big enthusiasts!), McCoy believes that 2016 will reveal Cab Franc to be the next hot variety. If she ain’t right, she ought to be!

There is no red grape with the possible exception of Pinot Noir that offers such a wide variety of textures, flavors, and overall excitement. Cabernet Franc, in the Bordeaux model, is a wine of suppleness, red fruit, tension and length. From the Loire Valley perspective, the wines are lean, filled with tremendous acid, rose petals, and earth. The (generally low-alcohocabfrancl) wines have such tremendous pace through the mouth, they seem to make the clock run backward.

I’m partial to this CF style. In my mind, they are the sexiest wines on the planet. We have about 3 acres planted on our Ghielmetti Estate Vineyard, and endeavor to produce a style of Cabernet Franc that is beautiful in its exuberant fruit; low in new-oak, and high in swagger. Our CF is part of our BDX Collection wine club.

The best Cabernet Francs, unlike Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, owe some of their greatness to their subtle polarizing nature. If it is true that American wine drinkers talk dry but drink sweet, CF is not the wine for them. And that’s ok. Merlot quality suffered in part from its ubiquity; I’d rather drink every bottle I make (I’m a sharer, by nature, so you’ll understand the psychic pain this would cause me) if it meant we had Cabernet Franc unencumbered by bad planting and winemaking decisions…pure, beguiling, and beautiful.

 

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Opening a Window on Non-Vintage Blends

La Ventana - Barbera

“La Ventana” – our NV Barbera from the Livermore Valley

Most of the regulations that exist in the wine business (at least those that pertain to the making of wine) were put there to keep guys like me honest. They weren’t created to help you, the wine consumer, determine whether the stuff that I’m making is any good. Codifying “quality” is a slippery slope and is a notion that the government tries to stay away from.

Though the concepts of appellation, vintage, and variety were meant to confer a sense of protection for the consumer and are regulated to a certain degree by the requisite agencies; they have come, instead, to describe quality. Having Napa Valley on one’s label isn’t a guarantor of quality, but it certainly does carry a premium in price for the winery and for the grower of the grapes.

In a similar vein, the vintage date has a deeper meaning than the year the fruit was harvested. In more marginal growing areas such as Bordeaux and Burgundy, the high probability of inclement weather (compared to California) argues for investing the vintage date with a real sense of quality, greater or lesser, depending upon the vicissitudes of Nature. In Champagne and Oporto, a vintage year is “declared” when the producers believe their offerings to be of exceptional quality. In California, in reality, the seasons being much more consistently consistent, the vintage year is generally a marker of dates. The marketing sage would rightly note, however, that reality¬†is what the brands tell you, and the custom in California is for the winery to proclaim each vintage as the best yet.

Champagne and Oporto and Jerez (where Spain’s Sherries are made) have another custom, largely unused in the United States, the production of non-vintage wines. In the US, a minimum of 95% of a wine has to come from a specific year to place that year on the label. Anything less, and the wine bears no sense of season. In fact, it becomes timeless. Timelessness, as the Champenois see it, means creating a consistent style of wine that hues to the organoleptic values of the house. Bollinger’s house style will differ from Moet’s, which is different than Ruinart’s. The “house” style, in a way, represents the winery’s ethos. Independent from the inconsistencies of weather, and unmoored in the river of time, the house wines (in greater degree than their vintaged counterparts) carry more obviously the hand and mind of the winemaker in the production of a wine that tells the world what the house is.

Because of quality connotation associated with vintage dating in California, one rarely see san NV wine of quality in California. Like our comrades in Champagne, though, The Steven Kent Winery produces these blends on a fairly regular basis. In these situations, the consistent quality of the fruit we are growing and using gives us the opportunity to make the Ur-Barbera or Sangiovese, so representative of the site and the qualities that we (as winemakers and winelovers) desire from these varieties, that pinning them to a brief moment of certainty seems parsimonious.

Our newest wine,¬†La Ventana,¬†is a blend of two different years of Barbera from our estate vineyards in the Livermore Valley. Like similar blends before it, we believe this wine captures the grape being it’s own lovely self…and tasting delicious in the process.

It’s About How Wine Makes You Feel

There can never be too much deliciousness in the world. And in the world of wine, making a wine that smells and tastes delicious would seemingly be the most obvious goal of any winemaker.

I’d contend, though, that for fine wines, those that are meant to make you think as well as smack your lips, the way those wines FEEL is of paramount concern for the winemaker.

At The Steven Kent Winery we believe in making wines that are beautiful. These wines have a wholeness to them and a balance of fruit, wood, tannin, and acid that are perceived most wholly in a tactile sense. If flavor and aroma is the greatest rock band of all time, structure is the stage, the microphone, the lights, and the sound system. Structure is what allows that band (or that great wine) to be experienced in as full a measure as possible.

The winemaker has many tools at his or her disposal to make a fine feel right. Some are more intrusive and industrial, less intuitive than others. Click on the video to learn more about one technique we’re using.