BC Cabernet Franc – Updated

Cabernet Sauvignon grape cluster, shown by DNA...

Cabernet Sauvignon grape cluster, shown by DNA studies to be a cross of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon blanc. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

*I first wrote this blog post a couple years ago and thought it was worth updating. Interesting to see some of the changes and who’s releasing Cab Franc now and for what price!

Is the Cabernet Franc grape the next red wine trend waiting to happen?    Cab Franc has been nominated by many to be the iconic red grape for BC because of its ability to produce wines more complex and intriguing than its big brother Cabernet Sauvignon (Cab Sauv).  As optimistic as that is, Cab Franc only accounts for 8.46%* of all red grape varieties and a mere 4.31%* of all grapes planted in BC.  Compared to Merlot at 34.31%* and Pinot Noir 17.49%* respectively, Cab Franc rank fifth below Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cab Sauv, and Syrah with plantings totaling a mere 391 acres*.

* the 2008 BC Wine Grape Crop Survey

As of the 2011 BC Wine Grape Acreage Report, Cab Franc now accounts for 10.07% of all red grape varieties and 5.24% of total grape production in the province with a total of 517.45 acres.  Still listed in fifth place but catching up to Syrah which only grew by 40 acres in three years.  Cab Franc grew by 126 acres in three years, or averaging over 40 acres a year in planting. At 3 tonnes to the acre that would mean we are growing by 6500 cases a year!!

On the world stage Cab Franc is quietly gaining in acreage and almost ready to jump on the sommelier bandwagon to be the next fad grape.  France is still king when it comes to growing Cab Franc with over 35,000 acres in Bordeaux alone that don’t include acreage in the Loire, Bergerac, or Madiran where there are significant plantings.  I am guessing Italy will start making some noise with Cab Franc as they unexpectedly have over 17,000 acres planted mostly in Fruili, yet there are plantings in Veneto, Tuscany and even as far south as Puglia.  California has about 3400 acres and Washington with almost 1200 acres.  The reaches of Cab Franc even extend into Catalonia Spain, Hungary, and Slovenia.

I’m a huge fan of the grape and believe our micro climates produce an amazing caliber style of wine.  The frustration comes from a lack of consistency in style and not having a long track record to examine from.  I currently count 17 28 30 wineries in BC producing it as a dominant varietal and an unrecorded volume of juice going into blends.

There is a fear when producing Cab Franc that you will end up with too much green character, it is a fine balance between typicity and too much herb flavour in the wine.  It has taken many years to understand the herbaceous notes in Cab Franc as a good thing versus being frowned upon in Cab Sauv, an argument that still exists whether its terrior or under-ripeness.

BC Wineries producing Cabernet Franc

Antelope Ridge – Golden Mile fruit that is built to age. Big Tannins, ageworthy acidity, and a nice earthy complexity.  These wines need 4-10 years to develop into what they were built for. $22  *Should probably be classified under “Wineries that used to produce Cab Franc”, the website has only been “coming soon” for 4 years now?

Blackwood Lane – Has release two vintages with grapes coming from North Oliver and Osoyoos. Good complexity that emphasizes darker fruits, chocolate, and pencil lead. $44 * They actually produced three vintages 2005-2007.  They are still selling the 2007 and it is a brilliant wine.  Note: the original winemaker has since left and if they do release a Cab Franc again, it could have a different style.

Burrowing Owl – Has been making Cab Franc since 1998 with one of the best track records for quality and has been the driving force behind establishing this grape as a contender.  There is a beautiful balance of red fruits and herbs that play against the oak program.  These wines are built for the decade and your patience will be well rewarded with earthy and leathery bottle age and the character of forest floor develops from the herb flavours. $33  *I have had most of thier Cab Franc Vintages and recently reviewed the 2004 here.  The 2009 is now for sale and wonderfully young and austere.

Eau Vivre – This new winery in Cawston released their first Cab Franc.  The fruit came from the Osoyoos Lake East Bench region and shows red fruits with a unique peppercorn and herbaceousness.  Look forward to seeing how they develop. $22 *Good Value

Fairview Cellars – Estate fruit with a good track record dating back to 1999.  Each year the varietal character becomes purer and purer as the fruit ranges from red and blue flavours to leather and coffee and parsley to mint.  The good oak program and pure fruit means these wines are getting more age-worthy each vintage.  Good luck cellaring them as they are also fun to drink young. $26  *Only 280 cases of the 2010 available for $27.  Bill is noting a cooler expression of Cab Franc, lighter in body and lower in alcohol.

Gehringer Brothers – Doesn’t really count in this category but is one of the first in BC to produce a Cab Franc Ice wine and Late Harvest dessert wine.  Strawberry jam on toast sums up the flavour profile on these amazing wines.  Try the late harvest with a spicy charcuterie platter, you’ll love the experience.  *Did not have a website when I first wrote this so I am pleased to provide a link now.  If you haven’t had the Cab Franc late harvest for $16, its a damn good steal and is built to impress.

Hester Creek – Has been making a muscular Cab Franc since the late 90’s.  Recently these age-worthy Reserve wines frame in the dark fruits with leather and coffee tones in a big oaky frame.  Even the older 2002 Reserve Cab Franc is still drinking young and requires another three or four years.  Estate grown fruit from the Golden Mile. $26  *The reserve Cab Franc is now $27 a bottle with a new label.

Herder – two vintages of Cab Franc with a nice red fruit profile.  Subtle complexities don’t show well young but give the wine time and you will be well rewarded.  Hints of coffee and vanilla play well with the sage and cassis flavours.  I look forward to each vintage. $26. *They now have vintages 2006-2008 released as a vertical pack for $300 ($50 each).  A nice addition to any Cab Franc lover.

Hillside – As with many wineries, different winemakers bring different winemaking styles and Cab Franc has been made at Hillside since 2001 and ranged in styles from muscular and age-worthy to herbaceous and easy to drink.  The grapes are from Naramata and I look forward to trying the 2008. $25 *The 2008 is out and has traditional Cab Franc notes but overall the wine felt fabricated, too much juicy fruit and sweet oak.  For the price it will be appeal to some consumers and is quite user friendly, just not for this cowboy.

Peller Estate Private Reserve – The best valued Cab Franc on the market ringing in under $15 and tasting as good as many wines twice its price.  Dark fruits with a range of easy drinking complexities. I believe the grapes are coming from the South Okanagan. $14  *This wine has fallen off the radar.  Not sure how corporate Peller has reorganized, but the Cab Franc that was available in both their family series ($13) and Private Reserve Line (Now $16-20) is no longer to be found.  There is a tier in BC not found in Ontario called the Heritage Series ($14-17).  All in all confusing for consumer.

Pentage – Been producing Cab Franc since 2004 in a very soft yet complex manner.  Noted for its long finish and subtle oak integration, Grapes coming from Skaha Lake District and the South Okanagan. I’m not sure these wines have too much age-ability, but they are sure great to drink young. $28  *Into their 2008 vintage at $26 a bottle.

Poplar Grove – The 2004 Cab Franc is still one of my favourites.  Layers upon layers of complexity wrapped up tightly in silky tannins with a finish that lasted for minutes.  The 2005 was still too young that last time I tasted but I do look forward to trying it again in a couple years. This wine spends 30 months in production before release. I believe its Naramata fruit. $40 *Poplar Grove has Cab Franc going back to 1997 and produces a consistent expression of this grape.  The 2008 is the current release at $35.

Quinta Ferreira – This winery is fun to watch.  Made 105 cases of Cab Franc for 2007 and it was gorgeous, fun, and I look forward to more.  The ripeness of the fruits almost give the impression of sweetness but the soft tones of cedar and vanilla welcome the soft tannins. $26 *They are now onto their 2009 at a whopping 175 cases for $30.  Always a fast seller so get yours quickly.

Sandhill – For some reason this wine flies under the radar, but when you find it, this wine will make a believer out of anyone.  The value, the complexity, the age-worthiness, its got it all.  The grapes are coming from the south part of the Black Sage Bench. $20 *Now this is a vertical I would like to experience, from 1998 – 2009, still ringing in at $20 this continues to consistently be a great value.

Seven Stones – First release was in 2007 and packed full of red fruits and oak with a solid core of herb.  Nice mouthfeel with solid acidity.  All fruit is estate grown in Cawston. $25 *Now onto the 2009 vintage at $28

Sumac Ridge – Another consistent value that has flown under the radar for some time.  Good ripe fruit framed in by lots of oak.  Vintages date back to 1998 and these grapes are coming from Black Sage Bench. $20 *Another vertical I would love to experience as this has always been a single vineyard expression.  The 2009 vintage is out and selling for $21.

Tinhorn Creek – Found some of the oldest vintages dating back to 1997.  The 2007 is showing a softer style than seen in the past as more fruit complexity is coming to surface and the oak  taking a softer back up roll.  Most people consume this wine too young thinking if it inexpensive it won’t last that long.  If anyone has any 2003 out there, you will be well rewarded right now. These grapes are coming from both the Golden Mile and Black Sage Benches. $18  * The 2009 was very impressive this year, offering more of a medium body style with great complexity for $20.

Noteworthy  Wineries that previously made Cab Franc

Golden Mile – released a Cab Franc in 2004 that was beautiful.  Layers of complexity that held a core of herb flavours.  Silky mouth-feel and a lighter color. Used to retail around $18

Hainle – The winery is now Deep Creek, but they were making Cab Franc up until 2003. This wine is still for sale and will be for some time as the price tripled overnight from $27 to $70??? *They still have some 2003 for sale on the website, only $100 now!!

Hawthorne Mountain – Made a great valued Cab Franc for three years from 2002-2004.  Used to retail around $15.  Finished my last 2004 about a year ago and was sad to say goodbye.

Zero Balance – Came out of the gate with a Cab Franc last year that was decent juice for $20.  Good fruit, balanced herb and a slight candy style.  All fruit coming from Naramata. $20 *Has since ceased production.

Since my last writing.

Cassini Cellars – Released thier first Cabernet Franc for the 2009 vintage.  Entering the Cabernet Franc arena with a somewhat heavy hitter at $45 and only 85 cases.  He didn’t mention on the website where the grapes came from but did point out that it spent 18 months in oak with 80% French and 20% American.  He didn’t say how much was new oak and I have not tried this one yet.

*Cerelia Vineyards – A relative newcomer and I should have had them in the first time I wrote this but they have released a 2009 Cabernet Franc that is 100% from the Similkameen.  Good fruit and ripeness and as they tweak their barrel program this could be a Cab Franc to watch. $25

Church and State Wines – Has released a 2009 Cab Franc under their Coyote Bowl Label.  The fruit is coming 100% from Cawston and was matured for 19 months in French Oak with 20% new.  Retailing for $35.

Desert Hills Winery – Is doing more single varietals than they have in the past and the 2008 Cab Franc is a recent addition to the retail line up at $27.

Fort Berens – will be updated shortly

Gold Hill Winery – Come out of the gates strong with their Cab Franc as it has taken a few awards in a short period.  They made 170 cases with grapes near their winery in Osoyoos on the west bench.  Priced at $25 and only 42 cases left at date of this post.

Hiden Chapel Winery – A relative new comer to the Oliver region, they have released a 2009 Cab Franc that is completely unoaked for $22.

Jackson Triggs – I know they have made a Cab Franc Rose in the past but the website indicates I have been sniffing too many wines as there is no record of such a thing.

Le Vieux Pin – A good Tuesday wine for Bill Gates.  I did not include this one in my last writing as they only make 25 cases at $125 a bottle.  Allocated for their wine club program, this wine plays into the opulence of expression as the ripe fruit and soft structure make this wine quite decadent.

Nichol Vineyards – Embarrassed to say I forgot to list one of the oldest producers of Cab Franc in the Valley.  I believe the vintages go back to the mid 90’s??  Just had the 2009 and it was another great example of the varietal that captures a medium body but tightly wound for future enjoyment. 356 cases made for $30.

Red Rooster – I think it was the 2004 vintage they did a Cabernet Frank in an uber small amount as a tribute to their controversial statue they have by their front entrance.  If my memory serves me correctly it was about $50 and for their wine club only.

Silk Scarf – A winery that has been making a bit more noise with the number of awards they are taking.  They have just released a 2008 Cabernet Franc for $33.  I am assuming the fruit comes from the Summerland area.

Spierhead Winery – A relative newcomer to the east Kelowna area, this winery produced only 71 cases of Cab Franc for the 2009 vintage that is currently sold out at $28.  They pride themselves of 100% french oak and aging for 18 months.

Stags Hollow has also jumped into the Cab Franc game with a very solid expression that is also showing well at the competitions.  The grapes are coming from three different vineyards in the South Okanagan and its aged 18 months with no finning or filtering.  Priced at $28 and selling fast.

Summerhill Winery – Produces the only Cab Franc labeled as Organic.  The grapes are coming from Kaleden and the wine spent three years in barrel and one year in bottle before release.  Only 264 cases made at $27. They have been making a straight Cab Franc since about 2002.

Unconventional Wisdom – The alter ego of Elephant Island Winery, they have designed a new label that will focus around Cabernet Franc and Viognier.  They have released 200 cases of a Cab Franc dominant wine called the Naysayers for $25.  Beautiful fruit with some healthy oak, this will age nicely for a few years.

Van Westen – has released a Cab Franc called Vrankenstein, they bottled 145 magnums at $110 each with $10 going to the Children’s Hospital.  Typical to Van Westen Style this red is huge, well structured and built to last.  As wine ages slower in larger bottles this will be a keepsake for years to come.

What does the future look like for Cab Franc? Its positive from a learning perspective.  As growers we are gaining valuable knowledge as to how this grape fits into our soil and climate.  As winemakers we are learning how to approach this grape to create a finished product that offers up world class quality.

Will this grape be the Icon for BC reds?  I don’t think so, or more importantly I don’t think we should have an iconic red, but rather an iconic region.  That is another blog topic.

Geeky Stuff

The Grape and Winemaking

Defined by Oz Clarke Encyclopedia of Grapes pg 44-45 Harcourt Books 2001

Cabernet Franc shares many of the same phenolic and aroma compounds as Cabernet Sauvignon but with some noticeable differences. Cabernet Franc tends to be more lightly pigmented and produces wines with the same level of intensity and richness. Cabernet Franc tends to have a more pronounced perfume with notes of raspberries, black currants, violets and graphite. It is often characterized by a green, vegetal strike that can range from leaves to green bell peppers. It has slightly less tannins than Cabernet Sauvignon and tends to produce a wine with a smoother mouth-feel.

By looking at local research and from other cool climate growing regions:

We know the following:

  • Flowers and ripens earlier than Cab Sauv
  • Winter hardy but still susceptible to winter kill
  • Small berries with looser clusters than Cab Sauv
  • Generally lower pigment and higher acid than Cab Sauv

We are learning:

  • Extended cool temperature pre and post maceration times assists in drawing out further phenolics when the grapes are ripe.  (From 5-60 days)
  • If the grapes are not ripe extended maceration will only enhance the levels of methoxypyrazine and a warmer ferment is needed to extract more fruit dominant flavours.
  • May produce fuller body and higher pigmentation in sandy chalky soils
  • The grape integrates more oak complexity with secondary barrels and a longer slower maturation.
  • How different soil types affect overall flavours
  • Leaf thinning may increase grape skin ripening from direct sun contact

Some dull but interesting reading:


If your a wine lover and have BC Cab Franc experiences you would like to share, please do.

If your a grower or winemaker and have learning experiences, good and bad, you would like to share, please do.


One thought on “BC Cabernet Franc – Updated

  1. Hello BC Wine Reviews, great article. I think you are right, there is a very bright future ahead for CabFranc. Our own recent experience in Bordeaux shows that you can make a very high quality forward 100% varietal CabFranc which with a short period of oak maturation in 1-2 year old barrels gives a beautiful low tannin medium bodied wine with an absolutely stunning spicey length. Although we have not yet launched the wine here in Melbourne, the pre-market interest is high.

    As a varietal wine, I can see high potential as it has been hidden for so long in the midst of Bordeaux assemblages, principally playing second fiddle to Merlot blends in Pomerol and St. Emilion. Time to shine beautiful wine – that’s why we call it #Cloud9!

    Lots to promote and we expect a very positive feedback from customers.the world is looking for more than “big reds” based around Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz / Syrah.

    David Stannard
    Paradise Rescued

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