Franciscan, founded in 1972 by a group of San Francisco lawyers and doctors, got off to an inauspicious start. The group went bankrupt before producing their first bottle.
Ray Duncan and Justin Meyer, founders of Silver Oak, bought the defunct operation in 1975 with Meyer taking on winemaking duties for Franciscan. The pair eventually sold to a German spirits company, Peter Eckes, but retained 300 acres of prime Franciscan land now part of Silver Oak Cellars.
Meyer continued as Franciscan’s winemaker after the sale, but eventually left to devote full attention to Silver Oak. In 1985, the Eckes family approached Agustin Huneeus about becoming their partner at Franciscan, offering him 50 percent interest in the venture. Huneeus and the Eckes agreed on a partnership with the stipulation that Huneeus would run Franciscan. And Huneeus was responsible for launching Estancia.
Constellation Brands bought Franciscan in 1999. An article by the late Frank J. Prial appearing in the New York Times at the time of the sale says Huneeus walked away from this venture with $220 million. Huneeus is still involved in the wine business with many diverse holdings including his flagship winery, Quintessa in Napa.
At one time or another, Franciscan has been in the hands of some of the most prestigious names in the industry, who set the bar quite high. Franciscan operates as an independent winery within the Constellation Brands conglomerate. Winemaking is now in the hands of Janet Myers, who became director of winemaking in 2003. She still sources fruit for Franciscan wines from the premium vineyard land that made up part of the original Franciscan holdings in Oakville.
Franciscan produces an array of fine wines in all price ranges. Try the following fine wines from Franciscan Estate:
Franciscan Estate Napa Valley 2009 Magnificat Meritage Red Wine. In the $50 range by special order from your favorite wine merchant. This wine takes its name from Johann Sebastian Bach’s masterpiece, Magnificat in D Major. This year marks the 25th anniversary of Magnificat’s release.
There is no varietal named on the label. It is a Meritage wine, a coined word that should be pronounced to rhyme with heritage. For a wine to carry a varietal name on the label, it must contain 75 percent of the varietal indicated. Meritage producers do not necessarily want to make wines that contain 75 percent of a single varietal. The 2009 Magnificat contains only 64 percent cabernet, therefore cannot be called a cabernet.
Red Meritage must be made from a blend of two or more of the following grapes typically found in Bordeaux-style red wines: cabernet, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec, petit verdot, gros verdot, carmenère and St. Macaire. A white Meritage must be a blend of two or more of the following varietals: sauvignon blanc, sauvignon vert and semillon. In addition, those placing Meritage on their labels must be members of the Meritage Society.
This 2009 release is a delicious complex wine. Concentrated dark berry fruit flavors. Excellent mouth feel. The tannins are there but are seamlessly integrated into the whole lusciousness of this elegant wine. Open an hour before serving.
Franciscan Estate Napa Valley Cuvée Sauvage Carneros Chardonnay 2011. In the $40 range by special order from your favorite wine merchant. Also celebrating the 25th anniversary of its launch, this wine is 100 percent chardonnay and takes its name from the French word for wild (savage) because only naturally occurring yeasts found on grapes are used in the fermentation process. This was the first Napa chardonnay to be fermented entirely with wild yeast.
Aged on its lies in 86 percent new French oak, this wine epitomizes a well-made California chardonnay. Rich and luscious. Flavors of citrus and golden delicious apple. Mouth coating honeyed consistency with zingy citrus coming through on the finish.
Also check for locally available, well-made Franciscan varietal wines at both Publix and Winn-Dixie in the $18 to $25 price range.
Email Pat Kettles at email@example.com