lxv wine facebook

Bordeaux Grapes Slowly Make Their Way to Paso…from Los Angeles?

Cab Franc Day
Dec 4, 2022

Cass Event Center
Paso Robles, CA

Tickets and details on tasting and learning about Cab Franc from all over the world, with a focus on Paso

The Pass of Oaks recognizes Cabernet Francs


This article is a companion to the Cabernet Franc Day hosted at Cass Winery by the Cab Collective on Sunday, Dec. 4th, 2022.  

Bordeaux Grapes Slowly Make Their Way to Paso…from Los Angeles?

Even before US ranchers brought almonds and opened hotels sporting mineral-baths, winegrapes and winemaking existed in Paso. Mission was the first grape to be planted in Paso soil in 1797 by Franciscan missionaries ,and their fermentation vats and wine art can still be seen at the Mission San Miguel, north of town.

Varietal plantings early in Paso Robles mostly ignored the Bordeaux varietals.  Most popular in the earliest years of commercial winemaking in the vineyards of Pioneers bearing names like York and Klintworth, from 1880s-Prohibition, were Zinfandel, Port grapes, Muscatel and Burger (first white grape noted in Paso).  Famous pianist Ignace Paderewski made a name for Paso when he moved here in 1920, bought some land and wisely added Petite Sirah to the varietals planted.

Paso’s true varietal winemakig Pioneers established the region’s reputation in the 1960’s and 1970’s under the watchful management of characters like Dr Stanley Hoffman, who was encouraged to plant Cabernet Sauvignon by UC Davis, as well as the Russian-born, Bordeaux trained Godfather of California Cabernet, André Tchelistcheff, and vineyard guru Jack Foote.  And at that moment, the story of Paso and Bordeaux were now inextricably, and historically, linked!

Two last stops in the ongoing and important history of Bordeaux varietals in Paso Robles. 

  • In the mid 1970s, Gary Eberle planted vineyards with Cliff Giacobine, and chose to plant 200 of the 700 acres to Cabernet Sauvignon. In my research, this is a watershed moment for revealing the quality and expressiveness of Bordeaux styled wine in Paso Robles. You go, Gary!
  • In 1997, JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery’s Bordeaux-style ISOSCELES is named one of the top 10 wines in the world by the Wine Spectator. That wine was a surprising 19% Cabernet Franc, according to my studious contact at Justin.
  • In the modern Paso firmament, Bordeaux styled varietal and blended wines are achieving amazing quality, as well as quality-to-price ratio (thanks, Napa!). Brands such as DAOU, Justin, LXV, Booker, Austin Hope, Cass, Chateau Margene, Niner, Opolo (just to name a few of my favorites) are setting the bar higher and higher for Paso BDX wines and blends.

So the stage was set: Paso was planted to Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot, and now the wine world was watching.  And buying.  And visiting.

Cabernet Franc in Paso Robles

Out of 33,000 acres of Paso vineyard, about 1,200+ acres are Cabernet Franc, and 17,000 acres are Cabernet Sauvignon, by far the greatest dedicated acreage to one varietal.  Paso Robles is dedicated to, and focused on, quality ‘Cab’ production in the early 2020’s.

I interviewed the following Paso wine personalities about their thoughts about Cabernet Franc as a grape and how it has impacted their careers in wine and as a Paso winemaker.

Bill Gibbs, Gibbs Vineyards

Michael J Mooney, Chateau Margene

Frederick Ammons, Owner VinCru, Winemaking Consultant LXV Wines.  Previously winemaker at Harlan Estate and Rudd in Napa.

Jeff Strekas, Winemaker ONX Wines, Paso Consulting Winemaker

Was there a seminal Cabernet Franc, or heavy CF BDX blend, that changed your life or view on wine?


Michael Mooney, Ch Margene: “Our 2001 estate Cabernet Franc (100%).  Cherry, raspberry with savory, herbal notes (roasted red pepper). Lively with balanced acidity, smooth tannins and an extended finish.”


Frederick Ammons:  “I usually prefer to describe this wine/experience rather than name the wine.  It was in 2006  and I bought it at our local grocery store (Sunshine foods).  It was $14.  

Starting with aromatics, like any great cabernet franc, it teetered aromatically between a dry herbal, garrigue aromatic and floral notes.  Fruit is always in a secondary or background role.  Added to this are notes of sous bois, a touch of roasted, meaty character.  The wine is incredibly perfumed, complex but rests elegant and harmonious.  Texturally, the wine asserts its presence with vertical, persistant freshness that serves as the backbone throughout an evolution that has precise development of noble tannin, giving dimension and rhythm.  The wine builds on pallet and finishes long with a chord of complex aromatics and mouth watering minerality.   I tasted the wine over 3 days and it only got better with time.  By the 3rd day the a wine cant “bluff” -what is left is a testament to a wine’s greatness (or lack thereof).  That is why I never gas or vacuum wines… This wine had a depth and cultural tradition that let me wander back in the history of the region and viniculture (I was deep in a book on the history of paysan vignerons at the time).  And it was delicious.  Now, for the wine… Pierre & Catherine Breton Bourgueil Les Perrières 2004.  To memory, the wine had everything I look for in a red or white wine.  I ranked in the top 5 wines I experienced and was less than $20. Now for the disclosure.  I have tasted the wine again.  I did not have the same experience.   The lesson is to remember context, experience, taster disposition.  Like art, perhaps some wines more willingly offer us what we are looking for.  It would seem that the story and experience comes from the taster as well as the wine itself. “


Jeff Strekas:  “Two wines that come to mind are 1) a 98 or 99 Olga Riffault bourguiel that I found a magnum of in a shop down in LA really cheaply.  Olga makes her CF and elevages all in stainless steel so the wine has a purity of “Franc” expression that is unmuddled by oak or lots of oxygen ingress.  Another would be Domaine de L’r Loire Franc that I had in McLaren Vale after finishing a three month harvest gig out there in Oz.  It was just so refreshing having this 12% alcohol varietal expression of the delicate side of Franc (Raspberries and Violets) after months of heady South Australian Shiraz.”


Bill Gibbs:  “There’s not a life changing Cab Franc in my wine experiences, I don’t think I liked the ones I encountered much.  I’m heavy into west coast wines, and lightly into Euro wines.  The first time Cab Franc that slapped me in the face was tasting one of Kunal’s/Jeff’s LXV wines actually.  It left me wondering why I hadn’t paid more attention to the variety.  It was very good.”


What does Paso Robles have to offer Cab Franc from a terroir perspective?

Michael Mooney:  “Paso Robles has many different micro-climates/terrior characteristics.  In the Creston District, a warm climate with diurnal shifts of +/- 40 degrees during the growing season. Soils of granite, sandstone and shale. This produces wines with intense color (for a Cab Franc) – blackberry, spice and slate, medium to full bodied.”


Bill Gibbs: As for Paso soil, all my properties are some version of limestone.  G2 is mostly Gazos Shaly Loam. G2N’s Cab Franc is mostly on Lockwood Shaly Loam, with higher row number’s slopes on Santa Lucia-Lopez Complex.  We rarely harvest on Brix, instead waiting for the PH to fall, producing the potential for big bright balanced wines. I understand the Right Bank is known for it’s soil’s limestone content as well.”


Jeff Strekas:  “The possibilities are endless here given the diversity of soil and climate available in California’s largest AVA.  I am intrigued to see what the Willow Creek District can do for Cab Franc given the region’s ability to maintain high acidity, low pH, and ripen on an early track.”


Frederick Ammons:  “I am still learning.  I have tasted several samples that are incredibly promising.  With great farming, picking decisions that seeks an optimum ripeness, I suspect that and am most excited that the soils may offer an expression Cabernet Franc that we can’t find elsewhere in California.”

Conclusion:  Thanks to all the winegrowers and winemakers that helped me with this article, as well as Chris Taranto at Paso Wine Alliance, Neeta Mittal at LXV, and the tasting room staff at Eberle and Justin for getting me some data! 

Make sure to join us on Sunday, December 4th for Cabernet Franc Day, presented by the Cab Collective of Paso Robles and hosted at Cass Winery. 

For more information and tickets: https://www.lxvwine.com/cabfrancday22-tickets

Related Articles