I Love Surprises: Cabernet Franc on the Blending Bench

Maybe the wine business is for me then (given the title of this post). There is very little that seems to come out the way you expect it to when you’re making wine.

I have written about the mutable nature of wine extensively on this blog. And it is a topic that I will return to many more times, I’m sure. Wine may be unique as a product in that it is a living and breathing thing. And because of this magic, it is a bottomless subject. You can never get to a point where you have learned everything about it, where there isn’t some larger truth revealed as you move more deeply into it.

Yesterday I was making a final blend of our 2012 Steven Kent Winery Cabernet Franc. This cabernet franc lineupvariety, which along with Sauvignon Blanc, is the parent of Cabernet Sauvignon, is my latest obsession. The older I get, the more I prize real vitality in wine. That sense of acid in the wine, that acid that pushes fruit to the fore and sends shivers down your spine is a quality all wines need. Cabernet Franc, of all the five classic Bordeaux varieties, seems to reach greater heights when it lingers just on the acid side of balance (especially when young).

Our 2012 is a beautiful wine showing the tell-tale herbal/rose petal/coffee grounds/red fruit qualities I look for in this grape. It was also perhaps just a touch too big.

I think CF shows its most complex side when there is less wood and more fruit, an acid-based structure rather than a tannin based one. It needs to be lithe, quick on its feet. I had picked some fruit from our Estate vineyard at about 21-22 Brix because I was unhappy with the sample numbers I was getting. By picking a larger sample (in this case about 1.5 tons) I would be able to get a more accurate measure of acidity, pH, and sugar. This large sample (or samples, as I picked about the same volume of Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Cabernet Sauvignon as well) left me with a significant amount of wine that didn’t fit into our program as a single offering. I have found, though, that it is a brilliant blending partner for both of the Cabernets.

This wine is in mostly old oak with low alcohol and a ton of red fruit and acid. One would think that the more (by percentage of the total blend) I put into a bigger wine, the less big the blend would end up being. Well, this is where one of the constant surprises comes to the fore. The opposite was, in fact, true. At 5%, the Cabernet Franc was significantly more viscous and darker fruited than it was with a 2.5% add. Why this happens is a bit of a mystery, intuition does not always have a role in the blending part of my work. The fact that results sometimes belie intuition is why we end up doing a lot of mock blending. I figure, if we exhaust the possibilities, we WILL end up finding the best expression of the wine for that year.

The 2012 Cabernet Franc will be bottled in the next couple of months and the 2011 will be available in May. I am perhaps just starting to get the teensiest bit of a notion of this grape now. The fact that it grows beautifully in the eastern foothills of the Livermore Valley is a very gratifying thing and should hopefully lead to more and more stellar wine.

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