A bit of a sleeper vintage, tucked in between the superb 2001, 2002, and 2004 vintages. It wasn’t the easiest of growing seasons, but nevertheless, there are some excellent wines in 2003. Significant rain during the spring kept growers guessing, as they tried to adjust their vineyard management programs to match the conditions, and shatter was a problem. A moderate July was followed by a mid-August period of rain, followed by uneven temperatures that had harvest alternately starting and then stopping as everyone watched the weather and the fruit. Careful canopy management was important, and reading the weather was key to making the right decisions. Overall, summer was below average in terms of temperatures. As the harvest approached, the weather warmed up and dried out, and those who had gotten the canopies and fruit loads right were able to ripen a slightly smaller crop of very good fruit.
The most successful made wines that have been somewhat under the radar, being in the shadow of the other great years surrounding the vintage, and they are worth seeking out as they are relative bargains due to the overall impression of the vintage.
Tony Soter made his name with Cabernet Sauvignon in California at Spottswoode, as well as with his own Etude label. But to show he was serious about Oregon Pinot Noir, he relocated to the Willamette Valley. In 1997, with the help of his wife, he bought a 240 acre ranch in Yamhill-Carlton, first planting 15 acres of Pinot Noir, then another 15, and finally, 2 acres of Chardonnay. The time and energy he's devoted to the vineyard is evident in his intensely fruity, layered Pinot Noirs that do not sacrifice balance or focus for power. Recently, Soter has directed significant attention towards sparkling wines, made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. There is also a Cabernet Franc bottling from the vineyards surrounding the Soter home in Napa Valley.
Cabernet Franc Facts
Less weight and more aromatic intensity than Cabernet Sauvignon
Stews and braised meats
The Loire Valley's most renowned red wines, Bourgueil and Chinon, are made from Cabernet Franc, as are the mostly lighter, friendlier wines of Anjou and the somewhat more serious wines of Saumur-Champigny. Until recently, the aroma and flavor profile of Cabernet Franc had been decidedly out of step with the tastes of modern wine drinkers: herbal and peppery, with notes of tobacco leaf, menthol, and licorice, and often rather dry-edged tannins. But thanks to a recent string of favorable growing seasons , and to considerable work in the vineyards to reduce vine yields and promote greater ripeness of the grapes, today's Loire Valley Cabernet Francs possess more flesh and sweetness of fruit than ever before. These Cabernet Francs are also wonderfully flexible at the table. (Incidentally, when it was discovered that a compound called resveratrol, which is found in the skins of many red grapes, offers cardiovascular and anticarcinogenic benefits, the Cabernet Franc variety was found to be particularly high in this substance.)
There are also ample plantings of Cabernet Franc in the New World where the grape is used as it is in Bordeaux, in blends with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. In the Napa Valley, there are excellent examples, particularly in the cooler mountain settings where Cabernet Sauvignon struggles to reach optimum ripeness. Some worthwhile single varietal bottlings are being produced by Pride Mountain, Chappellet, and La Jota, among other producers.
Surprisingly, Cabernet Franc is also showing some success elsewhere in North America, including in Virginia, near Monticello, where Thomas Jefferson first attempted to produce fine wine. Pay attention to current efforts, as these are proving more successful than Jefferson's early endeavors.