Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Inland Sea Wines: Cabernet Franc with a Midwestern Flavor

The internet is a wonderful place. Where else can you get to know folks from halfway across the country who have an avid interest in Cabernet Franc and even go so far as to grow and produce Cab Franc? Somehow through this twisted series of tubes Michael Amigoni, owner of Amigoni Family Vineyards in Centerview, Missouri and proprietor and winemaker of Inland Sea Wines in Kansas City, Missouri, found this blog and said hello. He's been gracious enough to share his expertise on Cab Franc viticulture in Missouri, which is particularly helpful for those like myself with a very Cali-centric view of the wine world. As much as I try, I'm still based in California, and it's an uphill battle getting out of the bubble.

Certainly many of the most intriguing qualities of Cabernet Franc are extrinsic. Cab Franc is produced in many locations where the "brand name" grapes simply won't grow. It also attracts vintners who are willing to take a risk and are driven by passion. Although I haven't tasted Michael Amigoni's wine, I have little doubt that he falls into the category of a quality-conscious, passionate Cabernet Franc advocate. His vines are grown in limestone soils, which are often cited as a primary factor in the quality of Burgundy Pinot Noir as well as the best cuveés of Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley. He also uses only the best American barrels when aging his wines.

I posed a series of questions for Michael and below are his informative and very thorough responses.

Q: How receptive are your customers to Cabernet Franc and dry wines produced from Vitis vinifera grapes in general? The Midwest in my mind is associated with American style lager--Budweiser is based in St. Louis after all--and either fruit wines or wines made from indigenous varietals like Norton.

A: Most of all wineries in Missouri and in the region normally grow hybrids or grapes like Norton (native grape) primarily for their cold hardiness and rot resistance. Our Cabernet Franc fans are mostly wine lovers that don’t like the off the beaten path tastes from these varieties and would buy wine from outside the region. Now they have a choice to drink locally produced and grown vinifera wine and the support has been overwhelming. We have chosen to go through the extra efforts of growing vinifera by employing techniques such as winter hilling to protect graft unions, precision spraying for disease protection, and tricks of the trade from over 10 years of growing vinifera. Our biggest problem right now is ramping up production to support our demand. Luckily I have some growers now that I consulted on their vineyard establishment that are going to give me a boost in production of Cabernet Franc. The world would be a better place if everyone drank Cab Franc!

Q: Having attended college in Iowa, I'm familiar with the extremes in weather in the Midwest. Hot and humid summers, thunderstorms in the spring and fall with hail and strong gusty winds, and wind chills well below freezing in the winter are all par for the course. What kinds of challenges does the weather provide in the vineyard? Do you have to worry more about mold because of the humidity and periodic rain during the growing season? Is hail a significant threat to your yields?

A: Weather is always challenging. I have big airblaster that we have to crank up and use every two weeks. Humidity is a challenge and we have spreadsheets that conduct our precision spraying. Haven’t had any hail so far.

Q: Does growing in Missouri have any unexpected advantages relative to the semi-arid, Mediterranean climate that's prevalent in much of California?

A: I think the Cab Franc picks up a good amount of minerality and richness from the rich soil here. We have a unique Cab Franc taste that is winning over some fans.

Q: What influenced your choice of Missouri oak to age your Cabernet Franc?

A: We here in Missouri have the advantage of being near the best American Oak. I am using the same barrels as Silver Oak. They own a cooperage near Columbia, MO and I have made friends with the owner’s son and he gets me the barrels with the Silver Oak toast level. These barrels are better than World Cooperage barrels from the Ozarks grown trees.

Q: What qualities do you feel identify your 'terroir'?

A: Limestone rock base, rich black dirt soils, and hot hot summers that the Cab Franc loves. Low magnesium uptake is graduated with Epsom salts (Mg Sulfate). I have two terroirs, one is more cool and other more wind, drainage and slope. We will bring out two bottling of Cab Franc, one Stealth Ridge block, the other To Kati block. Both different, both lovely.

Q: What qualities differentiate the wines from Stealth Ridge (note: Stealth Ridge Cab Franc vines are pictured above) and To Kati (pictured below)? Is Stealth Ridge the block you describe as "more wind, drainage and slope?" Were the terroir-defined cuvees of Chinon like those of Charles Joguet an inspiration to you?

A: Chinon is very terroir driven in that some of the land is more flat and some is hilly. The land in Stealth Ridge is very much a south sloping ridge that gets lots of sun and is primarily planted to 332 clone. The contoured land of To Kati is higher elevation then Stealth Ridge. This section has 214 clone and is able to ripen before Stealth due to the increased heat that is given from the lower moisture and elevation of the land.

Q: You mention growing both a Bordeaux (332) and a Loire (214) clone of Cabernet Franc. Do you notice any major differences in these clones, both in the vineyard and the finished wine?

A: Yes, 214 more velvet and blueberry notes. 332 more fruity, more pinot noir like. I like the 214 Loire clone better. I do have a small planting of the Spring Mountain clone, probably from Pride vineyard.

Q: Does the expression of the 214 and 332 clones in your vineyards match your expectations prior to planting?

A: Yes, the expectations of Cab Franc prior to planting was a wine that was “earthly” and had expression of the soil, with 332 it is very much the case. The clone 214 was more expressive of violet and fruit than the 332 with the last harvest.

Q: What other vinifera grapes do you think perform best in your region? You also grow Mourvedré, which seems somewhat unexpected given how distant Provence and the southern Rhone are from Bordeaux and the Loire Valley in France.

A: Cab Franc by far is the best vinifera for this region. Mourvedre seems to do really well and to my surprise, the Petit Verdot is really good for this region. The acid in PV seems to not fall as much in comparison to CF in a typical warm year. The acid can fall down to upper 4 grams per liter or lower 5 grams per liter. We have to add acid back to 6.5 grams per liter to retain our old world style of lower pH wine.

1 comment:

Rick said...

I contacted Michael Amigoni before making a final decision on ordering 25 vines of the Loire 214 Cabernet Franc to plant here at my home in Iowa. Year one nearly over and so far so good! Happy Happy, Joy Joy!