Recently, a growing number of Livermore Valley winemakers has been meeting frequently to taste wines from all over the world. Beth Refsnider, Assistant Winemaker from the Lineage Wine Collection, Julie Schreiber from the Livermore Valley Quality Alliance, and others have led the effort to give our winemakers new examples of world-class wines that can influence our own efforts to make consistently better wines.
At the current time, there are more than a dozen different producers of Cab Franc from Livermore Valley fruit. This is an extremely exciting development for the future of the Livermore Valley growing area as well as consumers of this extraordinary grape. We have an amazing opportunity to grow an identity for the Valley that is tied to one of the great grapes of the world, and there appears to be a growing consensus among winery owners to at least contemplate focusing on one variety to showcase.
After tasting through the wines each winery brought, it is evident that visions of what Cab Franc should be stylistically are all over the board. And while each winemaker should aspire to an individual and personal winemaking style, there are certain varieties – and Cabernet Franc is certainly chief among them – that have historic and grape-driven characteristics that are so recognized as appropriate for the wine that they are definitional. With Cab Franc, the balance of weight, acidity, tannin, and herbal organoleptics are crucial to a fundamental sense of what the grape is and should be.
Cabernet Franc is not Cabernet Sauvignon; its true home is the Loire Valley where it comprises the whole wine. These wines are leaner and more fruit-driven than Cabernet Sauvignon, they generally are aged in older wood to preserve their intensity of fruit, there is an abundance of herbal shading to the wines (think dried chili peppers, sage, and bay), and their acid levels presage great pace through the mouth, extreme food-friendliness, and age-worthiness. Made the right way, Cabernet Franc does not inhabit the same world as Cabernet Sauvignon nor Merlot, for that matter. It’s world is about subtlety and elegance and balance; it is the Queen of this land and should remain so.
Cab Franc is new to us in the Livermore Valley, and a lot of work remains to be done by all the winemakers here to consistently taste the best exemplars from the Loire and other representative regions to take in what the world believes the best versions of these wines to be. The best improvisation happens after you truly and deeply know the script. And though no other region, including the Loire, is the same as the Livermore Valley, it makes sense to start our regional Cab Franc exploration with the purest and (in my mind) best representations of this amazing grape.