Thursday March 5, 2015
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. You may recognize this as the often quoted line in William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”. Juliet speaks these words to argue it does not matter that Romeo is from the rival house of Montague and that the names used for things do not affect what they really are. So if a wine is made from the grape Lemberger, as it is known in Germany, does that mean it would not smell as sweet as the wine made from the grape known as Kekfrankos? In spite of the immediate image of stinky cheese wine that Lemberger might suggest, the two grapes are one and the same. And what about Cerne Starosvetske, Jubilaumsrebe or Vaghyburgundi? If you guessed these are regional names for the very same grape variety, give yourself a gold star, they are indeed.
The two names most often associated with this variety are Lemberger, as it is known in much of the U.S., and Blaufrankisch, the Austrian tag for this wonderful grape. Frankly, I prefer the Austrian version if you must, but maybe there is one more option… Blue Franc; we’ll get back to this later.
I am convinced one of the smartest things I have done during my 16 year tenure here at Shady Lane Cellars was to plant Blaufrankisch in our vineyard back in 2004. One of the dumbest things I’ve done during the same period is not plant more of it. Since our first bottling of this wine in 2007 it has consistently produced an amazingly unique and intriguing version of this variety which truly reflects our vineyard, our “terroir”. I have not experienced another Blaufrankisch quite like it. Granted, there are similarities with other wines, especially the examples I have had from the Burgenland region of Austria which is considered by most to be the best locale for this grape. The wine produced from this grape is often compared to a broad variety of other wines, anything from Gamay and Pinot noir to Syrah. In our vineyard, as in Burgenland, the wine is on the fuller, heavier and spicier side. Where we differ from Burgenland is in our characteristic cool-climate contribution to the wine. The best way I can describe it is juicy. Juicy as in a basket of fresh, ripe fruit. Juicy as in just picked blueberries or mulberries, even blackberries. Layer on top of that an earthy/spicy note reminiscent of cedar and the wonderfully characteristic freshly ground black pepper, add good but not overwhelming tannin and there you have it, Shady Lane Cellars Blue Franc. Those of you that have experienced this wine know exactly what I am describing, those of you that have not, really should. This wine presents something truly unique in the world of wine and how often can you honestly say that?
Now as promised back to the name Blue Franc. Simply, the name is an English translation of the Austrian name Blaufrankisch. A while back a winemaker in California was making this wine from a very good vineyard in Washington State. At that time the federal government, in their infinite wisdom, only allowed the wine to be labeled as Lemberger, no other name could be used legally. There is a certain reason for that, you don’t want wines labeled something they are not, but Lemberger really is a lousy name. Remember the stinky cheese wine association? So, this winemaker wisely coined the name Blue Franc as a proprietary name for his wine, and just as wisely (from a sales and marketing point) trademarked the name so he would have something unique and quite a bit better sounding than Lemberger. Because of this no one else can legally use the name Blue Franc… except… this winemaker just happens to be my mother’s brother. That makes him ole’ Uncle Jed, as in Jed Steele, the famous winemaker that put Kendall-Jackson on the map with a very popular style of Chardonnay that literally changed the face of Chardonnay in America. Jed now owns and operates his own winery, Steele Wines, and bottles his wonderful Blue Franc under his second label known as Shooting Star. After a bit of pleading and playing the “family” card Jed granted me permission to use the Blue Franc name, making us one of only two wineries in the known universe to label a wine as such. Now add to this that I had the privilege to apprentice with Jed some years back and learned from one of the very best I can say,
“Thanks Jed, I owe you!”
Adam Satchwell Winemaker and General Manager, Shady Lane Cellars