A Look At Virginia’s Cabernet Franc for #CabFrancDay

Today is Cabernet Franc Day , it’s the official day to celebrate this great grape from Bordeaux which was founded by Lori Hoyt Bud of  Dracaena Wines in Paso Robles. I spoke to Lori this afternoon on Instagram Live! and you can find our chat here. There are also multiple opportunities to join Lori today on zoom, look to her website and Instagram feeds @ExploringTheWineGlass and @Dracaenawines and on Twitter this evening. That chat starts at 8 pm EDT under #CabFrancDay.

I reposted something I wrote about Cabernet Franc in Maryland earlier this week but I also want to share the love with Virginia.

When I was a girl, my parents took me to Jefferson’s home in Virginia and to UVA. I remember how impressed I was with the State, campus and how much I wanted to seem like a college student although I was only 13.

Some years ago at the Society of Wine Educators conference, I attended a seminar about wines from Virginia entitled, “Virginia: the Bordeaux of North America?” A pretty big claim but I was willing to listen because the speaker was none other than Jay Youmans from the Capital Wine School. Jay is an MW, a wonderful speaker and a lovely person to boot.

We learned during the lesson that male settlers in Virginia in the 1600s were called to plant at least 10 grape vines. We also learned that Thomas Jefferson tried to grow grapes in Virginia for 30 years in the 1700s but failed to produce even a single bottle of wine. George Washington too apparently struggled at Mount Vernon to produce a wine but to no avail. In 1873, a Virginia wine was finally made from Norton. Eventually, in the 1900s a series of wineries were opened. In 1973, Chardonnay was grown successfully at the Waverly Estate while in 1976, Gianni Zonin established Barboursville Vineyard.

Today there are over 4,000 acres of grapes that span the state, Virginia is home to 10 regions and 8 distinct AVAs. There are around 300 wineries in Virginia and the state is a major wine producing state behind California, Washington, Oregon, and New York. Who knew?

So why did Jay compare Virginia to Bordeaux? Both have maritime climates, three principal rivers, and somewhat similar soils (clay, gravel, sand, among them). Additionally, they have similar rainfall and temperatures.

According to his presentation, Virginia and Bordeaux also share a “common struggle to attain phenolic ripeness in red grapes (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc) while this is not a problem in other states in the US such as California, Washington and Oregon” although it most certainly is in New York State.

Fast forward a few years and I go to an amazing Wine Media Guild lunch focused on Virginia Wines in November 2019. I was excited to try all the wines but since Cabernet Franc is close to my heart, I looked to try as many of those as I could.

One of the wines was from Veritas. This family owned winery has been making wine since the early 2000s. It began as a passion for two people, Andrew and Patricia Hodson, and today employs a number of people including their three children. They have 50 acres and make a beautiful Cabernet Franc that I tried last year at the event. Their daughter Emily is the winemaker and believes in minimal intervention in the vineyard and in the cellar. She looks for balance in her wines and I think she’s found it for her Cabernet Franc.

According to their website, “she just tries to stay out of the way as she allows the wine to show off the beauty of where the grapes were grown.”

Many wineries in Virginia make Cabernet Franc. I am only writing about two but there are so many to taste.

At that Wine Media Guild event, I met Luca Paschina for the third time. All of the wines showed beautifully but I have a soft spot for those from Barboursville both because they are extremely well- made wines and because they were my first entrance into the world of Virginian wine. I wrote a post back in 2011 about the winery. Last year I had a great bottle of their Cabernet Franc Riserva from 2017. It had both power and finesse as well as lovely red cranberry and black plum, spice, and bramble notes.

From my previous post on the winery:

I’ve wanted to visit the Barboursville Winery in Virginia for about four years or ever since I picked up a brochure on Virginia wineries and what great stuff an Italian named Luca Paschina had been doing with grapes, especially Viognier in that area. He was working at Barboursville which is owned by the Zonin family from the Veneto. Thomas Jefferson, once a residence of the big white house in the picture, actually designed the original home at Barboursville.

Barboursville is an odd combination of American and Italian touches. The restaurant, aptly named the Palladio – both for the Zonin’s heritage from the Veneto and Jefferson’s preferred building style, served a lovely combination of Italian specialties with an American flair. The head sommelier of course hailed from Italy and is a member of the Italian Sommelier Association, as am I.

Barboursville is very famous for a wine called Octagon which President Obama drank at his inauguration. It is a blend of Merlot, with percentages of Cabernet Franc Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. The wines are vinified separately and then blended. They are fermentation in stainless steel tank for 5-7 days, then macerated for 10-20 days. It is then aged 12 to 14 months in barriques of new French oak and then spends six months in the bottle before release. This is their flagship wine.

I’ve visited this winery twice now and highly recommend it as a day trip from Washington, DC or as part of a Virginia Winery tour. I’ve been a Jefferson fan since I was a little kid because of my Dad so this was a special trip for me.

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