Cabernet Franc grapes

The origins of Cabernet Franc are a bit cloudy, as many regions believe they are responsible for its beginnings. The first writings about Cabernet Franc can be found in the 17th century in Bordeaux. At this time the grape was called Bouchet, however the current belief is that it originated in the Basque region Although some say on the French side, the majority believe it originated just across the border in Spain. It found its way into southwest France during the global warming following the last Ice Age.

map showing Basque Spain

The Loire Valley is where Cabernet Franc truly first became popular at least a century prior to the plantings of Cabernet Franc beginning to appear in Saint Emilion and Pomerol. As a single varietal, its popularity is credited to Cardinal Richelieu who carried clippings from the Libournais region of France to the Loire Valley. Here, the clippings were planted outside the Abbey of Bourgueil and an abbot named Breton was in charge of caring for them. Today, Breton is a pseudonym for Cabernet Franc in this region. It wasn’t until a century later that Cabernet Franc began being produced into quality wine within Bordeaux.

abbey de bourgueil
abbey de bourgueil

Cabernet Franc enjoys a Mediterranean climate filled with limestone-clay soils. It can also grow successfully in sandier soils that maintain a more temperate temperature as long as there is consistent water. It is an earlier ripener, typically two weeks earlier than its offspring, Cabernet Sauvignon. This is extremely advantageous in cooler climate regions, where cooler and inclement weather may prevent some varieties from fully ripening. In these cooler regions, Cabernet Franc, along with its other offspring Merlot, are planted as “insurance grapes.”

hand giving a life buoy to someone in water

Similar to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc is known for its cassis and violet flavors. Depending on the climate, it can be fruiter or become more herbaceous. In general, Cabernet Franc is more perfumy than Cabernet Sauvignon with notes of raspberry, cassis, violet and tobacco. Whereas, Cabernet Sauvignon leads towards the black fruit flavors and tar, earth and leather.

Although it has thinner skins than its offspring, leading to typically a softer finished wine, Cabernet Franc can produce just as rich colored wines. Its acidity is characteristically lower than Cab Sauv thereby leading to the incorrect belief that it is not age-worthy.

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Thankfully, Cabernet Franc is beginning to have its day in the spotlight. It is being grown successfully in many regions. Its most well known region is Bordeaux; it can be found on the Right Bank, enjoying the limestone, clay and sandy gravel soils. The most famous house being Château Cheval Blanc.

Château Cheval-Blanc (St. Emilion)

In the Loire Valley, the wines tend to be aged in stainless steel. These wines are usually lighter and meant to be consumed younger. When traveling to Italy, there are several well known regions. Located in the northeast Friuli is dedicated to Cabernet Franc and in Bolgheri it is a major component in their “Super Tuscans.”

South of the equator, Cabernet Franc is finding its way into more vineyards and varietal wines. It can be found in Chile, Argentina, and South Africa as well as New Zealand where it is known for its softer flavors.

Here in the United States, Cabernet Franc is grown across the country. It is a primary variety for the cooler climates such as New York, Michigan and Virginia. In these regions, its expression is more similar to the Loire Valley. The fuller-bodied expressions can be found in the warmer climates such as California and portions of Washington.

Be sure to mark your calendars on December 4th to celebrate #CabFrancDay! Also, check out our events page as there will be plenty going on to celebrate the wine holiday we created that is now celebrated across the globe! 

Cabernet Franc grapes
Cab Franc grapes from our Bloch vineyard


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