Friday, July 31, 2009

Local Cab Franc Terroir Musings

A bunch of random thoughts on Santa Barbara Cab Franc. Go!

- Foxen Vineyards' estate vineyard, the Tinaquaic Vineyard, consists of three varietals: Chardonnay, Syrah and Cabernet Franc. Seems like an unlikely trio juxtaposing Burgundy, the Northern Rhone and the Loire Valley south-east of Santa Maria. I haven't tried any of these Foxen wines, but their story of dry farmed vines grown above the canyon floor in sandy clay soil is pretty compelling. If the weather in this section of the valley is moderated by the coastal fog, this vineyard is thus prime territory for growing grapes such as Chardonnay, Syrah and Cabernet Franc that flourish in cooler climates. I guess I'll have to give at least one of these Foxen wines a try to see if they work out as well in practice as they do in my mind.

- Along the lines of pairing cool climate grapes, I'm going to propose another location for Cabernet Franc: Santa Rita Hills. This is Chardonnay and Syrah heaven (sound familiar?) due to a very pronounced cool, coastal influence. Now, everything begins with Pinot and ends with Noir in Santa Rita Hills. But if Cab Franc were grown in an area with sufficient sun exposure and allowed to mature slowly during the growing season, perhaps the results would be compelling. The biggest problem with Cab Franc in the region is excessive alcohol, and reducing sugar accumulation with lower temperatures could be a good approach. It's no coincidence that some of the best local Cab Franc I've tasted has been from the similarly cool Los Alamos area adjacent to Santa Ynez and Santa Rita Hills.

- Which brings me to those chalky white hillsides in the Santa Rita Hills. These consist of diatomaceous earth. At first I wondered if this was related to limestone, but limestone is mostly Calcium Carbonate. Diatomaceous earth is made of tiny, prehistoric sea creatures that are chemically heavy on Silicon Dioxide. The best Cabernet Franc terroirs in the Loire are limestone based. But the same might be said of Pinot Noir vineyards in Burgundy. Perhaps silica-based soils are good for both? It's probably not a coincidence Chinon is nearly due west of Nuits-Saint-George. By this logic, indeed, someone should throw a few million dollars at a white hillside via a Cab Franc planting in Santa Rita Hills.

This is all speculation on my part, of course. I'm no geologist, nor am I am ampelographer or enologist. But I am a Cab Franc partisan.


maulmatt! said...

I would guess it wouldn't happen in Santa Rita Hills for ecomomic reasons alone. You'd get so much for Pinot and Chard grapes (and to a lesser extent Syrah) that you wouldn't be able to justify the expense (on a large scale). Your logic makes sense though... I'm sure it could work.

I don't think I've ever tasted a Chinon before... I need to make it a point to go out and get one. I've had right bank Bordeaux that had a lot of Cab Franc, and other new world versions, always liked it when I've had it... The descriptors I've read for Chinon sound very interesting.

Being so familiar with Santa Barbara, do you prefer Santa Rita Hills syrah to Santa Ynez? I've been a little more drawn to the SYV syrah with the impression that the slightly warmer air gives it a little bigger tannins and slightly riper fruit to balance out with the peppery spice. I tend to like cool climate wines and elegant styles, but lean a little warmer on Syrah. What is your take?

CabFrancoPhile said...

Yeah, Cab Franc just isn't economically viable, even where it grows well. I think even Syrah is losing out in SRH. I recall reading once that Melville is ripping out most its Syrah since Pinot is much more profitable.

The Foxen Syrah in my last post exemplifies for me the direction Santa Ynez Syrahs go. In general, I prefer the cooler climate ones. They're a bit lower in alcohol, yet usually can be harvested later with more phenolic development because of less heat induced sugar build up. I've probably tasted more from Los Alamos (Thompson Vineyard, Alisos Vineyard), which is generalized as between SRH and SYV in terms of the climate. These really seem to capture the best balance for my tastes.

maulmatt! said...

That Foxen syrah sounds pretty interesting. I do think the best ones from Santa Ynez show a little restraint and are probably similar to the Los Alamos ones in style. I do like the Santa Maria/Bien Nacido syrah... I guess those would lean a little toward SRH in style.