My name is Franc, Cabernet Franc

June 8, 2023 – Château Jean Faure organised the first Cabernet franc Symposium. University professors, researchers, nurserymen, oenologists, viticulturists, sommeliers, MWs and candidates to the program of the IMW all shared their interest, passion, and thoughts about this intriguing grape variety with long history and amazing versatility. Château Jean Faure has always cultivated a form of curiosity about this grape which represents 65% of their plantings with some vines going back to 1930.

The program of the day shed light on the history and ampelographic characteristics of Cabernet franc, its clonal diversity, and rich developments in terms of mass selection to better adapt it to climate change and understand its historical or up- coming terroirs.  



Cabernet franc seems to be old, very old…
Professeur Jean- Michel Boursiquot

Nonetheless, as an old grape, its existence predates the nowadays name. The oldest and most certain written evidence might be that of French writer François Rabelais, in his “Gargantua”, in 1534: “ce bon vin Breton…” which was not from Brittany, as we learn further on, but from Verron, near Chinon.  Legend has it the grape had perhaps navigated from the Basque country or the Southwest of France to the French Brittany to enter Loire Valley.

Another explanation about the “Breton” is given by Alexander-Pierre Odart in 1845. In 1631, Abbé Breton would have planted the best plants of Bordeaux under Cardinal Richelieu’s guidance in Chinon and Bourgueil. At that time the Abbot was still a teenager, so the story might have been more of a legend than that of a true historical fact. Nevertheless, documents used to mention plantings of “Plants de L’Abbé Breton” or simply “Plant Breton”, regarding Cabernet franc.

Abbé Bellet, 1736 – “Voyage littéraire” talked about the Grande and Petite Vidure. Historical sources, suggest that the synonym Vidure could come from Bidure, itself deriving from Biturica or Biturigiaca mentioned by Pliny the Elder and Columella as the grape of the Bituriges Vivisci, Celtic tribes from the nowadays Gironde area. However, Professor Jean- Michel Boursiquot also mentions the homonym tribe – Bituriges Cubi, dwelling in a territory corresponding to the later province of Berry, although true link has never been established. Other suppositions lead us to Gascony in which dialect “bit dure” means hard vine, typical of the Cabernet franc.

Its nowadays name only appeared in 1855. Professor Boursiquot indicates D’Armailhac A. “Culture des vignes dans le Médoc” who mentioned five clones of the “Gros Cabernet”, one being “Cabernet franc or gris”. Like the current name, the grape was also called “Caburnet” in numerous sources. This term is supposed to be derived from the Latin “carbon” meaning black, in reference to the deep colour of its berries. So carbon – carbonet gave carbenet, which eventually changed into cabernet.

This brief history, romantically traced by Professor Boursiquot, explains why Cabernet franc is at home in France and namely in the three above-mentioned regions: Loire Valley, Bordeaux and Southwest.

As shown by Pierre Galet in his dictionary – “Dictionnaire encyclopédique des cépages et leurs synonymes”, Cabernet franc plantings in France had experienced an incredible growth since 1958 from only 9744 ha up to 36650 ha in 2011. It then unexplainably declined to 31 614 ha until 2021 according to Professor Boursiquot. This makes it the 8th most planted grape in France. The OIV sits it 18th in the world in terms of plantings, with slightly over 50.000 ha including France.

With 5000ha, China is estimated second after France (66%), however Italy (13%) and United States (7%) seem to establish a much relevant podium. They are followed by Chile, Hungary, and Argentina, then by a large spectrum of countries with a couple of hundreds of hectares. Some dozen hectares also exist in New Zealand, Switzerland, Romania, Germany, and Austria, according to the OIV (2017), and Anderson and Nelgen (2020).

Cabernet franc is undoubtedly a very old variety. So old that some consider it a “population-variety” rather than a grape. Whether we admit that or not, its diversity of synonyms is typical to old varieties, with origins older than time. Cabernet Franc is supposed to have parent-off -spring links with very old cultivars from Basque Country: Morenoa and Hondarribi Beltza (Bourisquot and al. 2009). However, according to the same Professor Boursiquot, its parents have either disappeared, or they haven’t been found yet, and direct domestication from wild vines is not to be totally excluded.

Achéria, Ardounet, Bidure, Bordeaux, Bordo, Boubet, Bouchet Franc, Gros Bouchet, Bouchy, Breton, Cabernet Breton or Plant de l’Abbé Breton or Plant Breton, Capbreton Rouge, Cabernet Gris, Cabrunet, Carmenet, Couahort, Sable Rouge, Trouchet, Tsapournako, Verdejilla tinto, Véron, Vidure, Vuidure, Grosse Vidure these exotic names also show how this grape moved from its supposed departure point in the Basque Country to its nowadays regions in France and then further eastwards, to countries such as Switzerland, Austria, Romania, Greece Hungary.

Recognizable by the tip of the young shoot’s high hairy density and pinkish color, its adult leaves are pentagonal, with three or five lobes and more dramatically indented than those of Cabernet- Sauvignon. Its medium clusters (170g) have rather thin- skinned and pruine- rich berries with large seeds. The pedicle remains green for quite a long while, showing global retarded lignification of the stem. Early to medium, but much earlier than Cabernet- Sauvignon in disbudding, it is also mid- ripening. Cabernet franc is considered rather vigorous, but also variable depending on the vintage, with Cabernet- Sauvignon showing stronger vigour according to Prof. Boursiquot.

Its very hard wood makes it resistant to hardy winters, though it is rather sensitive to spring frost and especially to drought and hydric stress. It is less prone to coulure than Merlot, though more than Cabernet- Sauvignon while on the other hand chlorosis affects it more than Merlot and less than Cabernet- Sauvignon. It is however prone to Magnesium deficiency. Less affected by the mildews, it has a moderate sensitivity to grey rot and grape trunk diseases, while threatened especially by excoriosis.

Cabernet franc has a high plasticity, both as a mono- varietal or in blends and reacts well to a large range of soils such as clay and limestone or sand, with less adaptation to gravels or schist because of the scarce water retention.

Professor Bursiquot notices that for such an old variety there is no detected colour mutation yet, with globally restrained intra- varietal diversity.

The first clonal selections appeared in the 70s with virus free clones created in the 90s to face leafroll and fan roll viruses. The first-generation clones aimed for larger clusters (200g), early- ripening, higher productivity, and less Botrytis sensitivity.

Three quarters of the graftings in France count on the 214, 327 (also the most multiplied) and 623 clones according to Francis Minet from Pépinières Guillaume nursery, while famous nurseryman Lilian Bérillon counts four clones among the 31 for 78% of the grafted surfaces. It seems however necessary to have a more diverse panel, with a larger number of clones, including massals, to have a better response to climate change. Only 3% of the surfaces are mass selections nowadays, with increasing demand and new clones are ready to enter the market. Their objective is to obtain smaller bunches 120-150g/ l and higher anthocyanins concentration. Some early- ripening clones like 1155 are perhaps of a lesser interest today, but others like 1166 offering higher pH or 1167 with more aromatic features might come into the scope. Research for later- ripening clones is on the way with possible improvements against water stress and magnesium deficiency sensitivity.

In addition to precision mass selection, Lilian Bérillon also encourages the variety and quality of rootstocks. Nowadays rootstocks in France are cloned and not mass-selected, so there is a true concern about degeneration. At pépinières Bérillon Omega grafting has been totally banned and replaced by the English cleft grafting, thanks to Alain Deloire’ s research who promote this even transplant causing less necrosis.

Speaking of rootstocks, research now focuses on drought – tolerant rootstocks such as R110, 1103P, 333EM or 140Ru according to Francis Minet, Pépinières Guillaume, as managing water with Cabernet franc is truly paramount.

Round tables featuring Bordeaux and Loire Valley producers opened perspectives on subjects such as terroirs, nutrition, pruning, stem inclusion, aromas and flavours with various technical itineraries in the vineyard or in the cellar to then apply them through numerous open tastings and one masterclass lectured by Olivier Poussier, Best Sommelier of the World:

  1. Domaine des Roches Neuves, Thierry Germain, Franc de Pied 2016, Saumur Champigny

Iris- scented floral nose, with superbly juicy raspberry aromas, lean and lively, with silky, fine grained tannins and sapid finish with dusty texture. Still very youthful and so digest lingering with raspberry and cranberry crunch, with a touch of pepper. Enjoy over the next 10 years+.

  1. Domaine du Collier « La Charpenterie » 2016, Saumur

Riper style mingling darker fruit like blackcurrant with toast, fresh capsicum while offering a true depth of flavours with some smoky, graphite notes. Fleshy core with broad acidity and density through grainy tannins, concentration, and length with peppery, capsicum finish with some toast. Keep it over 10-15 years+.

  1. Domaine Philippe Alliet « Coteau de Noiré » 2018, Chinon

Intensely ripe nose, bursting with juicy red and black fruit, airy balsamic and fine toast. Palate is ripe and soft but with incredibly elevated acidity and juicy salivation cutting through the generous core together with a firm tannic mesh. Graphite textured tannins, velvety mouthfeel, and long spicy cherry and blackcurrant finish. Already seducing, will drink over the decade.

  1. Domaine de Bel Air Grand- Mont 2018, Bourgueil

Ripe blackberry interlaced with graphite and floral note, oak- derived spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, it is fleshy and dusty with its grainy tannins, absorbing the balancing acidity. Tasty, savoury finish with concentrated black fruit and pencil lead. 12 years plus.

  1. Zuccardi, Poligonos del Valle de Uco « San Pablo » 2020, Mendoza

Pencil lead, with reductive notes opening upon strawberry and cherry, with fine, soft palate offering fresh acidity, digest alcohol, gentle tannins, and graphite, reductive finish. A quaffable wine for immediate enjoyment.

  1. Château Jean-Faure Grand Cru Classé 2020, Saint Emilion Grand Cru

Historical 2020 was crafted under pandemic. According to Marie- Laure Lattore, director of the château, nature pursued an undisturbed cycle though all the world stopped. After a rainy winter, spring was mild with prolific blooming of a remarkable quality.  Warm summer was fortunately refreshed by two storms by mid- August. Merlot ripened early, Cabernet franc came next, and all was tempered by fresh nights and large thermal amplitude for this short three- weeks harvest. Château Jean Faure totally promotes the identity of Cabernet franc with Merlot only offering support to push it to the pinnacle, while most of the estates consider Cabernet franc as a supportive variety for Merlot.

Blackcurrant and floral- herbal notes of freshly cut flowers, cherry and toasted spices with velvety palate and fresh acidity, supported by seamless tannins. Highly- toned and structured with fine- grained tannic bite, its perfect oak integration brings a spicy touch. Long and dense finish with juicy blackcurrant and a floral twist. Wait another 7/8 years before enjoying over the 15/20 years plus.

  1. Duemani Cabernet Franc 2018, Costa Toscana

Concentrated black and morrello cherry and with juicy blackcurrant and garrigue, its acidity is high and crystalline, without any austerity, imprinting the velvety texture. Sapid tannic grip coming with firm but coated- up tannins, its long, lifted finish brings layers of spices and blossomy scents. Superb harmony for the next 12-15 years to go.

  1. Argentaria “Vantaglio” 2018, Toscana

Intense mix of black cherries, toast and spices with a dusty graphite dimension complemented by some blond tobacco. The palate is velvety, fresh with grainy texture and elevated, linear structure cutting through the generous core to the long and chocolatey finish. Still very youthful and restrained. Can wait for 6/8 years to 12 years plus.


Thank you Brinda Bourhis – Winevox and Tom Ghoul (Directeur Commercial France – Château Jean Faure) for the invitation, great to catch up with lovely people!