Who’s Your Daddy?
If people had to associate a grape with a place, Napa Valley would conjure up romantic images of outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon. That seems only natural, as most wines seek to showcase a sense of place, telling the story of where that wine comes from. It’s quite fitting that the land/climate/soil, etc. (or, more elegantly phrased “terroir“) would come into play.
But here at Clos Pegase, we also produce another type of Cab that does just that…
Our Cabernet Franc, is one of our best-kept secrets. You may not see many bottlings of 100% Cab Franc, but we have captured the essence of the variety with the help of just under 5 acres of estate fruit planted to the lesser-known Bordeaux grape. Everyone always hears about Cabernet Sauvignon but Cabernet Franc, the lithest of the Bordeaux varietal line up, has a much longer tradition in the Bordeaux and Loire areas of France.
We think it’s high-time we paid some respect to the otherCab, especially given its roots (pun intended) and figured there’s no better place to start than at the beginning with a little-known fun fact: as most people are familiar with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc is half of the reason we have Cab Sauv to begin with. You see, genetically-speaking, Cab Sauv hails from two “parent” grapes: Sauvignon Blanc (yep, a white wine varietal) and, you guessed it, Cabernet Franc. Hence the name combination of Cabernet (taken from Franc) Sauvignon (taken from Sauv Blanc).
But Cabernet Franc’s history goes back even further than the 1997 DNA tests that proved Cabernet Franc was in fact the original Big Daddy Cab.
We’re talking 17th Century roots, with religious ties. It’s actually believed that the grape was first called ‘Breton’ after the caretaker of the vines at the Abbey of Bourgueil in the Loire Valley. A century later, plantings in Bordeaux were producing high quality wines, just in time for Cabernet Sauvignon to come into play and steal the show. As Cabernet Sauvignon grew in popularity, the similarities in the Sauv and Franc were noted, and later a formal DNA test proved that Cabernet Franc crossed with Sauv Blanc created Cabernet Sauvignon.
While this is all well and good, let’s get down to basics. What’s the difference between the two wines in terms of style, you may ask?
Often used in small percentages for the mid-palate fruit drive, Franc is typically a blending variety in Bordeaux, and has the ability to soften harsh tannins present with some of the “bigger” varieties (read: Cab Sauv and Merlot). Franc is lighter than Cab Sauv, and often has a tobacco-like note, though the characteristics vary based on growing location.
We are fortunate to have two very different vineyard sites for our Cabernet Franc. Mitsuko’s Vineyard, down in the cooler Carneros region of the Napa Valley, yields Cabernet Franc that isn’t unlike Franc’s historical home of the Loire, which is a cooler climate than Bordeaux. Darker fruit aromas mingle with pronounced pipe tobacco nuances, together with great fleshiness and racy acidity in the mouth.
On the flip side, we also have Cab Franc planted at Dunaweal Vineyard in Calistoga, a much warmer northern sub-AVA of Napa Valley. Bright red cherry fruit atop a more substantial tannin framework and opulent mouthfeel typify Cabernet franc wines from this Estate.
This gives our winemaking team the best of both worlds: cooler Loire-style Franc, combined with warmer Bordeaux-style Franc, buoyed by unique Napa Valley characteristics, that allow our Cabernet Franc to truly showcase what this variety is all about.