An upcoming festival in the Tri-Valley is set to put a spotlight on the Livermore wine community and one of its most unique drinking varieties -- the Cabernet Franc.
Dubbed by organizers as "the largest Cab Franc festival in the world", the first-ever "CabFranc-A-Palooza" is scheduled from next Thursday to Sunday (June 1-4) with a full list of events, activities and live music planned. Hosted at the Steven Kent Winery, the palooza will feature over 40 wineries both local and from afar.
Co-owner of Steven Kent Winery and co-founder of the CabFranc-A-Palooza festival, Steven Kent Mirassou, spoke to the Weekly about the event and his passion for winemaking.
With deep family roots in wine, Mirassou has worked within the industry his entire life. Being a sixth-generation winemaker, Mirassou feels it is in his blood.
"From a winemaking standpoint, my job is making wine. We are focused on creating the best Cabernet Franc in the world. That's our mission as a winery and family," he said.
While the Steven Kent Winery has been operational since 1996, his family has been making wine in California since 1854.
Mirassou described what inspired him to set up the wine festival was a way to uplift the regional makers and the Cabernet Franc variety.
"This has been a multi-year effort," Mirassou said. "Even before we came up with the idea for CabFranc-A-Palooza, it was more about trying to figure out a way to highlight Livermore Valley. It's one of the oldest wine growing regions in California and it's not known for anything at this point."
Event organizers specifically chose to focus on the Cabernet Franc drinking variety because of its quality and growing popularity in the region. Mirassou shared high praise for the wine.
"That variety is so much more interesting, diverse and sexy and delicious. It's mind boggling in the best possible way," he said. "And because it grows so well here, it just makes sense for us to push this idea that the Livermore Valley can be the home for Cab Franc in the nation."
"The CabFranc festival became a very obvious way for us to celebrate this specific variety in a really fun way," he added.
Mirassou explained a similar event was hosted last year exclusively for Steven Kent Winery club members only. Due to its success and positive feedback, he felt it was time to have his much larger event idea come to fruition.
"When the reception we got was great from last year, I felt like we finally finally hit it with the right variety," Mirassou said. "We started thinking about how we could create something that would increase visibility even more. That's when we came up with the idea of doing an event that would attract wineries from outside of the area."
Beth Murray, assistant winemaker at Steven Kent Winery and fellow festival co-founder, spoke about the event inspirations and her love of Cabernet Franc.
Murray explained that similar events exist elsewhere, such as a Pinot Noir festival in Oregon known as the International Pinot Noir Celebration. This served as inspiration for their own event.
"The IPNC happens every year and people come from all over the world to taste and talk about Pinot Noir, that was kind of an inspiration for us," Murray said. "Our goal with the palooza is to bring people to Livermore and to have them understand what an amazing wine region this is."
Murray explained that currently, Cabernet Franc is not as popular as other drinking varieties. She and the other organizers hope this will change.
"Cabernet Franc (of the black grape variety) is not quite as widely planted, although we hope that's going to change," Murray said. "It's very unlike other varieties. Whereas Cabernet Sauvignon is fruit-driven and very tannic, Cabernet Franc is a lot more lively and when done right should have a little bit of sage, bayleaf and maybe some smoked paprika or chili pepper."
Mirassou has described the Cabernet Franc as a "polarizing variety".
"It requires a depth of hands by the winery and in the cellar," he said. "The winery has a lot to do in order to make a wine that is reminiscent of a Cab Franc without being too green, and without losing all the green. It's tough as a type of wine to make well."
In the future the organizers hope to expand the event further, increasing the amount of wineries involved and visitor capacity.
"We have an opportunity to help secure the future of Livermore Valley as a standalone wine region that makes real class wine and focuses on Cabernet Franc," said Mirassou. "We get a chance to celebrate for a week every year and become the center of the wine world. That's our long-term success goal."
"We want to help people celebrate wine, being that it is one of the things that can make a well lived life," he added.
Murray echoed the same hopes for the festival.
"We hope to have even a bigger venue next year and to have even more people and wineries involved. This is something that we see growing because we believe Livermore is such an amazing growing region for Cab Franc," said Murray.
Murray encouraged the public to attend, saying the CabFranc-A-Palooza will feature events and activities for folks across the wine knowledge spectrum from beginner to expert.
"This is an event for everyone, if you want to really deep dive into the nitty gritty of winemaking, like soil types, growing regions or barrel aging, we have an event for that," she said. "We've worked really hard to make sure it is an event that will be fun for everyone whether they're complete wine nerds or just wanting to know a little more about Cab Franc."
Organizers anticipate a high turnout of visitors and have noted that several events have low-ticket availability or are already sold out.
"Though we're half-way joking when we say it's the biggest Cabernet Franc Festival in the universe, it literally is the largest Cab Franc festival ever," said Matt Toomey, a CabFranc-A-Palooza organizer. "Over the course of four days, 35+ wineries will celebrate all things Cabernet Franc with events and tastings culminating in the 'Grand Tasting' on Sunday June 4th."
"We have wineries coming from Napa, Sonoma, Santa Barbara, Bordeaux (and) more," Toomey added.
For more information about the event, visit cabfrancapalooza.com.