Cab Franc tipped to become Argentina’s ‘second most important variety’

Argentine winemakers are betting on Cabernet Franc with one suggesting it could grow to become one of the country’s most important grape varieties – second only to Malbec.

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Rogelio Rabino, winemaker at Kaiken in Mendoza.

Throughout Argentina many winemakers are upping their investment in the grape, planting new vineyards and producing single varietal wines, most prominently in Mendoza. Kaiken, owned by Chilean winemaker Aurelio Montes, launched a new line of Cabernet Franc, Kaiken Obertura, in 2015 produced from the 2013 vintage, which was only its second harvest of the variety.

“I believe Cabernet Franc will be the second most important variety in Mendoza in the future,” Rogelio Rabino, winemaker at Kaiken in Mendoza, told the drinks business on a recent visit to the region. “Some people say Bonarda but for the quality wines it’s very difficult with Bonarda. It’s good for entry level and fruit but not for high-end wines. I think Cabernet Franc has a great future for premium wines.”

Despite growing optimism in the variety, the fact remains that Cabernet Franc accounts for less than 500 hectares of Argentina’s plantings, compared to Malbec, which has close to 40,000 hectares. So it will be some years before we can assess the grape’s progression.

“The crazy thing is that in all of Argentina there’s only 465 hectares total of Cabernet Franc,” notes Ignacio Torti, commercial manager at Kaiken. “Here we just have three hectares and make 400 cases a year. That’s all we are doing. Today we are having a boom with Malbec but we don’t want to run the risk of just being Malbec around the world. We want to show that we have more things to show than just Malbec”.

Based in Mendoza, Kaiken has vineyards throughout the sub regions of Agrelo, Vistaflores and Vistalba, and also in the northern Argentina province of Salta where it produces a white wine from Torrontés. Currently, the producer has just three hectares of Cabernet Franc planted, but Rabino intends to plant more in the future.

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Cabernet Franc grapes

“The potential is very, very good,” adds Rabino. “We need to plant more Cabernet Franc and we plan to plant more Cabernet Franc going forward. It has to be planted in fresh places. It works well in Patagonia and the Uco Valley, maybe Salta in the highest places. You need high altitude to plant Cabernet Franc.”

Kaiken is not the only producer experimenting with the variety. Bodega Vistalba in Vistalba in Mendoza’s Lujan de Cuyo, is trialling the variety having planted just two rows to test its quality. 2016 marked its first harvest.

“I love Cabernet Franc,” Christian Stoddart, commercial manager at Vistalba told db. “I think that Cabernet Franc, after the Malbec, is growing a lot. It’s being planted a lot more in Argentina. It is a grape that is doing excellently at the moment. We are just seeing how it will work in our terroir and maybe we will use it in the future.”

Similarly Bodega Renacer (“reborn” in Spanish), based in Perdriel in Mendoza’s Lujan de Cuyo subregion, also has high expectations of the variety.

“We are trying here to promote Cabernet Franc,” said Rodolfo Gil Fin Binda, Renacer’s commercial director. “It’s my favourite variety. In our winery most of the high level wines have Cabernet Franc in the blend. Maybe its 90% Malbec and 10% Cab Franc.

Like Torti, Gil Fin Binda believes it is in Argentina’s best interests to promote a variety other than Malbec.

“It is a risk to be only recognised for Malbec”, he warned. “Maybe the fashion [for Malbec] stops and if it’s no longer recognised in the world we are going to lose our industry. That’s why we want to have another variety. We find that most wineries are now trying to have a Cabernet Franc in Mendoza.”

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