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In Franc Praise

Over 30 Years of Winemaking, Cabernet Franc Reveals Virginia

Article by Luca Paschina, Barboursville Vineyards' Winemaker

Photography by Luca Paschina and Melinda Gipson

Originally published in Leesburg Lifestyle

Halfway through Barboursville Vineyards’ Cabernet Franc feast this Summer, I realized that 2022’s harvest will give us, within a few short weeks, our 30th Anniversary vintage of Cabernet Franc. This is an occasion worth noting for it means more than meets the eye in terms of the age of our vines and the depth of our experience with this varietal.

Our vintages of Cabernet Franc have been and remain an invaluable revelation of our terroir, and of the grape’s own genetic characteristics. Now, more in cheerful confession than anything else, I admit also to have been growing in winemaking, through the privilege and pressures of guiding these events. It has strongly affirmed and sometimes shaped my own values and style, to be handling this great varietal, both under its own name and in our pre-eminent Bordeaux blend, Octagon.

Although our original plantings in Cabernet Franc date from our earliest days -- an initial two acres in 1977 -- in every year through 1990 the grapes had always been harvested as a “field blend” with Cabernet Sauvignon, and never fermented separately until I arrived in Virginia in 1991. That year gave us an excellent growing season, and one of my first decisions as our general manager and winemaker was to ferment these varietals separately, for diagnostic purposes at least, even if they might finally be blended together.

Even with this foresight, I still had never acquired direct experience, even in tastings, of Cabernet Franc as a varietal, except when blended with other grapes from Bordeaux. This is why, in every way, I accept that the emergence of our Cabernet Franc, as a wine respected by the world, has meant that I must surely be the last winemaker ever to arrive in Virginia with no warning of what to expect. Such ignorance, I like to think, stopped with mine.

My education began with the 1992 vintage, our first varietal bottling of Cabernet Franc. In that indifferent growing season, Cabernet Franc was by far the most successful of our reds, so much so that in the annual Newsletter following that bottling, I impetuously declared, “Virginia is for Cabernet Franc.” 

In for a penny, in for a pound, as we planted 5 new acres of Cabernet Franc in 1994, preparing the soil through 1993, selecting a new clone and adopting new vine spacing. Yes, we also expanded our plantings in Merlot and in Cabernet Sauvignon in ’94, but as I look back today, I think nothing will ever so set us apart as this doubling-and-a-half of our commitment to Cabernet Franc on the strength of a single vintage. Today, Cabernet Franc has become the most voluminously planted varietal in our vineyards.

The first vintage to be drawn from the 1994 plantings, 1997, gave us our second Virginia Governor’s Cup - the first ever awarded to Cabernet Franc - and a gorgeous infusion in the blend of our second Octagon, still of little fame and small supply. The next vintage gave us the equally spectacular Octagon III, immortalized in Decanter (Tasting Note 308), and Cabernet Franc ’98. Vintage 1999 gave us the Virginia Wine Honors Gold Medal for our first Cabernet Franc Reserve, and Virginia Wine Person of the Year recognition to me, awarded in 2002.

Cabernet Franc embraces every ideal of the Old World for a food friendly wine. Its structure achieves truly elegant balance, in bright, forthcoming fruit, lithe acidity, supple body, and in genial ratios of alcohol by volume and tannin. A fine vintage is not one of power, but of proportion and longevity; and at the same time, this varietal folds into a classic Bordeaux blend with a shining brightness, as noted by Michael Broadbent in Octagon III. Finesse has found its wine.

Yes, Virginia reveals Cabernet Franc to me, and I’m glad to be instrumental as Cabernet Franc reveals Virginia. Octagon III and Cabernet Franc '98, cited above, are cellared at the vineyard for special winery occasions, with limited purchase opportunities for the Cabernet Franc. Check the List at Palladio Restaurant and in flights in our Library 1821 for tasting opportunities.

  • Luca holds a bottle of 1998 Cab Franc, which he says was better than the 1997 that won the Governor's Cup
  • Luca tasting freshly fermented CF in 1993
  • Luca and Lorenzo Zonin from Italy Celebrating Luca's 2002 award for Winemaker of the Year