It is rare for a winery to make its mark after just three vintages. It’s even more rare to make that mark based on a grape used more often for blending than as a single varietal. Dracaena Wines has managed to stake its claim early as a winery to watch by doing both.
Based in Paso Robles, California, Dracaena Wines (pronounced druh-see-nuh) has built their winery around Cabernet Franc, a grape generally used for blending, added to other Bordeaux varieties to play a supporting role while leaving the lead to Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. As a blending partner to these better-known varietals, Cabernet Franc is often forgotten and not recognized as a varietal that can stand on its own. Ironically, Cabernet Franc is actually the parent of Cabernet Sauvignon (along with Sauvignon Blanc).
We asked Draceana’s proprietors Lori and Michael Budd why they decided to focus on a grape that seems to fall outside the mainstream, “We fell in love with wines made predominantly from Cabernet Franc for their aroma, body and ability to pair with food. Secondly, once we visited Paso Robles, it became a natural fit to make Cab Franc from the outstanding growers in this region.”
The winery’s name is an unusual one but similar to many wineries worldwide, it is a name connected to a family member. “Dracaena is the genus name of the plant better known as the Draco plant. The taxonomy name allowed us to combine our scientific backgrounds while honoring the memory of our adored Weimaraner, Draco in our winemaking endeavor.” It is Draco’s likeness that adorns the label and their love for Weimaraners that has resulted in customers sending photos of their “weimies” with their wine.
When we first tasted Dracaena Wines’ 2013 Cabernet Franc (the inaugural vintage), we were more than just pleasantly surprised. We were suitably impressed and rated it as “excellent”. That wine is made from 85% Cabernet Franc and 15% Petite Syrah from West Side Ranch in Paso Robles’ sweet spot, the Adelaida District. Medium to dark red in colour, the nose was very fragrant, offering up scents of black currants, and black cherries with nuances of tobacco leaf. The body was medium plus and the tannins were still noticeable at its young age but they were sweet and not astringent or rough. There was a lovely texture to this wine that gave it a soft mouthfeel, punctuated with a very precise and long finish.
But would this be Freshman luck or was this a sign of great things to come? Their 2014 vintage took home a Silver Medal at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition two years ago. We found it to be a more delicate wine than their debut with greater complexity. The sophomore offering is 90% Cabernet Franc and 10% Petite Syrah from the West Side Ranch vineyard. Notes of blackcurrant, cherry, plum are backed with tobacco and a hint of mint. It showed great structure and also had a nice long finish. Another excellent in our books!
Recently their 2015 Vintage was awarded a Double Gold Medal, easily putting aside any notions of “luck” to their winemaking. It is 100% Cabernet Franc from the Plummer Vineyard, a property known for its unique row orientation (WSW to ENE) for the purpose of decreasing direct sunlight thus reducing sunburn of the fruit and allowing for more flexibility with hang time during harvest.
Despite their love of Cabernet Franc, Dracaena have recently expanded their wine production to include their first vintage of Rosé made from Syrah. It has just been bottled and is set to be released March 1st but can be pre-ordered via their website. Based on their award-winning Cabernet Franc, we strongly recommend you find it and buy as much as you can.