Cabernet Franc Scores Big at Premiere Napa Valley: Montesquieu Winery Shines Spotlight on Napa Rising Star Grape

March 23, 2011, by: Lisa Duff Khajavi

ontesquieu Winery CEO Fonda Hopkins and winemaker Helene Mingot at Premier Napa Valley Auction

Fonda Hopkins and Helene Mingot bid for Levy & McClellan at Premiere Napa Valley

Montesquieu Winery recently acquired one of the top lots of the day at last month’s 15th Annual Premiere Napa Valley Auction in St. Helena, the annual event that serves as a barometer of the domestic wine market and a window into emergent winemaking trends. Montesquieu Winery viewed this lot of 2009 Levy & McClellan Napa Cabernet Franc – the highly-anticipated Auction debut from husband-and-wife winemaking team Bob Levy (of Harlan and Bond) and Martha McClellan (of Sloan and Blankiet) – as the most impressive of the tasting. This view was shared by many others, whose vigorous bidding propelled the wine to the highest sale price for a non-Cabernet Sauvignon in the Auction’s history.

The success of the Levy & McClellan lot reflects the coming emergence of Cabernet Franc as one of the stars of Napa Valley. Long-known for brilliance in St. Emilion’s famed Cheval Blanc and in parts of the Loire, Cabernet Franc is now receiving greater attention from top domestic producers. One of Cabernet Franc’s leading advocates in Napa is renowned winemaker Stéphane Derenoncourt, whose new range of high-elevation, single-vineyard wines, Derenoncourt California, features a 100% Cabernet Franc from Coombsville. The 85-case production 2007 Derenoncourt Cabernet Franc was released to the winery’s mailing list earlier this month.

Bob Levy of Harlan Estates and Martha McClellan of Sloan and Blankiet

Husband and wife winemaking team Bob Levy of Harlan and Martha McClellan of Sloan and Blankiet

I love working with Cabernet Franc in St. Émilion for blends,” says Stephane. “But I have always dreamed of vinifying a pure Cabernet Franc. So when I discovered this ideal 25 year old plot in the Coombsville heights, giving naturally small yields and such concentrated fruit, I did not hesitate.”

Stéphane Derenoncourt checks in on one of his Napa parcels

Stéphane Derenoncourt, Napa

Finding the right source for top-flight Cab Franc in Napa was far from easy, however. Stéphane and his partner in the project, Montesquieu Winery Founder and CEO Fonda Hopkins, spent countless hours scouring the region before finally discovering this tiny block of old vines in Coombsville. “Really good Cab Franc is hard to come by here,” laments Hopkins, who has used the varietal in her Montesquieu wines for years. “This past year in Napa, only one ton of Cab Franc was harvested for every 33 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon.” Derenoncourt says this can be explained by the fact that “Cabernet Franc is a difficult varietal. It can yield the best or the worst of wines; its cultivation doesn’t allow mediocrity. For this reason many winemakers hate it, yet it is still adored by great wine lovers.”

Yet top examples like Levy & McClellan and Derenoncourt California show that the effort is worth the reward. “Too many domestic Cab Francs are either green and vegetal or overripe and flabby. But at its best, Napa Cab Franc can be sensual, balanced, elegant and totally captivating – powerful and commanding with layers of complexity and fully expressive of its terroir,” enthuses Hopkins. “It’s what I refer to as a conversation stopping wine, the kind people obsess over when they discover it.”

And according to Hopkins, the varietal has a bright future in the U.S. “We at Montesquieu Winery have observed that as wine lovers continue to explore the wine world beyond brand names and ratings, demand increases for unique wines of rich character and flavor profiles like Cabernet Franc,” she notes. “This will likely be the Holy Grail of wines the next few years.”

Montesquieu Winery Co-founder and CEO Fonda Hopkins

Fonda Hopkins

For twenty years, Montesquieu Winery has provided consumers and collectors with an experience of rare, hand-crafted wines from some of the best producers and vineyards worldwide. A Montesquieu wine broker works directly with each client on an individualized basis to source wines that meet the client’s unique tastes and needs.

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