Cabernet vines in Kronos vineyard, Corison Winery, Napa Valley
Who doesn’t already know Cabernet Sauvignon? The crowned king of Napa Valley in scope, significance and fame, Cabernet is an unavoidable choice for anyone living near or visiting the wine region.
Everyone has tasted a wide range of Cabs: young and aged, from the New World and the Old World, single-varietal and blended with other grapes…
Is there anything left to learn? Perhaps these four facts will surprise you!
1. King of the world – at least, in acres
Cabernet Sauvignon is not just Napa’s most planted grape variety. In 2014, researchers at the University of Adelaide reported that Cabernet Sauvignon’s acreage had overtaken that of the Spanish variety Airén, the No. 1 planted grape for many years before. Since 1990, the report said, Cabernet’s world-wide plantings more than doubled, reaching 300,000 hectares (741,300 acres). This is great news for Cab lovers, of course, but it also means more competition for the Napa Valley Cabs!
2. Family matters
The parentage of Cabernet Sauvignon – Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc – was famously discovered by UC Davis researchers in the 1990s. Thanks to additional research, we’ve been able to add more members to the Cab’s family tree. Did you know that Merlot is another Cabernet Franc’s descendant and therefore is Cabernet Sauvignon’s half-sibling? Or that Chenin Blanc is its aunt (or uncle)?
3. A relative newcomer
The cross between Cabernet Sauvignon’s parents most likely occurred spontaneously in Bordeaux some time before the middle of 18th century. So Cabernet only started to make any significant impact on the Bordeaux vineyards towards the end of the 18th century, with the appearance of grand chateaux. Compare that to the earliest reliable mention of Pinot Noir some 500 years earlier – in the 13th century!
4. “Most beautiful”
If you’re a fan of expensive Napa Cabs, you’ve surely seen To Kalon written on the label – the name of perhaps Napa’s greatest vineyard. Do you also know that To Kalon – Greek for “most beautiful” – was the first vineyard in Napa Valley to be planted with Cabernet Sauvignon?
The man credited with planting first Cabernet vines in mid-1880s was H.W. Crabb, who had come to Napa at the end of the 1860s and built one of the largest wineries in the Valley. Most probably, his vine cuttings came from Santa Clara Valley, where they had arrived three decades earlier directly from France (Santa Clara Valley had a large French community, similar in importance to the German one in Napa Valley).
Crabb not only planted his beautiful To Kalon vineyard with ‘Medoc’ varieties, but also sold cuttings to other wineries.
By 1888, the total plantings of Bordeaux varieties in Napa reached 779 acres, putting the Valley in the epicenter of Cabernet growing in California. Fast forward a century, and Napa Valley is still the undisputed champion of the best California Cabs!
The post was originally written for the Women for WineSense blog in 2015. Women for WineSense is an education and networking organization for wine aficionados and industry professionals. The organization’s website has since been re-designed.