Winemaker & Vineyard Blog
Enjoy our blog posts as we chronicle with Derek Irwin the making of our fine Sierra Foothill wines and the development of our vineyard at the Seminary and Novitiate of the Oblates of St. Joseph in Loomis.
At Mount Saint Joseph Wines we are absolutely crazy in love with Cabernet Franc! Beginning in 2020 we have harvested about 5 tons of Cab Franc grapes from St. Joseph's vineyard which Derek Irwin has crafted into our delicious estate 2020 Cabernet Franc (available now in our tasting room) and 2021 Cabernet Franc (to be bottled in March).
Spoiler Alert - we are also planning a Meritage blend using our Cab Franc in 2021 - stay tuned!
To understand our infatuation with this varietal, let's do a deep dive into its history, viticulture and growing regions as well as its flavor profile and the styles of wine it creates.
Cabernet Franc is best known as a parent of the Bordeaux varietals Cabernet Sauvignon (crossed with Sauvignon Blanc), Merlot (crossed with Magdalene Noir de Charente) and Carmenere (crossed with Gros Cabernet). Talk about a prolific parent.... Bordeaux owes much to Cabernet Franc!
While records of Caberent Franc in Bordeaux go back to the 18th century, it did not originate there. Cabernet Franc is native to Spain's Basque country and the clone known as acheira. It later spread over the Pyrenees into Bordeaux where it parented the Bordeaux varietals above and has played a prominent role in Bordeaux blends.
France's 17th century Cardinal Richelieu was very enamored of Cabernet Franc and took cuttings from Bordeaux to the Loire Valley where it then created the hallmark Chinon, Saumur-Champigny and Bourguiel wines. Cardinal Richelieu died on December 4 which is now celebrated as international Cabernet Franc Day.
Viticulture and Growing Regions
While similar to its offspring, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc is lighter skinned with winged, medium sized bunches and smallish blue-balck berries. It both buds and ripens and earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon. The vine is fairly vigorous with an upright growing habit and dark green, 5 lobed leaves. Cab Franc is an adaptive varietal and thrives in a variety of climates and soils.
While Cabernet Franc is planted around the world including Italy, Hungary, Chile, South Africa, China and the United States, about 70% of the Cab Franc in the world is planted in France. About 5% of the Cab Franc in the world is in California with most of that planted in Napa and Sonoma. Paso Robles has recently become known for its Cabernet Franc. Interestingly, the varietal is catching on in cooler areas of the U.S. including Long Island, Colorado, the Columbia Valley in Washington state as well as Canada.
Interesting note....Madeline Puckett, author of the book Wine Folly, states the our own Sierra Foothills AVA is becoming known for producing interesting, high quality Cabernet Francs. We couldn't agree more!
Here are some photos of our Cabernet Franc vines in St. Joseph's vineyard.
Flavor Profile and Styles of Cabernet Franc
While Cab Franc typically tastes of red fruits - strawberry, red plum, rasberries - it can also carry hints of black fruit including mineral blueberry. Cooler vintages produce Cab Franc with sour cherry and strawberry flavors while warmer climates can generate black rasberry. The adaptive nature of the varietal creates a range of flavor profiles and styles eminating from the climate and soil where it is planted. Secondary flavors can range from roasted pepper, crushed gravel and sage to dark chocolate and black licorice.
Cabernet Franc is typically medium bodied with medium tannins and acidity. In the spectrum of Bordeaux varietals it sits between the fleshy Merlot and structured and intense Cabernet Sauvignon.
2020 MSJ Estate Cabernet Franc
Our 2020 Estate Cabernet Franc is the first vintage from our St. Joseph's vineyard in Loomis. It is medium bodied with nicely balanced tannin and acidity. Ready to drink now, it is loaded with currants adn ripe strawberries. From the mid-pallet through the finish you can detect bramble, juniper and a slight bay leaf aspect.
Please come to our tasting room to enjoy our 2020 MSJ Estate Cabernet Franc!
Spring is a beautiful and exciting time in St. Joseph's vineyard.
March brought us bud break - that amazing time that the vines begin to awake from their winter slumber. First the buds begin to swell and gradually begin to burst as the green tips emerge. First to break was the Petite Sirah, followed closely by the Petit Verdot. The Cabernet Franc continued to snooze and finally decided to wake up in late March.
With our warm weather the buds quickly grow with lush new foliage.....
Even though our vines had been sleeping, our vineyard team has been hard at work. Led by Mark Ransbury and Bob Vandervort, the vineyard team's winter work included the all-important pruning of the vines, irrigation system maintenance, weed abatement and mowing, lowering of trellis wires in preparation for spring growth and a new project - leveling of a pad in the vineyard for picnic and wine tasting area.
This month Mount Saint Joseph Wines reached another milestone - we bottled our first estate wines from our St. Joseph's vineyard. It was a special occasion for us as the bottling marked the culmination of almost seven years of hard work by so many special people.
From the groundbreaking in June of 2016 to our first bottle of Cabernet Franc in 2022......wow, it has been a most amazing and blessed journey!
We bottled our 2020 Petite Sirah and our 2020 Cabernet Franc at our new Sierra Foothills winery in Fairplay. These wines were bottled in a special, heavy bottle with our new estate label highlighting that the wine is from our St. Joseph's Vineyard. We plan to release these wines in late Spring or early Summer.
Enjoy a few photos from our milestone bottling........
In the early morning hours of Monday, August 24, over two dozen Mount Saint Wines owners completed our historic first harvest at our vineyard in Loomis. By 7 a.m. we had over two tons of Petite Sirah harvested and loaded onto Cordell's trailer for the trip to our Napa winery.
Our Cabernet Franc is moving along nicely and should be ready for harvest around the middle of September.
For many of us who have been working steadily in our vineyard these last four years caring for and nurturing these beautiful young vines it was a very, very special morning. Please take a minute and enjoy these terrific photos from Jim Rogue and Paul Coble that capture the energy and joy of our first harvest.
Two of our "master pruners" - Mike and Carla - admiring and harvesting the "fruits of their labor"........
It was pretty dark at 4 a.m. and our headlamps provided most of the light needed to safely harvest these precious grapes.
We loaded lugs and buckets and carried them to the harvest bins where leaves and stems were removed and dry ice applied to keep the grapes cool.
The spirit of our owners was amazing. Broken backs, chemotherapy, COVID19, fires, record heatwaves.....nothing would stop us from our mission.......
Here we are loading and securing our precious harvest on Cordell's trailer (pulled by his gorgeous brand new pick up). Next stop - our Napa winery!!!!!
Please stay tuned as our Petite Sirah completes fermentation and we move closer to harvest of our Cabernet Franc later this month!!!!
While this may be a "Lost Spring" for so many of us as COVID 19 has isolated us in our homes, our vines are oblivious to our pain and suffering. This is Year #4 in our vineyard's development and it is a very special year. This will be the year of our first harvest and the making of our first Mount Saint Joseph Estate wines.
For a few of our owner volunteers who have assisted this Spring, the vineyard has been a quiet refuge from the lonlieness and anxiety of the pandemic. Take a short journey with us over the past few months.........
We were very busy almost every day in February as we did the final pruning of our vines, retied their trunks and most importantly selected and tied the lateral cordons to the cordon wire.
We finished our work just in time. March brought us bud break - that amazing time that the vines begin to awake from their winter slumber. First the buds begin to swell and gradually begin to burst as the green tips emerge. First to break was the Petite Sirah, followed closely by the Petit Verdot. The Cabernet Franc continued to snooze and finally decided to wake up in late March.
April brought the beginning of the growth stage with leaves unfolding as one, two, three, four....nine and more leaves emerged. As the leaves emerged so did the beautiful poppies sprinked about the vineyard. We were far more than spectators as we worked day after day to sucker unwanted vines and tuck those that we wanted behild the trellis wires to encourage a vertical growth habit.
Of course in April, not only did those Spring rains bring vigor to our vines, the rains brought vigor to unwanted weeds so....our owner volunteers spang into action as we mowed and weed whacked to give the vineyard that well kept, manicured look.
Now, in May, we have seen the first indications of coming grapes - the inflorescence emerges, followed by the flowering and falling off of the caps and the emergence of the young fruit. Again, it was the Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot leading the way with the Cab Franc a week or two behind.
June will be busy as we continue to postiion shoots and prune off unwanted laterals. Fruit will continue to develop as the clusters grow and begin to change color in veraison. Stay with us as we chronicle this first harvest season. Of course, we are guided every step of the way by the incredible Derek Irwin.
This harvest was a doozy!
It was an unusual and very prolonged harvest. Mentally, it was very taxing.
Our Malbec came in as expected - about 3 weeks before the Cabernet Franc and Mourvedre. The Malbec was ripening just fine, but then we had the heavy early season rains and the ripening of our grapes just kind of stalled (as it did in vineyards throughout Northern California). Fortunately, Cabernet Franc and Mourvedre aren’t as sensitive to rain as Malbec is. All three lots were picked at night and processed at our Napa winery before noon.
With all 3 lots we did what we have always done - a 2-3 day cold soak. Fermentation started spontaneously as we anticipated a fairly quick fermentation - particularly with the Malbec....and so it went. The Malbec fermented in 10 days, the Mourvedre and Cab Franc in 17 days. We had to heat the Mourvedre a bit to make sure it finished due to the fact that we had a few cold snaps during the peak of its fermentation. All 3 lots were pressed at near 0˚ Brix and sent directly to barrel for MLF (malolactic fermentation). I am currently performing the Battonage (lees stirring) on a weekly basis on these wines.
Finally........our 2019 harvest is in!!!
This morning, under an absolutely beautiful harvest moon, we picked our Mourvedre and Cabernet Franc grapes. While some funky fall weather and four days of PG&E power outages made things "interesting", the grapes are fabulous and well worth the wait. We loaded just over 4 tons on the truck this morning and the Mourvedre and Cab Franc grapes have just arrived at the Napa winery. There they join the Malbec the we harvested in late September. The Malbec has taken its sweet time completing fermentation but is now just about bone dry.
2019 marks our 5th Mount Saint Joseph Wines harvest at Naggiar Vineyard. My goodness.... how time flies! Next year - 2020 - will be very special for us as it will be our first harvest at our own Loomis vineyard at Mount Saint Joseph. Stay tuned for vineyard developments there as the new year unfolds!
This past year Paulette and I were vacationing in Mexico…it was very apparent to us that the number of starlings and pigeons that normally soar around the food concessions were gone. How could this be??? Then we saw why....the resort had employed a young man with a trusted partner on his arm – a ‘Red-Tailed Hawk”.
What a great idea !!! Then I remembered the device in the vineyards up at Naggair Vineyards in Grass Valley… an electronic device that sends out the sound of a ‘Bird of Prey”. This device allows the vineyard owner to select the ‘Bird of Prey” that is native to the area and thus, release those calls of “attack, attack, kill, kill". For my vineyard.....it’s the Red-Tailed Hawk.
The results are great. The starlings and bluebirds hate the sounds of the “Ever Present Red-Tail Hawk Simulator” … They have moved on.
Adding assistance to the “Bird Guard”,,, I have doubled down with adding the traditional bird balloons with flashing ribbons to make sure those berry eating bird villain’s stay away.
Looking forward to a Great Harvest.
My goodness.....about a month ago I bottled two wonderful new wines. I've been just dying to tell you about them but Joe made me wait until we released them. Some kind of marketing nonsense..........
Well, the wait is over. Our 2017 Napa Sauvignon Blanc and 2017 California Muscat have been released and are now available at our Vin Uva tasting room in Granite Bay. You are going to love these new white wines!!!
2017 Napa Sauvignon Blanc - Many of you have asked when we will offer a Sauvignon Blanc....well, here it is! This is a 100% Yountville Sauvignon Blanc. Made in a classic Napa style this wine has 13.1% alcohol and was harvested on August 24, 2017 at 22.5 Brix. It offfers up notes of gooseberry and toasted nuts with a medium, grassy palate and nice finish. I think you will find it more complex than your normal Sauvignon Blanc.
2017 California Muscat - Whenever we taste our wines at events around town, we always get the same question from a handful of customers - "Do you have a sweet white wine?". Until now, we had to politely say "no". Now, the answer is emphatically "yes!". This is a delightfully sweet Muscat blended with a touch of Viognier. It was stainless steel fermented and kept on the lees for six months. With 13% alcohol, residual sugar at 7.5 grams and a pH of 3.59 - it offers up a traditional Muscat nose and a soft, pleasant mouthfeel. The sugar is nicely balanced with the acidity.
Please come on into Vin Uva to taste these two wines. You won't be disappointed!!!
Growth in Year 2 of our vines has been vigorous - the "girls" are ahead of schedule.
A short time ago, Derek and I walked the vineyard and made the decision to begin pruning the vines to redirect their growing energy horizontally - for lateral growth - rather than allowing them to direct all their energy upward. What this does is to begin to train their growth along the horizontal wire and thereby put them ahead of schedule in the development of the bilateral cordons.
We couldn't be more pleased with the progress of the vineyard at the Mount. The "girls" clearly love their home as much as we love them!!!