By Christopher Matthews
For well over a decade, there has been a growing consensus among winemakers in the Hudson Valley (HV) that Cabernet Franc is the best red vinifera grape variety for the region. As an observer of the local wine scene, I reside firmly in this Cab Franc camp.
Likely a native of southwest France, and the primary red grape in France’s Loire Valley, Cabernet Franc is a parent (along with Sauvignon Blanc) of the more famous Cabernet Sauvignon. It is lighter in body and color than its offspring, and it both buds and ripens earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon, too.
Not only does Cab Franc grow well in the HV’s highly variable climate, but it’s also one of the most winter-hardy red vinifera varieties, able to withstand (normally) vine-killing temperatures of -10 F — a common occurrence in the HV’s often frigid winters. Another important factor is its versatility in the cellar, owing to its relatively lean tannins, medium body, and multi-layered fruit profile – berries, cherries, plums and cranberries – and excellence as a blender. Think cool-climate Cab Franc reds, like Chinon from France’s Loire Valley, with the possibility for bigger, more complex Cab Francs in stellar vintages. Over the last decade, a Cab Franc-based wine has garnered the Best Red accolade seven times at the annual Hudson Valley Wine & Spirits Competition.
In 2016, this HV Cab Franc “consensus” grew into something more official – the Hudson Valley Cabernet Franc Coalition (HVCFC) – aiming to encourage more vineyard plantings of the Cab Franc grape, and to boost recognition of the HV’s distinctive, “terroir-driven” Cab Franc wines.
An important Cab Franc benchmark was achieved in 2017, when Fjord Vineyards of the Hudson River Region took home the Best Cabernet Franc in New York State at the 2017 New York Wine and Food Classic, which is considered the Oscars of the NY state wine industry.
And now…Hudson Valley Cab Franc has a visual identity, a distinctive bottle seal recently launched by the HVCFC, which adorns locally produced bottles that meet the Coalition’s high standards.
Featuring a soaring hawk (several species of which are indigenous to the HV region, and integral to its vibrant ecosystem), the seal guarantees that at least 85% of the grapes used in the wine are grown in the Hudson River Region (the other 15% must be from NY State); that at least 75% of the wine is composed of Cab Franc; and that the wine has been aged for at least 12 months.
Current “legacy” members of the HVCFC (meaning that they produce Cab Franc as per the seal) are Fjord Vineyards, Glorie Farm Winery, Milea Estate Vineyard, Millbrook Vineyards & Winery (the Cab Franc pioneer in the HV), Nostrano Vineyards, Robibero Winery, Tousey Winery and Whitecliff Vineyard. Official “supporters” include Benmarl (which produces an excellent Cab Franc from Finger Lakes fruit) and Christopher Jacobs Winery.
Look for the hawk on the bottle, and give these distinctive local wines a whirl.