The 4th Annual Cabernet Franc Competition, founded and sponsored by Michael Kelly of California Wines & Wineries, took place on Wednesday, March 29, 2023 at The Golf Club at Copper Valley in Copperopolis, California.
Kelly founded the competition out of passion for Cabernet Franc. “I fell in love with Cabernet Franc some 40 years ago and it had never gained the respect it deserved as a single-varietal wine,” he said. “About five years ago during the holidays in Yosemite with companions Mark and Candy Strubbe (who this year served as a runner and a people’s choice judge, respectively), I showcased Cabernet Franc to see what others thought about it. For me, it’s the seductress of wines – once tasted, you are smitten.”
At this year’s competition Kelly managed the logistics of 78 entries from four countries – the United States, Chile, Hungary, and Italy – and seven states within the U.S. – California, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, and Washington. The U.S.– primarily California – had the most entries with 67, followed by seven entries from Hungary, three from Chile, and one from Italy.
What makes this competition stand out from the crowd is Kelly’s use of two sets of judges, professional and people’s choice. “Most wineries like to have both the professional ratings for the intended characteristics of the wine, while the people’s choice ratings demonstrate buyer preferences. Some wineries prefer to win the professional and some the people’s choice. It also gives them two chances to win.”
This year the two sets of judges came to a consensus on four entries as Best of Class and/or Best of Show:
2017 Granite Heights Winery Cabernet Franc Virginia 2020 Ironstone Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Franc Sierra Foothills 2020 Selin Cellars Fountaingrove Cabernet Franc Sonoma County 2017 Corti Brothers Il Canzoniere Riserva Cabernet Franc Veneto
However, they selected two different entries as the Grand Sweepstakes Winners:
2020 LXV Wine Reserve Cabernet Franc Portico Hills Vineyard Santa Barbara – Gold – Best of Class, Show, and Grand Sweepstakes Winner (professional)
2019 Ledson Cabernet Franc Moon Mountain District Sonoma County – Double Gold – Best of Class, Show and Sweepstakes Grand Winner (people’s choice)
When asked about this thoughts about this year’s competition, Kelly replied, “This year’s competition was perhaps the most fair, because I distributed information to both sets of judges about regional diversity (climate, winegrowing, and winemaking techniques), so each wine was judged on its own merit as to varietal correctness.” A lesson Kelly learned along the way was the challenge in receiving some of the international wines in a timely manner, especially the seven entries from Hungary. “I will be applying for an importer license in May to get the wines directly from other countries,” he said. “This will increase the number of international entries.”
The future of the competition looks bright as Cabernet Franc comes into its own, finally enjoying the limelight it so richly deserves. “As the popularity of Cabernet Franc has increased, so has the number of producers. Cabernet Franc is one of the most versatile wines – the ‘utility player of grapes’ – meaning you can pair it with so many foods. Additionally, Cabernet Franc is grown and made in many regions around the world – all unique and different. Variety is a good thing,” said Kelly.
For detailed results and information about the public tasting events at The Golf Club at Copper Valley – a Wine Stroll April 15 and a Gourmet Wine Dinner April 22 – visit Kelly’s website.
Dr. Elizabeth Smith is a former college professor and wine club manager turned award-winning wine writer and wine and writing competition judge. Her day job is wine and winemaker copywriter at Naked Wines USA. Elizabeth is a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier International Sacramento and Sonoma Chapters, the Circle of Wine Writers and the Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association. Connect with Elizabeth at easmith.net/contact.
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