By Doug Fabbioli
Is the Virginia Red Wine Grape Cabernet Franc?
When I arrived from Northern California 19 years ago, I found a significant amount of Cabernet Franc in the ground here in Virginia. The wines were generally promising but inconsistent. Some of the more challenging wines had green aromas and hard, thin tannin structure. There was talk of the “Virginia Twang” in our reds – a tart, rough structure that was not very comfortable in the finish of the wine. My, have we come a long way from there!
I have always been thankful for the customers that rode through the rougher wines and times helping us get to where we are today. We still have more to go and more consistency to build, but our improvements have been acknowledged and well received.
How did we improve the quality of our wines? Well, we focused on the vineyard. First we managed the crop load on each vine. Any short shoots are stripped of their fruit as there are not enough leaves on a short shoot to give necessary energy to its clusters resulting in ripe flavors. This process eliminates the greener characters, and focuses more energy to the remaining fruit. The other key process of dropping fruit is called a green harvest. When the fruit is changing color in late August, we go through the vineyard and drop the remaining green clusters. The timing is critical as you want to do this process at about 90% color change or veraison. You are dropping the 10% green clusters but keeping the riper grapes and increasing the concentration of the more mature flavors. We have also learned how to be more patient when we make harvesting decisions. Evaluating tannin ripeness, seed maturity and using good sampling methods have added to our chemistry methods to improve our information for deciding when to pick.
Once the grapes are brought to the winery, the cellar team has a process that was rarely done 20 years ago. We sort the fruit from the crusher as it is going into the fermenter. Our goal at this point is to remove any green particles. Often times parts of the stems will come through as well as some small green berries. By eliminating these pieces, we have lessened the green character and improved the fruit character of the wine.
There are some other varietals that grow very well in Virginia, but through our history and improvements, I believe that Cabernet Franc will continue to gain us world recognition. When done right, it shows balance, savory and spice along with the fruit, ripe tannins in the finish integrated with judicious levels of oak influence. Buy this wine from your favorite local winery and if you like what you taste, let your friends know why you did. Letting them taste it is usually the preferred method.