Lang & Reed
2004 Premier Etage Cabernet Franc
California: Napa Valley
What We Say
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Today’s wine is a real go-to wine among wine industry professionals. Ask industry folk what Cabernet Franc they gravitate to and they will likely point you to Lang & Reed, today’s featured winery.
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Mission Codename: Word on the street
Operative: Agent Red
Objective: Respond to reports that Lang & Reed makes the go-to Cabernet Franc among those in the wine industry. If the wine lives up to the hype, procure as many cases as possible for our Franc-loving Operatives
Mission Status: Accomplished!
Current Winery: Lang & Reed Winery
Wine Subject: 2004 Premier Etage Cabernet Franc
Winemaker: John Skupny
Backgrounder: As you know, Cabernet Franc is one of Agent Red’s favorite red varietals. Perhaps this is because its flavors are often rich, layered, complex and elegant. Or, perhaps he loves Cabernet Franc so much because it pairs so exceptionally with many different foods. One of the most notable things about Cabernet Franc is the fact that finding excellent examples can be very difficult. Read Red’s tasting notes and mission report below for the full intel on today’s superb wine
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – Deep garnet with a darker heart and beautiful ruby-pink edges. The beautiful color of the wine is perfectly concentrated, right out to the sides of the glass. When you swirl this wine, it appears lively and bouncy, giving the impression that the wine is imbued with a spirit of it’s own. When the wine settles, it leaves behind some of the thickest and most slow-moving legs I have ever seen!
Smell – Flowers and fruit lead the elegant charge here, with cherry, raspberry, blackberry, black currant, violets and dried mixed flowers. These sit easily atop soft dried herbs, chocolate, subtle truffle and soft leather
Feel – Soft and light-weight at very first. The wet start to the wine almost instantly gives way to a mouth-coating bigness that envelopes the entire palate, drying the cheeks, tongue and lips with a flinty minerality
Taste – Rich and surprisingly dark for a Cabernet Franc, this wine is not shy with its flavors, delivering a lush and rich rush of blackest cherry, overripe blackberry and black currant at first. The flavors evolve, introducing smokey blueberry, darkest chocolate, herbs and a hint of tomato vine
Finish – Exceedingly long and very rich, this wine starts dark and smoky, then more fruity and lighter as flavors tail off slowly and slightly tart, leaving behind traces of minerals, fruit and a soft dryness
Conclusion – This is a wine to sip, savor, discuss, dissect and enjoy! For lovers of great Cabernet Franc, this wine will intrigue you as it pleases with classic Cabernet Franc flavors – but also mixes in some very original flavors. The progression that the wine takes in the mouth adds to this intrigue, delivering flavors and a feel that morphs over time. This is a bigger Franc that we have shown here, making it a wine with slightly more character than I am used to in a Franc. I mean that in the most complimentary sense. This is a great wine!
WINEMAKER INTEL BRIEFING DOSSIER
SUBJECT: John Skupny
DATE OF BIRTH: June 1953
PLACE OF BIRTH: The Motor City – Detroit
WINE EDUCATION: Started in the ‘70’s as a restaurant wine buyer and sommelier in Kansas City, moved to California and the supply side in 1980 and then moved to the Napa Valley in 1984 as the first non-production employee at Caymus Vineyards…. 25 years and 20 some wineries later!
CALIFORNIA WINE JOB BRIEF: Marketing & Sales Director – Caymus – ’84-‘89 – Vice President-Clos Du Val – ’89-’92 – Vice President & General Manager ‘Gerant’ Niebaum-Coppola ’92-’96 – Owner/Winemaker Lang & Reed ’96 – Current – Also Past President of the Napa Valley Vintners Association and the Napa Valley Wine Auction 1996~! Past President of the Stags Leap District-1990/01 and founding Vice President – The Rutherford Dust Society 1994 – Consultant to over twenty wineries since 1984.
WINEMAKING PHILOSOPHY: Good wine should not be a painful experience, on the palate nor the pocketbook.
SIGNATURE VARIETAL: Cabernet Franc – That’s all we do!
CAREER HIGHLIGHT: March 2009 – Having my son, Reed, translate French to English for me, my father, Bob and other son, Jerzy Lang, while visiting and tasting with the Baudry Family and Phillipe Alliet in Chinon, –France -
CAREER HIGHLIGHT: July 3, 1983 Checking out over thirty vineyards in Lake County with Andre Tshelistcheff.
WINEMAKER QUOTE: “Can we be perfectly Franc?”
AGENT RED: Greetings, John. We are thrilled to be showing your 2004 Premier Etage Cabernet Franc today. As you know, I am a huge fan of Cabernet Franc and I am particularly thrilled to have the chance to bring your wine to our Operatives today. Also, many thanks so much for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today.
JOHN SKUPNY: My pleasure, Red.
RED: Right off the bat, I have to say that when I ask others in the wine trade what their favorite Cabernet Franc is, an alarmingly high number say Lang & Reed. Why do you think that so many gravitate to your wine?
JOHN: When Tracey and I began Lang & Reed it was with the intent to explore the charms of Cabernet Franc – Since 1993 that is all we have produced – our sole focus and goal is to produce high quality, distinctive and enjoyable wines based on this singular and ancient grape!
RED: Was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?
JOHN: I was always intrigued but by the fermentation process, I made a batch of apple wine when I just started High School, it was under the ruse of a Christmas present for my father… he got a bottle in a fancy package with a homemade label – I took the other gallon to a party and no one felt very well the next day!
The next inspiration was when my wife, Tracey, took an advance French reading class, in college, it covered the foods and wines from Franc, during which we began to cook for friends, trying different menus and selecting appropriate wines [seemed like everything went with Beaujolais or Cote du Rhone]… our entire 35 year career in the wine business can likely be pin-pointed to that class!
RED: And where did you learn the most about winemaking?
JOHN: I learned the fundamentals from Randy Dunn & Chuck Wagner during my tenure at Caymus Vineyards. I was schooled about the subtleties of blending the classic Bordeaux varietals from Bernard Portet at Clos du Val and was able to fine tune my thoughts about Cabernet Franc, as a ‘stand alone’ grape, from the time I spend at Niebaum-Coppola [Rubicon] with Tony Soter and Scott McLeod.
RED: What is your winemaking style or philosophy?
JOHN: Style: pleasure over power – finesse over fanaticism – subtlety over severity! Philosophy: “My house is clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy”
RED: What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?
JOHN: Wines: Saintsbury Garnet Pinot Noir – Selene Sauvignon Blanc – Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon – Baudry Chinon – Winemakers: Tony Soter – Bernard & Mathieu Baudry – Mia Klein – Bernard Portet – Charles Thomas
RED: How long have you been making wine?
JOHN: Since 1980 as an avocation – since 1993 as a profession
RED: Who do you make wine for?
JOHN: For those who just want a nice glass of red wine that is honest, authentic and gives pleasure.
RED: Tell me, what makes the Napa Valley so special for Cabernet Franc?
JOHN: Napa Valley is just a very special place for certain grapes to excel – a perfect crossroad of soil, climate and people with a passion to grow and make wine. For a very ancient grape, Cabernet Franc is lucky to have found this beautiful place.
RED: What is one piece of advice that you would give to someone that is considering a career as a winemaker?
JOHN: Travel and learn as much as you can about the wines in the world , stay open minded, be flexible in your tastes – don’t become cynical and make sure you know how to sell what you want to make.
RED: What is occupying your time at the winery these days?
JOHN: Blessing the barrels and watching them closely as they do their winter magic after their birthing just a couple months ago.
RED: Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today
JOHN: The Premier Etage bottling for Lang & Reed is Napa Valley Cabernet Franc in one of its purest expressions. All of the grapes were grown in beautiful alluvial [very rocky] soils where the crop size is moderate and the grapes have enough exposure to uniformly ripen but not to go over the top. This helps preserve the varietal expression and adds support to the length of flavors. There is just a touch of Petit Verdot to polish the tannins and smooth the finish. It has been bottled aged for five years so it is transitioning from its youthful bravado to a much more elegant and aromatic wine while maintaining it Cabernet Franc-ness!
RED: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?
JOHN: Roasted game birds – mushroom risotto in a red wine reduction – or a wide array of French and California goat cheese, however – if you have a side of pork rillet with the goat cheese, you will likely need a second bottle.
RED: Please share one thing about yourself that few people know
JOHN: In another life I would have wanted to be the piano player on Miles Davies famous ‘Kind of Blue’ album but Bill Evans was the only one available. Closet musician who cannot carry a tune! I also make to most incredible croutons that can be enjoyed with any jazz music!
RED: What is your favorite ‘everyday’ or table wine?
JOHN: Saintbury Garnet Pinot Noir – Long Meadow Ranch Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc – Baudry Les Granges Chinon
RED: How would you recommend that people approach your wines, or wine in general?
JOHN: “If you have a corkscrew – use it”
RED: If you could choose any one wine to drink (regardless of price or availability), what would it be?
JOHN: Krug Champagne for breakfast, lunch and dinner
RED: Yummy! What is the one question that I should have asked you, and what is your answer to that question?
JOHN: Question: Why Cabernet Franc? Answer: Because it is there!
RED: Thank you so much for your time. We learned a lot about you – and about your wine. Keep up the great work, we are big fans!
JOHN: Thank, you, Agent Red!
What the Winery Says
Awards & Accolades:
“The best expressions of Cabernet Franc are much more interesting than the best expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon.” – Jon Bonné, San Francisco Chronicle Wine Editor – Sunday, March 29, 2009
“John Skupny (Lang & Reed) – Don’t judge a book (Skupny may be known more for his marketing genius than winemaking) or a grape (he produces only Cabernet Franc) by its cover, because Lang & Reed’s “Premier Étage” has become one of the world’s most singularly intense and distinctive wines.” – Culinary Wine & Food Adventures
About This Wine:
This Premier Etage exudes aromas of black cherry, raspberry and floral perfume with the most delicate hints of dried herbs. On the palate the wine appears svelte with the black cherry appearing again which mingles with dark Swiss chocolate notes. The wine finishes with a gentle briar, smoke and soft gentle tannins extending the fruit experience through a long satisfying finish. We always view the Premier Etage to be a ‘Vin de Garde’, or a wine to age, meaning that with proper cellaring the wine will display additional complexities and nuance.
The words Premier Etage by literal definition mean the ‘first floor’, or the level above the ground floor. Lang & Reed’s interpretive definition means one level up, a deeper profile and more complex expression of the Cabernet Franc grape.
The Lang & Reed 2004 Premier Etage, composed of 97% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot, is the eighth vintage release and emanates from two very distinct Napa Valley vineyards. The heart of the Premier Etage comes from the Madrigal Vineyard, located near Larkmead Lane half way between St. Helena and Calistoga. The vineyard lies in the middle of the old Richie Creek gravel bed. This vineyard has been the core of Premier Etage since its inception in 1996 and brings to the blend rich, dark chocolate flavors, textural tannins with substance and length.
The other vineyard in the Premier Etage assemblage is from the Wood Ranch vineyard which lies on a gravel bed on the eastern benchland of Rutherford where over the centuries Conn Creek has coursed its way back and forth over the valley. The geology of alluvial soils provides for quick drainage and sparse nutrients, allowing the vines to work a little harder during the growing season. The cuvee from the Wood Ranch included a small amount of Petit Verdot, which was co-fermented with Cabernet Franc.
Premier Etage rises to the challenges of expressing intense quality of fruit and builds complexities from the geology and climate of two vineyards. Each of the two cuvees receives slightly different fermentation regimes best suited to the particular vineyard and the ripeness of the grapes. All the grapes are de-stemmed, but not crushed, allowing the partial, whole-berry fermentation to bring forth the seductive Cabernet Franc perfume, aromas and fruit flavors. This year’s addition of Petit Verdot broadened the palate impression and intensified the opacity of the color. Various lengths of post-fermentation maceration are employed before the wine is racked into French oak barrels for a 25 month repose before bottling.
About The Winery:
WHO: John & Tracey Skupny, together with their two sons, Reed and Jerzy Lang, operate Lang & Reed. For over twenty-five years we have worked with wineries in California and since 1984 lived and worked in the Napa Valley. Prior to starting Lang & Reed, John worked at Caymus Vineyards, Clos du Val and the Niebaum-Coppola Estate, whereas Tracey continues a lengthy tenure at Spottswoode Winery.
WHAT: Cabernet Franc! Two red wines are produced, with another in the wings. Lang & Reed – North Coast, released around one year after harvest is crafted in an imminently quaffable style. Lang & Reed – Premier Etage Napa Valley represents a more structured and age-worthy profile of Cabernet Franc. As we head into our second decade we have begun to explore crafting a wine based on Cabernet Franc that includes varying proportions of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. This wine, Right Bank®, is inspired by some of the classic blends emanating from St. Emillion in Bordeaux and the Napa Valley. We try to create wines that express the unique character of Cabernet Franc.
WHEN: Founded in 1996 after realizing the potential of Cabernet Franc as a variety that can stand on it’s own. We recognized this potential in a prototype ‘franc’ that we produced in 1993 and decided in 1996 to forge ahead: making the world safe for Cabernet Franc.
WHERE: Our family has lived in the heart of Napa Valley for over twenty years, mostly working for Cabernet Sauvignon producers. As a source for fine Cabernet Franc grapes, our focus is in Napa Valley, but our exploration and fine-tuning has led us to other regions in California, most notably the North Coast Appellation region.
WHY: We have been charmed by the great Cabernet Franc wines from the regions of Chinon, Bourgueil and Bordeaux in France, to those in Italy, Australia, South Africa and as close to home as New York and California. Having arrived in the Napa Valley in the early 1980s we had the opportunity to see the first serious wave of vintners who were utilizing Bordeaux blending grapes in the creation of their Cabernet Sauvignon. This led us to look at the pieces of the puzzle and realize the charms of Cabernet Franc. Inspired by this, we set out to produce a wine that is heady in aroma and fruit, possesses rich and satisfying flavors, while at the same time, is not overburdened with tannin or oak flavors.
AND HOW: We work closely with half a dozen vineyards to insure that we have fine, ripe and balanced fruit. The techniques employed in vinification accent the profuse aromatic profile of the grape and bring out a rich, fleshy middle palate. Combining grape growing technique with handling and fermentation methods we, are able to hold the tannins in balance, yet produce a wine of structure and substance. Lang & Reed is a wine that has immediate charm and enough ‘stuffing’ to gain complexity in aroma and flavor with bottle age.
Varietal Composition: 97% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot
Appellation: 100% Napa Valley
Vineyards: Madrigal Vineyards, Larkmead; Wood Ranch, Rutherford
Alcohol Content: 14.9% by volume
Total Acidity: 0.53gm/100ml
Cooperage: 25 Months, French Oak
Case Production: 287 cases
Bottling Date: Winter 2006
Label Design: Jeanne Greco, Caffe Greco Design, New York