Cardinal Armand Richelieu did more than act as the trusted advisor to King Louis X111. He transported vine cuttings of Cabernet Franc, his favored wine, from Bordeaux to the Loire Valley. This established the variety’s deep-rooted connection to the region’s exalted wines such as Chinon, Samur-Champigny and Bourgueil. So, marking Richelieu’s death anniversary, December 4 gets honored by Cabernet Franc lovers worldwide reveling in this perfumy, herbaceous wine.

Wes and Lori
Wes Hagen and Lori Budd
Photos: Mira Honeycutt

Popularly called Cab Franc, Paso’s second annual Cab Franc Day celebration was staged on December 3, 2023 at the Cass Event Center with a daylong immersion of an educational seminar and tasting, attended by some 155 Cab Franc enthusiasts. 

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Sip & Savor

The Paso Cab Franc celebration got its start in 2022, spearheaded by Neeta and Kunal Mittal, co-founders of LXV Wines and aficionados of this variety. In two short years, this grassroots movement has gathered such momentum that Neeta announced rebranding the event in 2024 as Cabernet Franc Masters with a vision to invite global winemakers to Paso’s annual event.


Certainly, it takes a village to generate such enthusiasm and support for a variety nowhere near as popular as its offspring Cabernet Sauvignon. There were plenty of local wine professionals offering their sponsorship, wineries such as Brecon Estate, CV Wines, DAOU, LXV Wine, J. Lohr and Hope Family Wines. Other sponsors included the CAB Collective, The SOMM Journal, The Tasting Panel Magazine, Parker Sanpei and Riedel.

Cab Franc Masters
Linda Parker Sanpei, Kunal Mittal, Charles Paladin Wayne, Neeta Mittal, Celeste Hope, Austin Hope and Maeve Pesquera
Photo:TheBrandFoto by Melanie Negri

Cab Franc is among the 20 most widely planted wine grape varieties in the world. It’s a medium body variety, low in tannins, herbaceous and often fragrant with notes of violets. In the Loire Valley, it shines as a varietal wine. In Bordeaux, it’s an important blending component on the Left Bank and a significant part of the signature Right Bank style, usually blended with Merlot.

Paso’s celebration kicked off on December 2 with a welcome dinner at DAOU mountain crafted by estate chef Spencer Johnston. The four-course repast was served with a selection of wines from DAOU, Austin Hope, Brecon Estate, LXV, J. Lohr and Ancient Peaks

Ryan Kemp and Jackie
Ryan Kemp and Jackie Gleason

The day-long December 3 festivities began with a seminar presented by wine educator Wes Hagen who, in an inimitable, highly charged PowerPoint presentation, familiarized the 60-plus seminar attendees with the lore of this grape.

He began with a nod to Paso winemaker Lori Budd, co-founder of Dracaena Wines, who initiated the worldwide dedication to Cab Franc in 2015 when she and her husband Mike launched an online event with participation from various international Cab Franc producers. Hagen guided us through six iterations of Cab Francs from France, Hungary, Argentina, Italy, Napa Valley and New York’s Finger Lakes region.

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Jocelyn McCurry, Frank Virga, Damian Grindley, Kunal Mittal and Amanda Grindley

With the usual sip and spit tasting ritual, we began with the 2021 Ravines Estate from Finger Lakes showing confectionary notes, followed by the 2020 Gabare from Domaine Grosbois in Chinon, the spiritual home and a mecca of Cab Franc. Expressing its varietal typicity the wine was savory touched by dry garrigue.

The brilliance and purity of Tuscany’s 2020 CiFRA came through this biodynamic/natural wine aged in amphora followed by a richer and riper 2018 Gere from Villány in southwest Hungary.  The deep-hued 2020 El Enemigo blended with Malbec from Mendoza’s Uco Valley expressed savory notes; in the classic Napa style, the 2021 Vidi Vitas from Old Federal Vineyard was structured and cellar-worthy.

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Lineup of international Cabernet Francs
Photo: TheBrandFoto by Melanie Negri

A panel discussion followed, moderated by wine journalist Matt Kettman with local industry professionals—vintner Austin Hope, vineyard proprietor Bill Gibbs, winemaker Jeff Strekas and Chris Taranto, communications director of Paso Wine. The group reflected on Cab Franc from its potential in Paso to its status in the current marketplace.

“We know we’re in an uphill battle,” Hope said of its appeal to distributors, retailers and consumers. He cited the example of Quest, their first release of a Cab Franc blend. The label said Cabernet [Sauvignon] and Cab Franc. Although the majority of it was Cab Franc, it worked with consumers. With subsequent vintages, the Cab Franc percentage was increased. Now the $27 Cab Franc Quest is doing well in California and Texas, Hope asserted. “As time goes on consumers will be more open.”    

Jeff Strekas Frederick Ammons
Jeff Strekas and Frederick Ammons

Attendees were now ready to savor Cab Franc’s diversity   offered by some 20 Paso wineries. Ryan Kemp, associate winemaker at Adelaida  Vineyards & Winery offered an ethereal 2014 vintage from Viking Vineyards. 

There was a refreshing Cab Franc sparkling Rosé from  Field Recordings and some impressive current vintages from Le Vigne, Daou, Four Lanterns, Dracaena and Union Sacré. Blends included Absolution Cellars’ Great Odin Blend (with Syrah and Cabernet  Sauvignon); JUSTIN’s Justification and LXV’s The Tempo, both in the classic Right Bank styles blended with Merlot.  And soon to be on the market will be Dracaena’s 2023 vintage of Blanc de Franc. “For ten years I’ve wanted to make a white Cab Franc,” winemaker Budd shared.

JUSTIN’s interactive educational display

Chateau Margene, Brecon, J. Lohr, Union Sacré, mid.point and Villa St. Juliette were among other wineries. This year the participants were encouraged to create educational displays alongside their tasting  tables.  Indeed, there were several creative interactive themes from displays of soils and stones to samples of fresh fruit and spices.  

 The afternoon tasting was complimented by an elaborate grazing table plus an array of Chef Charlie Paladin Wayne’s creations who collaborated with Neeta Mittal in crafting sumptuous appetizers, each one highlighting the many facets of Cab Franc flavors.

To further explore different expressions of Cab Franc, a small group of local winemakers gathered this month for a blind tasting at AOC Lounge in downtown Paso. The brown bags held seven wines ranging from Napa Valley and Paso to Livermore Valley and Santa Barbara County. 

Austin Hope
Hope Family WInes’ educational display

From Livermore Valley, the two Steven Kent Winery’s 2021 vintages turned out to be crowd pleasers. Of the L’Autre Cote, winemaker Adam LaZarre commented: “It shows typicity of Cab Franc, it’s European in style and has an impressive mid palate.” Steven Kent’s Ghielmetti Vineyard wine expressed the proverbial bell pepper on the nose. “There’s a lot going on, lot of acid, tastes like east coast Cab Franc,” LaZarre noted.

Known as Napa’s Cab Franc house, Lang & Reed has been crafting noteworthy Loire-focused wines for the past three decades. The 2018 vintage of Lang & Reed’s garnet-tinted Two-Fourteen was a carousel of cranberries, while Napa’s Alpha Omega 2021 was bold and concentrated with grippy tannins. From Paso, Sea Shell Cellar’s ruby colored  2020 was deliciously silky on the palate and LXV’s brown-tinged 2016 expressed an old world funk. Exuberant with violet notes, the 2021 Future Perfect showed the freshness of Los Alamos AVA in Santa Barbara County. 


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