Cabernet Franc Thrives in California: Examples from Santa Ynez, Sonoma, El Dorado, Paso Robles #WinePW

CA Cab franc

While Cabernet Franc is best known as a Bordeaux blending grape, you’ll find it in France’s Loire Valley on its own, and more and more wineries around the world are showcasing Cabernet Franc alone including these four California wineries:

  • Labyrinth in Santa Maria using Santa Ynez fruit from Santa Barbara County
  • Selby in Healdsburg using Sonoma County fruit
  • Sierra Vista in Placerville using El Dorado County fruit
  • South Mountain in Ventura County using Paso Robles fruit from San Luis Obispo County

Not so familiar with Cabernet Franc? In blends, it adds pepper, earth, finesse, depth, and vegetal characteristics, typically that identified as bell pepper, jalapeño, hay, or green beans. Typically, Cabernet Franc offers aroma, spice, and fruit in a lightly, vibrantly colored container. It cuts through rich braised meats like beef or Osso Bucco, but we’ve doing we really love it with squash, and squash kale gratin type dishes.  If all this sounds good to you, you’ll probably like it on its own.

In 1997 DNA evidence showed that Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc are parents of Cabernet Sauvignon as well as  Carmenere (which we celebrated Nov. 24) and Merlot (which we celebrated with a Duckhorn vertical on Nov. 8).Cabernet Franc started in Bordeaux but landed in the Loire Valley, France in the 17th Century thanks to Cardinal Richelieu.

Read more about Cabernet Franc Day Dec. 4 every year, discover more about Cabernet Franc,  and learn about our visit to two biodynamic wineries in different areas of the Loire in 2019: here for Amirault  and here for Manor de la Tete Rouge.

Sue and her mom made extra ravioli for Thanksgiving for us to pair with the Cabernet Franc wines we planned to sample.

  • cheese board
  • caprese salad with home grown tomatoes
  • home made squash ravioli with a sage cream sauce
  • home made spinach and meat ravioli with a roasted tomato sauce

Tasters: Sue Hill, Gretel Compton, Diane Paillette-Von Heyneman, and myself, Gwendolyn Alley

Susie Selby in her tasting room in Healdsburg

2016 Selby Cabernet Franc Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma
ABV 15.2%
SRP $38 ; sample for review consideration

We wrote about Susie Selby’s Merlot in October, and the following week, I met up with her when I was in Healdsburg which you can read about here.  

Susie told me that she loves the diversity of grapes available to her in Sonoma County; her offerings are not surprisingly varied (Biancolella? Yes she makes a white wine from this is Italian grape grown primarily in the Campania region of Italy!)

“What I like best (about Sonoma) is the diversity and the quality of the fruit,” Susie said during my October visit to Healdsburg. From that diverse fruit, she makes fifteen different wines most years. There’s a diversity of fruit because of the diversity of soils and micro-climates, she explained.

When I heard she made a cab franc, I asked for a sample of it knowing how much my writing partner Sue Hill loves this grape! Aged for thirty-six months in American and French oak barrels, Selby Cabernet Franc is made from premium vineyards in Dry Creek Valley, a region more famous for Zinfandel than Bordeaux varietals.

We have samples of Selby’s Malbec and Pinot Noir to come, plus my extensive interview with Susie Selby so stay tuned and subscribe!

Color: Ruby red, with a light pink rim, medium density

Nose: Ripe fruit, slight petrol, cherry mint, pennyroyal, Gretel detected a slight bit of VA. Burns the nose hairs just a bit.

Palate: Cherry mint, clean acidity, ripe fruit, grippy tannins, licorice,

Pairing: With the St Augur blue, it smooths and tames the grippy tannins and brings out nice fruit.  I am not sure why the wine worked so well with the truffle brie, but it was a very nice pairing. The richness of both the wine and the cheese worked together. Great with the salami. This wine worked so well with our cheese plate. The Selby even worked with our caper berries. It was an insane pairing. Selby pairs with food very nicely. The wine really likes the tomato both in the salad and the pasta.  the rich umami pairs so well with the wine.

2017 Sierra Vista Vineyards & Winery Cabernet Franc, El Dorado
ABV 14.5%
SRP $38; sample for review 

Planted in 1972 on their own rootstock (not grafted), Sierra Vista is a pioneer in contemporary winemaking in the Sierras, and winemaker Susan Farrington has been along for most of the ride– she’s been making wine for over 25 years.

With an elevation of 2800′, Sierra Vista is located much higher than most grapes in California, and the “vines are deeply rooted in perfect soil conditions of a decomposing volcanic soil.” They feat grapes from the Rhone region of France; read more about their Grenache here, their Syrah and sustainability here, and read more about Sierra Vista’s Roussanne here.

Color: Dense and dark with a pink rim, ruby, medium plus density

Nose: Violet, iris, toasted coconut, forest floor, ferns, iron, lovely rich cherry and plum as well as a nice musk. Can’t wait for the truffle cheese with this wine!

Palate: Juicy, really makes you salivate, the tannins get you, nicely smooth for a 2017. Gretel “This is a nice wine” chalky tannins. Cocoa powder, We really liked this wine, and Sue stated that she really liked the winery when she visited it.

Pairing: So surprising but we did not like the wine with the truffle brie, or the red wine salami! They definitely did not dance together, however, the St Augur was excellent bringing out blue fruit in the wine. The Huntsman was nice, but it was happier with the full on yumminess of the straight blue. Caper berries were not a great pairing either. I thought about having this wine with a really nice BLT, or bacon blue cheese burger. Gretel, Diane, and Sue felt it was fantastic with the meat ravioli. For them, the spinach, the nutmeg, and the beef helped it shine. For me it was all about the caprese salad with tomatoes I’d freshly picked from my garden. That was my perfect pairing with this meal.

South Mountain cab franc

2017 South Mountain Winery  Cabernet Franc, Cira Vineyard, Paso Robles
ABV 12%
SRP $30; sample for review consideration

This is a nice light Cabernet Franc, not your typical new world Cab Franc. The East Side normally a hotter side of the valley but this was a year that people were struggling to get the grapes right. According to winemaker Gretel Compton, “Everything was hanging at 22 bricks. After several phone calls he said it was 24 bricks. I did not bring my fermometer with me, so I go home with my bin of grapes and they are at 22, not 24.”

We tasted this wine pre-release but we told Gretel we think it is ready and what a nice choice to have in the winter with braised meats and squash dishes. When we tasted and wrote about it March 2019, it was still clearly a baby. At that time she thought it would retail at $25 but I think $30-35 is more in line with typical prices although Bruce likes to price wines so they are affordable to all.

Winemaker Gretel Compton with her 2017 cabernet franc

Color: Unfined and unfiltered, pretty color, kind of mauves with a light pink rim, threw a bit of sediment.

Nose: Very enticing, florals and cooking spices, forest floor, baking spices, nice vegetal notes, going back we really loved the rhubarb in the nose.

Palate: Bell pepper on the finish which is a correct representation of the grape. Caramel, cocoa, eucptalyptus, ripe tannins, The finish has a really nice rich toffee which hangs out for a long time, featuring unsweetened chocolate and buttery richness of toffee.

Pairing: Sue and I both appreciate Cab Franc for different reasons; for m it’s really how well it goes with food. Truffle cheese with the wine was so amazing; there is an interesting chewy, textural quality when paired together. Sue had an OMG moment when she bit into a caper berry and took a sip of the wine afterwards. Great with strong aged sharp cheddar cheeses.  A creamy Port Salute turns to mush when followed by the wine; just not great. The roast squash pasta with the sage cream sauce was so magnificent with the wine. The meat ravioli was really nice because of the nutmeg in the ravioli, but the squash was so fantastic.

Sue loved the wine, and I loved the wine, and we both appreciated the pretty floral nose. If you could make a Cab Franc as beautiful as a Grenache, it would be this wine.

Diane wanted a last sip of wine before she left and thought quite a while over what she wanted to end the evening with, finally deciding on the South Mountain. We all appreciated this wine this evening, finding it to be a wine that can be enjoyed by the glass or by the bottle, today or tomorrow, with or without food. We feel that this wine will continue to lay down for many years to come.


Labyrinth 2016 and 2015 cab franc

2016 Labyrinth Cabernet Franc, Santa Ynez Valley
ABV 15.4%
SRP $34; Diane bought this with her wine club discount
Juice brix = 26.1

Maori Ariki (Rick) Hill hails from New Zealand where he commenced his winemaking career. He completed his wine studies in Australia in 1992. An internship brought him to the Santa Barbara area where he has settled. While their grapes come from Santa Barbara County and their production facility is in Santa Maria, for many years they had a tasting room in downtown Ventura near the movie theater and the library. I visited it several times as Diane’s guest, and appreciated the comfortable atmosphere and camaraderie. They are missed.

Color: Ruby, medium density, medium plus, coral rim

Nose: Wow, toasty coffee, mocha, Dr Pepper, tobacco, cigar box, pipe tobacco, and cherry pipe tobacco.

Palate: Big tannins, big fruit, very tart cherry, mouthwatering acidity, nicely balanced wine. When it is that high in alcohol, it means the wine had a lot of sugar.

Pairing: Most of us went to the big bold cheeses; the Huntsman cheese was wonderful and the blue cheese was fabulous bringing out such sweet fruit in the wine. Loves the salami, the wine brings out the salt and the spice, and the salt brings out the fruit in the wine. Best paired with salty aged cheeses and cured meats. While Sue wanted a blue cheese burger with the wine, iIt was so good with the meat ravioli. It brings out a balsamic characteristic in the wine. Sue stated that there was balsamic in the sauce as well. I also found a green olive brininess in the wine that balances out the oak and fruit and alcohol.

2015 Labyrinth Cabernet Franc, Santa Ynez Valley
ABV 15.3% (on bottle; 14.4 on website)
SRP $34; Diane bought this with her wine club discount
129 cases; Mateo’s Vineyard
Juice Stats:  Brix 26.1, pH 3.95, TA 0.367

Color: Garnet, coral rim, medium plus density

Nose: Dr Pepper, cherry cola, lots of vanilla, milk chocolate, nice creamy notes, vanilla cream, root beer float,

Palate: Cherry ricola, puckery, big Oakey tannins, grippy, clay putty finish, Big plush style.

Pairing: Diane went straight for the stinky cheese, and found the blue to be amazing, I was called to the salami, Sue preferred the huntsman over the blue finding the combination of the cheddar and the stilton fantastic. This wine loves the creamy, sage flavors of the sauce and the creamy richness of the cream and cheese. Diane was happy when she took her bread and sopped up the sauce for ultimate pleasure.

Because we were so stuffed with so much good food and wine, this is when Diane referenced Alice Bag’s song “Gluttony” from the punk rock documentary Deceline of Western Civilization. A wonderful last hurrah before California shut down again.

For more adventures with Cabernet Franc, join our 8am 12/12/20 twitter chat by following the hashtag #WinePW; scroll down for the discussion questions.



You’re invited to join the Wine Pairing Weekend twitter chat Saturday 12/12/20 at 8am Pacific. Here’s what we will be discussing and when.

  • 11:00 a.m. ET  Welcome to the #WinePW chat on Cabernet Franc Around the World! Introduce yourself, and where you are tweeting from. Share a link to your blog if applicable
  • 11:05 a.m. ET Q1 So we are talking about Cab Franc for today’s #WinePW. Are you a Cab Franc fan?
  • 11:10 a.m. ET Q2 Where did your Cab Franc come from?  What made you choose that location? #WinePW
  • 11:15 a.m. ET Q3 Did you pair your wines with a dish or dishes? What did you make? Share a link to your recipe if you posted one! #WinePW
  • 11:20 a.m. ET Q4 Have you tried Cab Franc from locations other than the one you chose for today’s event? How did it compare? Similarities? Differences? #WinePW
  • 11:25 a.m. ET Q5 Cab Franc first was used as a lone varietal in Chinon.  However the grapes are grown in other countries as well. How do you find the old world wines compare to those grown in other countries?  #WinePW
  • 11:30 a.m. ET Q6 Cab Franc is considered a food friendly wine. Did you find this to be true? #WinePW
  • 11:35 a.m. ET Q7 Cab Franc  is an ancient varietal and parent grape to Cabernet Sauvignon.  Did your exploration lead you to an area that started planting these grapes more recently?  #WinePW
  • 11:40 a.m. ET Q8 Next month we are exploring Sake and Other Pairings with Asian Food hosted by @culinary_cam.  Asian Foods are often thought hard to pair with wines. Why not share with us what wines you serve with Asian Fare.
  • 11:45 a.m. ET  Shoutout to the #WinePW crew who joined in today’s event.  I hope you had fun exploring Cabernet Franc Around the World with me.
  • 11:50 a.m. ET Q9 #WinePW  Any final thoughts about Cab Franc?  Did you discover anything new about this varietal?
  • 11:55 a.m. ET When looking for a Cab Franc do you head straight to France or is there another country that makes a Cab Franc that you adore?  #WinePW
  • 12:00 p.m. ET Thanks for joining host @WendyKlik for the December #WinePW  chat as we talked about Cab Franc Around the World! Looking forward to seeing you all again at the next event.


19 thoughts on “Cabernet Franc Thrives in California: Examples from Santa Ynez, Sonoma, El Dorado, Paso Robles #WinePW

  1. What a great selection of wines and pairings! I definitely am taking away some tips from your pairings that I’ll employ next time I open a bottle of Cab Franc!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I really love the idea of a cheese and charcuteries platter for pairings. It allows you so much variety to see what notes really work with the wine!

    I was excited to see the Selby and Labyrinth wines on your tasting list! I have tasted Merlot from Selby that I really enjoyed and I met Ariki a while back at a Pinot Noir event at Presqu’ile vineyard, where he was sourcing that variety. I would love to taste his other wines.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Gwendolyn,
    You and Sue go all in for these posts. It’s amazing the breadth of foods and the number of wines you two mention in your posts. I am also impressed by the local amount of things you have near you. You part of the States feels like a promised land.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You’ve given me a whole slate of new Cab Franc wines to taste! Looking forward to reading your winemaker interviews as well. Glad you enjoyed a small fiesta before the next lockdown – it’ll tide you over until things simmer down. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

Please Comment! I'd love to hear from you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s