These days, whenever I mention that I picked up a bottle of Cabernet Franc during one of my tasting trips, I always get a knowing nod of approval from my fellow wine enthusiasts. Cabernet Franc is definitely gaining attention among American consumers, and it has slowly begun to emerge as more than just a mere blending grape for Cabernet Sauvignon. I’ve pondered Cabernet Franc’s recent rise in popularity, and have developed a theory regarding the varietal’s growing niche within the American market: Over the past 30 years,
As a devoted bargain hunter, I’ve searched for Cabernet Franc among dozens of wineries throughout the
I tracked down John Skupny, the founder and winemaker of Lang & Reed, to discuss the winery’s current
So, what sets Cabernet Franc apart from the other red varietals, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot? office last month, where we tasted wine during a leisurely Saturday afternoon. Skupny is an affable gentleman with a wealth of winemaking knowledge, who has been making wine (either at home or professionally) since the early 1980s. The following Q&A features a few highlights from our conversation.
Cabernet Franc is generally a more delicate grape and more fickle. It’s kind of the chameleon of the
That’s a good analogy. Sauvignon Blanc has some ardent fans, although they’re much fewer in number than Chardonnay drinkers.
Ironically, they’re genetically fairly close, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. They’re actually the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon, which resulted from an accidental cross of the two grapes – or it could’ve been on purpose, nobody really knows. Cabernet Sauvignon is only about four or five hundred years old, and one has to assume that the ancient writings about Cabernet in the singular actually refer to Cabernet Franc. Being an ancient varietal, it even responds as such. Looking at the pantheon of grapes, Pinot Noir is also an ancient varietal, very adaptable, but also very fickle.
When did you make your first vintage of Cab Franc?
With Lang & Reed, we made the first prototype in 1993, and in 1996, we started commercial production. The idea with the
You had mentioned that you’re bottling your early release in June. Where do you source your grapes for the
I’ve made a shift over the last three years. The majority of the new release grapes come from
That’s not exactly and explosion in plantings, all things considered.
No, but there has been an explosion in price. Because we’re not making a $50 bottle from these particular grapes, it relegated me to become sort of a bottom feeder within
Do you have contracts with several growers up there, or is there one main vineyard you’re dealing with?
I’m sourcing grapes from a couple vineyards up there -- one is called High Chaparral, which is on the west side of
As Cab Franc has become more popular, has it become necessary to search for more and more different sources of fruit?
I’ve always used the idea of multiple vineyards, particularly for our early release wine. With winemaking, you can take a single vineyard and have multiple varietals in it, and create something that’s greater than the sum of its parts, or you can take a single varietal from different soil types throughout the valley and also come up with something more complete. Also, by buying fruit from different sources, I’m not beholden to anyone economically. If the grower suddenly decides to start his own winery, then I’m not out of luck.
What are some of the basic specifications you try to achieve at harvest time for your
I like to pick between 23.5 and 24.5 brix – that’s sort of my zone. I think that at higher sugars, you tend to bake the varietal characteristic out of everything. Unfortunately, I think that’s one of the maladies of some wines being produced today. I buck a trend a little bit from what I ask of my growers, and they’re a little surprised. We harvest the grapes early in the day because it’s the nature of the beast. With the
In what ways, if any, do you guide the fermentation?
I use a selection of different designer yeasts. The real workhorse is called #2056, which is a
So with a lighter styling, you also take a lighter approach with the oak?
What is your approach in terms of filtration?
I do filter now, but I didn’t originally. It wasn’t philosophical; it was just that up to a point, I didn’t need it. Then in 1998 and 1999, I started to get a fair amount of Brettanomyces bloom every now and then. Those are actually the vintages where buyers of French wines really like them! I don’t mind a little corruption, but I feel that the 1998 went awry on me. From that point on, I really tried to understand filtration, and to do it as lightly as possible, just to make sure the wine doesn’t have any bugs before it goes into the bottle. I don’t produce a huge volume, so what little I lose in flavor and profile I gain in security.
Being a winemaker for so long, how does the art versus the science of winemaking now come into effect for your wines?
I learned that there’s a balance between the art and science. If you develop a good taste memory, that’s also an important thing. When I do my blending, my wife Tracey is always included. She and I have both been in the wine business for an equal time. I spread butcher paper over our dining room table, and then I bring in all the cuvees and different components. I build two or three potential blends. Then I call her in to taste them blindly, and she always nails it. She hasn’t followed these wines from the beginning – she only sees them occasionally – so she doesn’t have any prejudices about what I might’ve done wrong this year. We taste the blends against a control wine, not to necessarily match it, but get within a target range of it. And she can always pick the proper one.
For more information about Lang & Reed wines, visit the winery’s website at www.langandreed.com . For comments about this article, please email timcostner@ thirstyreader.com.