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Tri-Valley Foodist: Wine festival CabFranc-a-Palooza landed in Livermore

Tri-Valley Foodist Deborah Grossman.

I spent the first weekend in June with Cab Franc in Livermore wine country. As a longtime fan, I tasted Cabernet Franc from five countries, multiple states and learned that hoop dancing was harder than it looked.

The CabFranc-a-Palooza event held June 1 to June 4 held several surprises along with interesting wine and food.

A wine festival called a palooza? Lollapalooza was a music festival which influenced a plethora of carnival-like “palooza” events for communities and interest groups. CabFranc-a-Palooza wasn’t the first wine palooza; Rosé-a-Palooza recently occurred in Colorado Springs.

Steven Mirassou, sixth generation owner of Steven Kent Winery in Livermore, and his partners in Momentous Hospitality wanted to host a fun wine festival highlighting the quality of Cabernet Franc from Livermore Valley and beyond.

Mirassou is passionate about Cab Franc and launched L’Autre Côte, a separate label for what he calls his “sexy and sensual" wine. I suspect that means it makes a good date night wine to pair with food.

Knowing that Cab Franc is the signature wine at Cuda Ridge Wines in Livermore, I phoned owner Larry Dino for a quick description: “Cab Franc is complex, but it is lighter and less tannic than heavier Cabernet Sauvignon.” Dino didn’t join the palooza because his 2021 Cab Franc was sold out and the 2022 is presented first to club members.

Over a dozen other local wineries did participate in the “Celebrating Livermore Valley Cab Franc Kickoff Party” walk-around outdoor event at Posada restaurant in Livermore. I noshed on Chef Alexis Posada’s seafood paella, lamb flautas and tamales while tasting several fine Cab Francs such as those from Wente Vineyards, Autre Côte, Garré Vineyard, Bent Creek and Darcie Kent Estate Vineyards.

I asked several vintners who first made a Livermore Valley wine labeled “Cabernet Franc.” No one seemed to know. David Kent of Darice Kent winery said their 2010 Stone Patch Cab Franc was the first from a single vineyard. Phil Wente later informed me that the first may have been from Murrieta’s Well or Wood Family Vineyards.

Held at the Charming Fig café in Livermore, the Saturday evening seminar, “An Exploration into Cabernet Franc: 5 Regions, 10 Wines,” was paired with Charcuterie. Another crazy-about-Cab Franc vintner Zoomed with us from Bordeaux. The Debate Napa Valley Cab Franc was a lean, elegant version.

But the Cab Franc with black cherry and slight white pepper flavors that captured my attention was from Clifton, Virginia. Paradise Springs Winery Co-founder Kirk Wiles shared surprising facts: Virginia is the fifth largest wine producing state—and Cab Franc is their most widely planted grape. Many of his grapes come from the Shenandoah Valley, a prime Va. winegrowing region.

My conversion to the palate-friendly Cab Franc started during visits to Bordeaux and the Loire regions of France. At the Grand Tasting finale on the expansive patio of Steven Kent Winery, I reviewed the map with 24 booths, entertainment and food trucks and made a beeline for the international Cab Francs at the Prima Vini wine shop with owner John Rittmaster presiding. I’ve known Rittmaster as a source for all things quality wine related from his Prima Vini wine shop located in Walnut Creek since 1977. A few years ago, Rittmaster opened a second Prima Vini shop and tasting bar in Dublin.

Rittmaster curated five CabFrancs representing France, Argentina, South Africa, and Italy. My favorite was the Château Lassègue from Bordeaux. Having met the owners of Lassègue, I was pleased their wine was as smooth and well-balanced as I recalled.

As I tasted an easy-to-drink Murrieta’s Well Cab Franc, I overheard the person pouring at the next booth talk about Shenandoah grapes. I knew the Virginia contingent was across the patio and walked a couple steps over to meet the folks from Andis Winery in Plymouth, Calif. Their well-crafted wines carry the broad Sierra Foothills appellation which includes the Calif. Shenandoah Valley AVA in Amador County.

After lunching on food truck shrimp tacos, I ambled over to Infinite Monkey Theorem, an urban winery from Denver. I recall visiting their tasting room plastered with monkey signage and paraphernalia. How did the “back-alley winemaking” team end up at the palooza? Mirassou and his wife tasted their wine at Denver Airport and followed up with an invitation.

Before I left, I watched an Aries Moon Circus performer twirl in, out and around four large blue hoops. I confess to participating in informal hula hoop competitions at retreats during my previous corporate career. But this live performance was mesmerizing.

It was a big deal for a small team in Livermore to host such a broad-based wine event. With sold-out seminars and 350 people attending the Grand Tasting, another CabFanc-a-Palooza may arrive in 2024. “Livermore Valley is known for Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. We want people to discover our Cab Franc, too,” said Mirassou.

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