Cabernet franc, Australian plantings, history and styles; early thoughts

Having tasted a few local cabernet francs over the past fortnight or so has rather led to a desire on my part to find out more about the history of the grape variety in Australia. ¬†Part of this is because I’ve always wondered if there were local producers out there who are trying for a Saumur, Saumur-Champigny, Chinon, Bourgueil or Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil style expression of the grape. ¬†That is, mostly fresh and fruit driven, with excessive greenness eschewed. ¬†And part of it, I suspect, is that I just like reading old books.

Cabernet Franc. Source:
What’s unexpected is that a quick look at both the local history of the cabernet franc and its styles so far have been largely inconclusive, and so I think I am going to have to do some digging and return with a longer piece. ¬†Here’s a glimpse why. ¬†On the history, we have James Halliday in the Australian Wine Encylopedia (Hardie Grant, 2009) observing that:
cabernet franc is a relatively recent red grape arrival in Australia, first making the statistical records in the middle of the 1980s. ¬†At that time misidentification of cabernet franc as merlot probably led to the figures being understated. ¬†However that may be, after hitting a peak of 834ha in 2004, cabernet franc is now on the slide … For reasons which are not clear, the only regions in which it consistently produces wine of good quality, either as a straight variety or in a blend, are the Margaret River and Great Southern regions …”
Plantings of cabernet franc predate the middle of the 1980s, which is implied although precise dates aren’t given. ¬†A look further down the shelf at¬†Len Evans’ Complete Book of Australian Wine (4th Ed, Lansdowne¬†Press, 1984) confirms that at least in 1984 the grape was planted, with the slightly non specific observation that:
Cabernet franc is mostly found in Australia as odd vines in blocks of cabernet sauvignon“.

But the story does not end here. ¬†Going further back in time, over at the Yalumba Nursery, we find that the C7V15 cabernet franc clone was imported/registered in 1970 via California from much earlier Montpellier cuttings and the 1334 Bordeaux cabernet franc clone was imported/registered in 1972. ¬†The so called “Penfolds 58” clone does not have this information, and is also called the C24-1. ¬†For reasons unknown, clones fascinate me. ¬†To hazard a guess though, perhaps it’s because their genetics provide tangible connections between the past and present. ¬†And then, just to round things out, on the State Library of South Australia’s Wine Literature of the World website we find that cabernet franc is said to have been introduced into Australia in James Busby’s 1832 collection! ¬†So, there are certainly some dots to connect here. ¬†
In terms of producers, there are a few seemingly scattered all over seemingly rather hopefully as a look at Darby Higgs’ Vinodiversity website confirms, but the styles remain to be looked at. ¬†I can only hope some are on the same wavelength…

Leave a comment