A Cabernet Franc Experience

DSC_0333 It’s not often that consumers (or winemakers) get a chance to experience both vineyard and winemaking trials in a finished form for enjoyment. And certainly not at this level.

But we at Madroña not only aim to educate, but we love what we’re doing (and want to include you too).

So, here’s the experience.

When we had a chance to visit Cahors in France for three months in the winter of 2011, we came home with many new and intriguing ideas. The Malbecs were different from anything we had experienced here, with more structure than even we produce in our mountain vineyards. But the softest and most silky examples of Cahors Malbecs came from the very labor-intensive production of picking the grapes off the stems individually, by hand. This was a means of sorting the grapes while providing the most gentle processing possible.

DSC_0366Fermentation was then done in brand-new puncheons (a 132-gallon barrel) with the heads removed. The wines were rich and luscious and incredibly expensive ($70-$140 per bottle) for a region that is seriously underpriced!

Knowing that we wanted to try out something similar, but also knowing that the expression of Malbec here is much softer, we decided to try the method on something seriously tannic. And for us, that’s Cabernet Franc!!!

And this is how you now have the opportunity to taste four unique and wonderfully expressive Cabernet Francs from 2011.

We produced one using the method we learned in Cahors. This Grain par Grain (Berry by Berry) is simply a labor of love. The man hours in production alone make it crazy -expensive, and we now understand why the wines are so expensive. We had hoped to fill two puncheons by hand, but alas with two days of work, we only filled one.

DSC_0368So the second puncheon was filled with the machine to give a different expression on the same wine (and boy is it ever!). With the only difference in production being hand versus machine on the destemming, all other aspects were kept exactly the same. Thus if we did something to the Grain par Grain, we also did it to La Machine. Educational this is!

In 2011, with its cool, rainy summer conditions, we found that our small block of Cabernet Franc near the barn produced grapes entirely different than those of the main block. No matter how much I wanted to blend this wine into our Signature Cabernet Franc, it just wouldn’t work. Yet the characters were wonderfully intriguing and unique. Thus the third wine of this “horizontal” sampling was born. The “East Block” is an expression of Cabernet Franc we have yet to experience.

And finally we have our 2011 Signature Cabernet Franc. Already released (and sold out), we held back just enough to be a meaningful part of this tasting. This wine was meant to showcase the variety as well as be imminently approachable. I kept this as a pure expression of Cabernet Franc, but also took into account the drinkability and palate. I had the leeway to blend more on this wine which is the one positive aspect of producing so many varieties and lots at Madroña.

DSC_0347I have included some basic notes on each of the wines, but I have limited my opinions in hopes that you will take the opportunity to form your own. Each wine is expressive and interesting, but even more so when you have an idea of the background of each.

We hope you enjoy the experience of these extremely small-lot productions, and perhaps it will give you a glimpse into our winemaking world.


 

2011 Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc—Grain par Grain

Literally translated, “Grain par Grain” is French for “Berry by Berry.”

Vineyard: Madroña Vineyards Estate block (near the Madrone tree)

Harvest: By hand at 24.0 degrees brix on October 22, 2011

Processing: Grapes individually picked off the stems by hand, placed directly in the puncheon

Fermentation: Whole-berry maceration in a new French-oak puncheon (132 gallons) with the head removed

Yeast: Enoferm BDX (Bordeaux Red)

Cap Management: Turning the cap by hand (reaching down as far as possible) until the cap started to separate, switching then to a stainless punchdown device (by hand), twice per day

Skin Contact: 20 days

Malolactic Fermentation: Yes, Enoferm Alpha

Aging: 20 months in a 3-year-old French oak barrel

Blend: 98.6% Cabernet Franc, 1.4% Cabernet Sauvignon

pH: 3.61,     TA: 0.57%,   Alcohol: 13.8%

Bottled: July 24, 2013, bottled unfiltered

Production: 24 cases

Notes: Texturally alluring, the intensive handwork on this wine has made a wonderfully rich and luscious Cabernet Franc, especially for our mountain-grown fruit. The characters lean more toward a dark cherry and berry essence, perhaps making it not the purest example of Cab Franc, but certainly the most enticing to simply sit back and enjoy! Sultry!!!!!!


2011 Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc—La Machine

Literally translated, “La Machine” is French for “The Machine.”

Vineyard: Madroña Vineyards Estate block (near the Madrone tree)

Harvest: By hand at 24.0 degrees brix on October 22, 2011

Processing: Grapes destemmed (not crushed), with any stem pieces sorted out by hand, pumped into the puncheon

Fermentation: Whole-berry maceration in a new French-oak puncheon (132 gallons) with the head removed

Yeast: Enoferm BDX (Bordeaux Red)

Cap Management: Turning the cap by hand (reaching down as far as possible) until the cap started to separate, switching then to a stainless punchdown device (by hand), twice per day

Skin Contact: 20 days

Malolactic Fermentation: Yes, Enoferm Alpha

Aging: 20 months in a 3-year-old French oak barrel

Blend: 98.4% Cabernet Franc, 1.6% Cabernet Sauvignon

pH: 3.56,     TA: 0.58%,   Alcohol: 13.7%

Bottled: July 24, 2013, bottled unfiltered

Production: 26 cases

Notes: In direct comparison with the Grain par Grain (with this wine being the control), I find this example of Cab Franc to be slightly more angular and food-oriented. The fruit characters are perhaps a bit purer with floral notes in the aromas and definitely more pie cherry on the palate. The fermentation in the brand new puncheon surely softened the tannins, but more cellaring will only improve this wine.

A pleasure to drink, but it truly needs food.


 

2011 Signature Cabernet Franc—East Block

Vineyard: Madroña Vineyards East block (near the barn)

Harvest: By hand at 22.3 degrees brix on October 30, 2011

Processing: Grapes destemmed (not crushed) pumped into the a macro-bin

Fermentation: Fermented in an open-topped macro-bin

Yeast: Lalvin D-254

Cap Management: Stainless punchdown device (by hand) twice each day

Skin Contact: 13 days

Malolactic Fermentation: Yes, Enoferm Alpha

Aging: 30 months in two 1-year-old French oak barrels, racked three times

Blend: 92.5% Cabernet Franc, 6.1% Cabernet Sauvignon, 0.9% Merlot, 0.5% Malbec

pH: 3.79,     TA: 0.54%,   Alcohol: 13.5%

Bottled: May 20, 2014, bottled unfiltered

Production: 47 cases

Notes: Although this wine comes from the same vintage and the same elevation/soil aspects as our other Cabernet Francs, this block shows how important exposure and location are. This particular block (0.5 acres) rests up against the forest towards the east. The sun takes it sweet time to fall on the vines, giving it a cooler climate than our other block. The result is a later harvest with slightly less ripe characters. The nose is complex (from the extended aging) with characters ranging from pipe tobacco sweetness to hints of violets. The fruit component to the palate is more plum-oriented rather than cherry, owing to the cooler conditions. This is the same clone of Cabernet Franc, yet an entirely different expression. A great food wine with complex flavors.


 

2011 Signature Cabernet Franc

Vineyard: Madroña Vineyards Estate block (near the Madrone tree)

Harvest: By hand at 23.9 degrees brix on October 22 and October 30, 2011

Processing: Grapes destemmed (not crushed) pumped into the a 1250 gallon open-topped fermenter

Fermentation: Fermented in an open-topped fermenter, temperature controlled

Yeast: Enoferm BDX (Bordeaux Red)

Cap Management: Pumped over twice each day

Skin Contact: 9 days

Malolactic Fermentation: Yes, Enoferm Alpha

Aging: 10 months in 1 and 3-year-old French oak barrels, racked two times

Blend: 92.1% Cabernet Franc, 7.9% Cabernet Sauvignon

pH: 3.58,     TA: 0.64%,   Alcohol: 13.5%

Bottled: August 30, 2012, filtered and bottled through a 0.65 micron membrane

Production: 185 cases

Notes: This Cabernet Franc is understandably the most seamless, with our having had the leeway to blend how we desired. The other three Cabernet Francs were kept as pure expressions of their vineyards and production methods whereas this Signature wine aimed to have both the expression and the polished finish. The nose is a complex cornucopia of floral and fruit characters. The palate is big, laced with cherry fruit and youthful edge of tannin. Great for food or for simply enjoying on its own.

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