The Napa Valley beckons during all seasons, but the fall harvest months are arguably the most optimal time for a visit. Cool mornings give way to warm, sunny afternoons and the scent of fermenting grapes is nearly as intoxicating as the final product itself. Each and every winery in the valley buzzes with activity at this time of year and the excitement and anticipation are contagious. It’s the perfect time to explore, and a great place to start your exploration is in the heart of the Valley—and that heart is Franciscan Estate. Located in Oakville—the most central portion of the 30-mile long and 5-mile wide Napa Valley—Franciscan’s 240-acres of estate grapes grow under the most optimal conditions—a fact confirmed by their first wines made in 1975. The outstanding results spoke volumes about their prime location, and officially landed Oakville on the map as a powerhouse district for Napa Valley reds. The consistent excellence of their Cabernet Sauvignon continues to provide testament to their perfect grape growing locale and their artistry. Though you can find Franciscan Cabernet in most retail outlets, it’s best enjoyed at their tasting room along Highway 29 where you can compare with their other varietals. Here are a few reasons to plan a visit.
Varied Tasting Experiences: Franciscan offers a number of tasting experiences led by friendly wine educators eager to impart their knowledge. Walk-ins are welcome, though reservations are always recommended. Guests can choose from a) current releases, b) small production wines available only at the winery and to club members, c) reserve wines from the Franciscan Estate portfolio, d) Mount Veeder high-altitude red wines, and e) a courtyard tasting during warmer months. Take your tasting a step further and schedule a blending session. Franciscan’s first Napa Valley blend offered to the public was Magnificat, a wine that continues to express their craftsmanship. In a hands-on seminar, you can explore blending and play winemaker for an hour. Or book a personalized private tour and experience red carpet treatment with premium tastes.
The Reserve Lunch: Every Friday, guests are invited to savor Franciscan wines during a private, three-course lunch prepared by estate chef Brett Young and his talented sous chef Leland Garner. Experience how Franciscan wines pair with fresh, seasonal dishes, the ingredients of which are picked that morning at the local farmer’s market. A recent menu included: heirloom tomato salad with burrata, basil, and gazpacho vinaigrette paired with 2013 Franciscan Cuvée Sauvage Chardonnay, tenderloin with cranberry beans, roasted peppers, and red wine jus paired with 2009 Franciscan Magnificat, and honey ice cream and melon sorbet. Reservations are required seven days in advance and the reserve lunch is an amazing value.
Small Lot Winemaking: After hand picking, every load of Franciscan grapes is assigned its own tank, sized to match the vineyard block. With no need to turn tanks quickly for another batch, each lot can be crafted slowly, in its own time, for maximum flavor expression, creating a collection of limited-production wines with each vintage. Winemaker Janet Myers and her team evaluate every lot, every day during fermentation. Franciscan Chardonnay is given equal attention; the majority of the Chardonnay lots are fermented using wild yeasts, requiring constant attention but lending sublime complexity to the wine. The handful of lots selected for their outstanding Cuvée Sauvage Chardonnay blend are 100% wild yeast fermented and are hand-stirred.
Leaders in Sustainability: If you appreciate a sustainable and ecological ethic, Franciscan is your kind of winery. Their water and energy conservation efforts have led to a “Napa Green” certification – the wine industry’s most comprehensive “best practices” in land-use and wine production. They’ve reduced the need for pesticides by planting insectary hedgerows alongside vineyards to promote beneficial insects. The Oakville Estate vineyard utilizes a year-round reservoir that also serves as a habitat for native flora and fauna. Franciscan worked with the Audubon Society to develop this habitat, and today they partner with International Bird Rescue which utilizes the pond to release rehabilitated birds into this protected habitat, proving that not only is Franciscan Estate located in the heart of the Napa Valley, they also have a heart.