Ok, so let’s start with the big “secret” Corvidae is a side project, or affectionately called a 2nd label within the wine industry for the folks behind Owen Roe wines.
A second label comes into being for a variety of reasons, but here’s the usual suspects:
Winemaker wants to work with a varietal that doesn’t make sense under his own label. As an example, if a cult Cabernet in Napa, say Vineyard 29 as an example wanted to make a Sonoma Pinot Noir, they might do it under a 2nd label to not confuse people.
A winery is 100% estate….but a neighbor has some fruit that they really, really like.
A winery produces mostly $40+ wine and wants an entry level addition, without driving all their current customers into that entry level addition.
The Corvidae wines (the name comes from the latin word for the type of bird, which include crows) don’t fit into one of those categories completely, but in this case, I am guessing the issue is more to do with the grape varietal than anything else.
Let’s start with an admission: Cabernet Franc just might be my favorite varietal. Well, it’s right there with Pinot Noir, or maybe Grenache, but I’m comfortable saying that I like it much, much more than most. Evidently, I’m also not someone willing to drink a single type of wine for the rest of my life…so there’s that. That affection for Cabernet Franc is why it’s painful to read the Wikipedia page (that gets posted everywhere around the web) which basically says it’s only grown so that it can be blended with Cabernet Sauvignon (ok, ok, I get it) or Merlot (what?)!
At it’s core Cabernet Franc is a dark skinned grape that will remind you of Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, to me the fruit and density falls somewhere in between those two grapes-but it carries higher acidity than either. Slate ran an article a number of years ago about the sad state of Cabernet Franc and again sadly, things haven’t changed in the decade since it’s release. Other than Pinot becoming even more important and everyone in the new world completely forgetting that Merlot exists of course. Heck in the last decade imports of the wine have tripled, yet no one has seemed to notice, or care.
Largely known from the cool climate Loire Valley, Cabernet Franc has been called everything as a good pairing for fish, to a variety that can’t ripen well. Sounds a lot like Pinot Noir right? Of course, those imperfections have little to do with the grape itself and have much more to do with the Loire Valley, itself one of the coolest growing climates in France. Having tasted a Cab Fran from the Russian River Valley and a few from Napa in addition to the Washington wine in your glass, ripeness isn’t an issue.
Then again, if the grape is always going to 3rd, 4th or 5th in line for vineyard space, how good can the wines ever get? What’s needed is a region to focus on it and I don’t mean Long Island (Long Island actually make some good wine, but it’s already been developed so there isn’t a lot of production) but instead a part of a new world wine region that can make enough for people to actually get some of the wine at the entry level, but also care about it enough to make great wine with it by giving it some of the best vineyard space they have.
Enter the state of Washington.
If you haven’t been in one of our monthly wine clubs for long, you might not have had a Washington wine before, so here’s some quick background. Walla Walla is probably the most important region for wine in Washington and the climate couldn’t be any different from what most picture in their heads (Seattle and it’s rain, right?). It’s damn hot during the summers and Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah do well there. Pinot does not. Smart vintners won’t even plant the stuff to the east of the mountain ranges any longer-it’s just too warm during the summer growing months.
Anyway, Cabernet Franc has an uphill fight to gain acceptance and market share everywhere, including Washington, but there’s one major, major difference. Most people when they judge where the wine industry is going, tend to look only at plantings. In that case Cabernet Franc is the 4th most planted red wine grape in the state of Washington and 9th overall when you add the white’s.
What makes Washington the new world’s best hope for the grape though is that while plantings aren’t much different than elsewhere, pricing is. Instead of also being at the back of pricing (the prices that winemakers pay to growers I’m talking about here) Cabernet Franc is either first, or second depending on the vintage (of course, Cabernet Sauvignon continues to be king of grapes). That tells me that local winemakers LOVE the stuff. When winemakers like something, they tend to find ways to market it. They’ll pour it and encourage people to try it in person, basically marketing the grape by itself for the first time in America.
I liked this version of Cabernet Franc because it comes with all the tell tale markers of the varietal. Think like Cabernet Sauvignon. Higher acidity though. Flavor notes that include herbs and a certain tobacco element when you first open the bottle.
Lastly, a minute on the Columbia Valley. One of the very few vineyards that span state lines, the Columbia Valley is Washington’s most important (and first) AVA, with 99% of the wines being produced in the state grown within the AVA (others are grown on the fringes of Seattle) but the AVA also has a few miles of Oregon within its boundaries. As often happens, state’s are drawn with different natural dividers than are viticultural areas. The Columbia River makes a nice boundary between Oregon and Washington, but the mountains that form the valley itself are what matters for the wine industry. Thus the dichotomy. Additionally, good luck making any generalizations about an area this big (think about a fifth of the entire state, give or take) because there are plenty of microclimates around the river itself, in the foothills and at significant elevation.
Give it a shot, let me know what you think!