The Cork Club: January 2020 Selections – An Exploration of Shenandoah Valley Cabernet Franc

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A pair of 2017 cabernet francs made from fruit grown in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley AVA

Happy New Year! I hope each and every one of you had a great holiday season filled with great food, wine, friends and family. I know that I sure did.

2020. The start of a new decade somehow seems more significant than just the start of another new year. And yet, I don’t really do the whole “resolutions” thing. I try to be a better person – husband, father, son, employee, version of me – every day. Not just once a year.

You won’t see any big changes to the club this year. My goal remains the same – to find the most interesting, unique and delicious wines from eastern North America and get them into your hands, your glasses and your mouths. The only thing I’m hoping to change just a bit is how I introduce the wines. You’ll see less tasting note-like stuff here. I always feel like I’m telling people what they “should” taste – and wine should never be like that. You taste what you taste.

Instead, I’ll dig in a bit into where the wines were grown and how they were made.

This month’s shipment is an exploration of the same grape – cabernet franc – grown in the same region – the Shenandoah Valley – but approached two different ways by the same winemaker – that being Ben Jordan who is head winemaker at Early Mountain (which we’ve included in the club before) who also makes the wines for the negociant brand Lightwell Survey.

Both wines come from fruit grown in the Shenandoah Valley AVA in the northern part of Virginia. Bounded by the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains, it’s cooler and drier here than in much of the state. I actually read somewhere once that the valley gets half the rain than the state average.

This isn’t strictly a look at different winemaking approaches, though it is that too. The cabernet franc for both wines was grown in the Shenandoah Valley, not all of it comes from a single vineyard. In addition, the Early Mountain is 100% cabernet franc while the Lightwell Survey also has small percentages of syrah, riesling and petit manseng.

“Both use some (cabernet franc) fruit from a vineyard called Baer Ridge in Timberville,” Jordan told me “But the Early Mountain also uses Shenandoah Springs which is near Toms Brook, and Lightwell Survey uses cabernet franc from a small vineyard grown by Nathan Bailey (I call it Bailey) near Natural Bridge.”

As for the difference in winemaking, Jordan told me in an email that “The main difference in approach is the co-fermentation in Lightwell Survey, which also uses more whole cluster and is a touch less extractive with fewer punch downs and lower fermentation temperatures.”

The Lightwell Survey is made entirely in old, neutral oak and the Early Mountain uses a small percentage of new oak.

“So the Early Mountain has a little more of that lees reduction that makes for a savory mushroom aromatic,” said Jordan “While the Lightwell is marked more by the aromatics of the co-ferment. I took different directions, because both are ways that I am interested in exploring, and given the opportunity, I would much rather explore than make everything the same.”

Ben Jordan is one of the eastern wine community’s best winemakers, so I think you’ll enjoy this look at his own evolution and exploration as a winemaker.

As always, let me know what you think of the wines!

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