Joelle Thomson

Wine writer and award winning wine author

What I am drinking, reading and savouring each week


Homage to Cabernet Franc

It’s not exactly the green turtle or the reptilian hawksbill turtle (both now in sanctuary in the Philippines, a rare success story) but Cabernet Franc is one of the rarer great red grape varieties in the world and it has now declined by nearly 50% over the past 10 years in New Zealand. Is it because it has never been ranked as highly as Cabernet Sauvignon, which has also dropped to 219 hectares from 519; a more understandable decline since it is so tough to ripen Cab’ Sauv’. French winemakers in Bordeaux don’t tend to regard Cab’ Franc as highly as they do Cab’ Sauv’. As in France, it is in New Zealand.

Is it too hard to encourage wine drinkers to try something new? I, for one, would love to know why Cabernet Franc has dropped by nearly 50% in the past decade. Is it the same reason that Chenin Blanc has had an even sadder decline, albeit from a smaller base of about 50 hectares nationwide to only 20 odd hectares today?

I know these lesser known wine grapes don’t rank up there with endangered turtle species but they are plant life, nonetheless, and their decline makes me wonder if it represents our homo sapien tendency to go for the easiest thing, sometimes at the expense of the better one.


2019 Smith & Sheth Cru Heretaunga Cabernet Franc $38ish
Smith & Sheth Cabernet Franc is made from the Howell Vineyard in Bridge Pa, Hawke’s Bay, and tastes of soft, smooth vanilla, impressive rich dark blueberries and blackberries. It’s one of those wines with great concentration and fantastic length, a full body that suggests fabulous potential to age, but who knows? How often do we get to taste aged Cabernet Franc, after all? Here’s a good reason to stash some under the bed for 10 years to find out.