Although Franciscan Estate Winery was my #132 winery to visit in the Napa Valley, I was no stranger to their wines. Years ago I was studying Bordeaux blend wines so I bought individual bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Malbec in order to learn the profile of each wine. I then bought numerous well-known bottles of Meritage (the California name for a Bordeaux-style wine) and then sought to retro-engineer the wine in order to determine what each grape contributed to the blend. It was during that study of Bordeaux blend wines that I bought a bottle of Franciscan Estate Winery’s Magnificant. Since then I have been wanting to visit the winery and taste their other wines as well.
The History of Franciscan Estate Winery
In 1960 Agustin Huneeus began his wine career as Chief Executive Officer of Concha y Toro in Chile and under his leadership Concha y Toro grew to become the country’s largest winery. Then in 1971 the political climate changed in Chile which led Agustin to leave his home country fleeing to the United States. He then became the head of Seagram's worldwide operations overseeing wineries in seven countries, including the United States.
One year later, in 1972 Franciscan Estate Winery was founded by a group of lawyers and doctors from San Francisco who decided to turn their for passion wine into a business. Then in 1985 Agustin became partner and acting President of Franciscan Estates which now a division of Constellation Wines. Under his leadership, the struggling company was reorganized and revived into a successful group of premium wine estates with an emphasis on estate grown grapes. In 1999, Agustin sold his interest in Franciscan Estates and went on to develop Quintessa into a world-class wine estate. In August 2003 Janet Myers became associate winemaker at Franciscan after working in the Margaret River region and Beaulieu Vineyard, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars and Louis Martini. Today Franciscan Estate Winery remains committed to its tradition of producing small batches of premium wines averaging from 150 to 1,500 cases.
While visiting I sampled the following wines:
2013 Franciscan Estate Chardonnay
This is a clear white wine, pale straw in color withy medium+ viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of baked apples, canned pears, ripe peaches and lemon zest with hints of caramel, butterscotch and creamed corn. On the palate it is more peach and citrus driven. It has medium+ acidity, it is full bodied and has a medium+ length finish. It is well balanced, not overly oaky or buttery and a great value at $18 per bottle.
2013 Franciscan Estate Fountain Court White Wine
A blend of 76% Sauvignon Blanc and 24% Muscat, this is a clear white wine, very pale straw in color, almost water white, with moderate viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of mandarin oranges, tangerines, guava, canned pear juice, ripe melon and a hint of white flowers. On the palate it is slightly sweet with medium+ acidity, it is light in body and has a clean medium length finish. This would serve well as an aperitif or go well with spicy Indian or Asian cuisine or any dish that you might normally serve an off-dry Riesling. This wine sells for $28 per bottle.
2012 Franciscan Estate Merlot
This wine is a blend of 82% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Malbec, and 2% Syrah. It is an opaque / semi-clear red wine, dark ruby at the core to pink at the rim with medium+ viscosity and slightly staining tears. On the nose it is clean with moderate intense aromas of ripe black cherries, boysenberries, blackberries, blueberries, violets, cocoa, a hint of mint, cedar and spice. On the palate it is dry with moderate - moderate+ tannins, it is medium bodied and has a moderate length finish. This is not your typical soft fruity Merlot as the tannins actually have a little bit of grip and it has more black and blue fruit notes than just the common red cherry characteristics which is undoubtedly due to the additional Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Syrah. This wine sells for $23 per bottle.
2012 Franciscan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
This wine is a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, 3% Malbec, 2% Petit Verdot, and 1% Cabernet Franc so it is actually more of a Bordeaux blend. It is an opaque red wine, dark scarlet at the core to ruby at the rim with medium+ viscosity and slightly staining tears. On the nose it has subtle aromas of black currants, blackberries, dark chocolate, a hint of mint and eucalyptus with a touch of tobacco, bay leaves and dried herbs. On the palate it is dry with medium+ tannins, it has medium body and a medium length finish. A well-balanced wine with good structure that will improve over the next few years, it sells for $29 per bottle.
2011 Franciscan Estate Magnificat
This wine is a blend of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot and 6% Petit Verdot, and 3% Malbec. It is an opaque red wine, scarlet at the core to ruby at the rim with medium+ viscosity and staining tears. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of black and red currants, black cherries, cocoa, tobacco, black licorice, black pepper, a hint of mint and sage. On the palate it is dry with refined medium+ tannins, medium acidity, and a medium+ length finish that lingers with herbs and spice. A highly complex wine, it sells for $55 per bottle.
2005 Mt. Veeder Reserve Napa Valley Red Wine
Mount Veeder Winery was founded by Michael and Arlene Bernstein and their first release was the 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon. In 2008 the winery was purchased by Franciscan Estate. It is located in the Mount Veeder AVA on the west side of the Napa Valley. Although it is the largest AVA within valley (25 square miles) it has a limited production as it produces only 1.3% of valley’s grapes from about 1,000 acres of vineyards. Whereas valley floor vineyards produce about 4 tones per acre, these mountain vineyards are produce only around 2.5 tons per acre for Cabernet Sauvignon, which is about half the Napa Valley average. Mount Veeder Winery’s vines are planted on wide terraces of earth cut into steep slopes at elevations of 1,000 to 1,600 feet, above the valley floor. The winery is not open to the public but the wines are available in the Franciscan Estate Winery tasting room.
The 2005 Mt. Veeder Reserve Red Wine is a blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot and 7% Malbec. It is an opaque red wine, dark ruby at the core to garnet at the rim with a hint of brick red with medium+ viscosity. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of dried cherries, plums, baked blackberries, maple, black olive, tobacco and a touch of earth. On the palate it is dry, velvety on entry with medium+ refined tannins that glide across on the mid-palate, it has medium+ acidity and a medium+ length finish. A complex wine that is probably at its prime and is definitely ready to drink now. This wine sells for $120 per bottle and I brought one home.
2010 Mt. Veeder Rosenquist Cabernet Sauvignon
The Rosenquist vineyard is one of Mount Veeder’s three estate ranches at an elevation of 1,500-1,600 feet above sea level. The wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. It is an opaque red wine, dark scarlet red at the core to ruby at the rim with medium+ viscosity and staining tears. On the nose it has moderate intense aromas of black currants, blackberries, dark chocolate, a hint of smoke, beef jerky, dark roasted coffee, and caramelized brown sugar. On the palate it is dry with velvety medium+ refined tannins, medium+ acidity, and a moderate length very complex finish. This is an absolutely phenomenal wine, it sells for $100 per bottle.
To visit or for more information:
Franciscan Estate Winery
1178 Galleron Rd
St Helena, CA 94574
Phone: (707) 967-3830http://www.franciscan.com/