Cabernet Franc’s popularity set to ‘explode’

Australian winemaking consultant Brian Croser has predicted an imminent boom in the popularity of Cabernet Franc, especially from the New World.

Cab_Franc_grapePresenting a study entitled “Cabernet Family Genetics” at this week’s Santa Rita Estates South American Wine Workshop in London, Croser said of the variety: “I’m absolutely convinced that it’s going to grow. It’s going to explode in plantings in Chile and Argentina.”

According to data from 2010, published by Kym Anderson of the University of Adelaide, Cabernet Franc is the world’s 17th most widely planted wine grape variety. While its genetic offspring Cabernet Sauvignon takes the number one slot with around 176 million cases produced each year, this figure falls to an estimated 33m cases for Cabernet Franc.

Of this total by far the largest proportion, 66%, comes from France. The next largest Cabernet Franc producer by volume is Italy, which accounts for 13% of total Cabernet Franc production; the US is responsible for a further 7%, while Hungary and Chile grow about 2% each.

Supporting his prediction about Cabernet Franc’s imminent step into the limelight, Croser suggested: “We’re seeing an evolution in the market.”

He linked this same shift to the similar leap in popularity for Pinot Noir during the last decade. “Pinot was widely shunned – often with good reason – through the 1980s and now it’s the darling,” Croser told the drinks business. “It’s the exact opposite of the wines that have been in favour, those big Cabernet styles and Shirazes.”

Now however, he suggested, “the palate of the market is changing – people are looking for more subtlety and Cabernet Franc delivers that in spades.”

As producers begin to recognise this attribute, Croser pointed to significant recent plantings of the variety by Santa Rita Estates in Pumanque, as well as its Argentine brand Doña Paula, which is achieving successful results high up at 1,400 metres altitude in Gualtallary.

Tim Atkin MW, who chaired the workshop’s panel of speakers, also stressed the potential for this “under-rated” variety, highlighting Argentina in particular. “I believe it is the grape variety after Malbec that is going to make Argentina’s name,” he said, “especially in cooler climate regions like the northern end of the Uco Valley.”

Referring to the current overwhelming dominance of France when it comes to Cabernet Franc, Croser remarked: “It’s been pretty sparsely planted in the New World but now in some places it’s being planted and nurtured.” In addition to the variety’s growing South American presence, he noted: “It grows beautifully in Coonawarra and Margaret River.”

As for finding the right places to plant this variety, Croser told db: “I suspect it’s going to come from moderately cool but not too cool regions, those with 1,500 to 1,600 degree day sites and maritime sites. It’s not a variety that enjoys big daytime temperature fluctuations.”

In terms of style, Croser recommended a more straightforward approach for the variety’s New World rise than its most famous incarnation as part of a Bordeaux blend, insisting: “It doesn’t need to be blended.”

According to Wine Grapes, the origins of Cabernet Franc are most likely to lie in the Basque Country, where the variety is believed to be a parent of Txakoli grape Hondarribi Beltza.

In Bordeaux, Cabernet Franc is not only the genetic parent of Cabernet Sauvignon when crossed with Sauvignon Blanc, but also of Merlot when crossed with the early ripening Madeleine Noire des Charentes. It is also simultaenously the father and great-grandfather of Carmenere through a genetic crossing with grandchild Gros Cabernet.

Brian Croser (left) presents "Cabernet Family Genetics" at the Santa Rita Wine Workshop in London

Brian Croser (left) presents “Cabernet Family Genetics” at the Santa Rita Wine Workshop in London


9 Responses to “Cabernet Franc’s popularity set to ‘explode’”

  1. Ray says:

    I’ve become more and more obsessed with Napa Cab Francs, especially mountain fruit (Howell Mtn, Atlas Peak, Spring Mtn, Mt. Veeder). Producers like Viader, Ehlers, Pride, La Jota, Vinoce, and even Jonata down in Santa Ynez are all doing some fascinating, impactful 100% Cab Franc or Cab Franc-heavy products.

  2. Mark says:

    Do not overlook Lang & Reed Wine Co!

  3. Rodger Tynan says:

    We do a small volume of Cabernet Franc (60 cases) and is normally blended with Merlot, however in 2010 we produced a straight Cabernet Franc that has lovely violet characters. Our vineyard is in Central Hawkes Bay on limestone hills and we are predominately a Pinot Noir producer, but have some Merlot and Cabernet Franc that fills a gap if the Pinot flowering is not so good. We also originally planted some F1 clone of Cabernet Franc but it didn’t produce any fruit for 4 years, later DNA analysis of this clone was identified as being Carmenere!! I thought Pinot genetics were complicated!

  4. Michael says:

    We’re almost exclusively focused on producing single-vineyard 100% Cab Franc as the major part of our production (not to mention Petit Verdot). The average wine consumer doesn’t know it like Pinot, and even though similar Cab Franc is far better. Look to exceptional small-lot producers like En Garde, Enoteca Five, Larkin, Detert, and Madeleine. Also, look at overlooked CA AVAs: Paso, Lodi, Cienega, Russian River Valley, and Coombsville to mention a few. There are some amazing Cab Francs on the market right now and I agree its catching on with more people. But, I don’t think Napa has a lock on the varietal so try others.

  5. Garry says:

    Maybe this will become the style that suits Indian/Asian food? The possibilities of high al in Cab Franc and Malbec could be shortened to 8% to 10% and give mildly sweet yet astringent characters that will compliment Indian/Asian dinner menus.
    But, this time let’s keep growing it in Australia. Not send our Viti and Vini experts to Asia to show them how to grow it and how to make the wine to their style.
    We must all be concerned about the quantity of Australian grapes, and so wine, displaced from the Asian market places by our clever people helping them grow good grapes to make the wine in their own countries.

  6. Dick Friend says:

    370 Australian vineyards are planted with Cabernet Franc, as recorded by VineFinders. There are no doubt more, but of course only a tiny proportion produce a 100% varietal. More info on Australia’s 170+ varieties is available in the iPhone & android Apps – “Grapes 101”

  7. John Skupny says:

    An exciting article from a great voice in the wine industry. When we started Lang & Reed we focused on the grape we were most passionate about, Cabernet Franc. There were so few vintners who saw the potential in the grape beyond what they thought it could do to help its progeny, Cabernet Sauvignon – there are still many winemakers who still relegate the grape to only that status – There is so much more breadth and scope to Franc and the suitability to thrive a very wide set of circumstances bodes well for the grapes future. Having pushed the Franc rock up the hill for over 20 years I say hurrah to Brian for his insight, just hoping his prognostications come true – especially for us believers!

  8. Warren Mason says:

    My wife was born in Chinon and I have long been aware of Cab Franc as a lighter bodied less expensive alternative to Pinot Noir, depending on the dish, For example, in the fowl family, Cab Franc much better suited to Xmas Turkey. We did a Loire theme, blind, at the Judges’ Greeting Meeting Luncheon October 2012. All blind , of course. Menu to match, from Spklg Vouvray to quarts du chaume (I should check the spelling!) Eight wines, Wilfred Wong picked the theme in two. Everyone enjoyed the Cab Francs

  9. Garry says:

    We have produced 3 vintages of cab franc in the heart of the Waikato North Island New Zealand mostly blended with Merlot but the quality of the Cabernet frank can make it a stand alone variety once it is better known.Loverly purple hue very fragrant and good tannin structure.

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