A Different View of California Cabernet Franc: John Skupny of Lang & Reed Wine Company

One of the exciting things about working in the retail wine business was the ability to go to industry wine tastings.  Not only could to taste a wine variety of wine, but you often got a chance to meet cool winemakers.  At this trade event in 2010, I had the chance to interview John Skupny of Lang & Reed Wine Company.  He had a very interesting take on what was possible for Cabernet Franc in California.  **It was also the era before cell phone video and this was shot on a small jittery pocket camera.

This is Episode #12 of the Understanding Wine with Austin Beeman podcast.  Enjoy. Transcript is below the video.


Hi, I'm John Skupny from Lang & Reed Wine Company in Napa Valley, California. I'm the proprietor and winemaker for Lang & Reed Wine Company along with my wife, Tracy. We are one-of-the-only wineries in California that work exclusively with Cabernet Franc. That's kind of the whole story.

In California, they had been following the Bordeaux Model for a long time and a few people focused on Cabernet Franc. With Lang & Reed, in the early '90s, we decided that there was some inherent and distinctive charms about Cabernet Franc, particularly when it was expressed by themselves. The places in which we had Cabernet Franc planted and the vinification techniques all sort of favored the Bordeaux Model. We looked at some of the charming ones from the Loire Valley and decided that we were going to try and create something that expressed those inherent attributes of charm that came from Loire Valley recognizing that we had different circumstances in Napa Valley.

We moved to California 30 years ago in 1980 and at that time, as I mentioned before, it was this sort of influx of the thought of what did the Bordeaux know that we didn't know. Deconstructing the blends, I was always charmed by Cabernet Franc in its early stages. We start barrel tasting in January or February after a harvest and you'll find that of the Bordeaux grapes the Cabernet Franc expresses itself in a much more effusive way than the other varieties do in an early stage.

In the early '90s Tracy and I decided to start to look at producing wine on our own and we thought nobody was doing Cabernet Franc with that kind of intent. That might be something that we could create our own niche or market. Even in the year 2010, making and selling Cabernet Franc is a little, we call it the Rodney Dangerfield of varietals, but it's a little bit like rolling a rock up the hill and it's still in a pioneering phase.

It is a touchstone grape in sort of its volatility of acceptance. It's not unlike Sauvignon Blanc where you'll find people who really, really dig it or people who really don't. Some of it has those because it has fairly overt characteristics. We say that it lies on the green edge or the herbaceous edge. Some people like that and some people don't. It often times depends upon what you're eating with it because it is an exceedingly food-friendly variety because of that herbaceous streak to it.

Well, it is a cool climate variety. It's adaptable to both cool and warmer climates. If you look at vinifera growing in the world, it's like a pencil line going around the northern hemisphere and a pencil line in the southern hemisphere and Cabernet Franc happens to be a fairly soft pencil and covers a pretty wide swathe. If you imagine that it excels in the Loire Valley, which is a very, very northern region in France, and it also does really well in Bordeaux, which is a fairly southern region in France.

If you make that swathe across the United States, you'll find it excelling in Washington State, Napa Valley, San Ynez Valley, on the western coast. You also see Cabernet Franc doing well on the east coast in Long Island, Finger Lakes area in New York, in Pennsylvania, Ohio up near the lake, and also in Virginia. It's really actually more adaptable to come into ripeness in a lot more places than Cabernet Sauvignon will come to ripeness.

The one thing you find, because it has this wide swathe, is the cooler the climate, the more herbaceous, more green characteristics you either contend with or utilize. The warmer climate, the more you sort of rise the sugars above that stage, for good or bad. You may lose its inherent characteristics or charm in too ripe a climate.