Around 10 years ago our family farm was deciding what to plant next on our Home Ranch in Clarksburg. At the time, I was really into Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley in France (specifically, the more approachable CFs from Chinon). I then started researching locally to see who has Cabernet Franc planted in Clarksburg. The variety itself is not common in California (where Cabernet Sauvignon reigns supreme), and in the Clarksburg AVA–even less so. What I did find was inspiring: Heringer Estates, Grand Island Vineyards, and Scribner Bend all had small plantings and produced varietal distinct Cabernet Francs (most of the time, Cabernet Franc is used as a blender in wine programs or as a small percentage in a Bordeaux Blend).
It seemed logical to me that since Clarksburg produces some of the best New World Chenin Blanc, and Chenin Blanc is ‘indigenous’ to the Loire Valley of France, that Clarksburg should be able to grow Cabernet Franc. After more research, my dad and I finally made the decision to plant 4 acres of Cabernet Franc (and now have expanded to 6 total acres). Growing this variety comes with unique challenges. It is extremely vigorous and fruitful, which requires the farmer to make 3-4 passes through the vineyard to drop fruit. It is sensitive to viruses and grapevine canker diseases, and for our region, it also ripens late (we harvest it about the same time we harvest Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Verdot).
Yes, this grape is probably the most challenging variety we grow. It is also the most expensive to farm. However, it has provided my dad and myself the opportunity to learn together. This is truly a wine that is made in the vineyard. It has been and continues to be an amazing opportunity to participate and witness how much impact our vinicultural and farming practices can have on making great wine.
Cabernet Franc works great for Silt Wine Company and has been an easy sell for our family farm– Merwin Vineyards (there is currently a waiting list for grape purchasing). I’m excited for the 2022 vintage, which presented its own unique challenges (frost/drought/late rains/high heat spike) and I am looking forward to our next release of Cabernet Franc for Silt Wine Company.
Before I end this, I did want to mention one person specifically and show appreciation to him. I worked with and sold Chenin Blanc to Brian Newberry (Newberry Wines), and he gave me the big push and confidence to plant Cabernet Franc and give it a try. Thanks Brian!