Like so many of us, we start with different jobs to pay the bills and co-workers come and go. To our benefit, the wine captain walked out one night with his tuxedo in hand while Jay Turnipseed was on duty. This opened the door for Jay to learn more about the selection of 1,500 wines the restaurant had on hand. However, the turning point came when a customer ordered a bottle of the 1953 Chateau Margaux and offered Jay a glass.
This single wine experience led Jay to UC Davis to study Viticulture and Enology. Later Jay commenced his wine career at Gallo of Sonoma followed by Franciscan Estate Winery in 2004 as a winemaker. During his recent trip to Austin, I was able to meet with him, learn more about Franciscan and what it brings to my table.
The artistry of the winemaker to me will always set the winery a part from its neighbors and the commercial houses. The Franciscan Estate story is great. Justin Meyer, a former Christian Brother Monk located in Napa met Ray Duncan of Colorado who purchased the Oakville Dairy Farm,a 750 acre plot in the early seventies. Collectively the team took a less is more approach and started to produce Cabernet Sauvignon. The goal was to make their one wine the finest in the world.
Although the initial team moved on, today the less is more approach is paired with Franciscan’s over delivery in price philosophy which allows Franciscan wines to be enjoyed by many. Franciscan could have taken the same route as their high priced neighbors and created wines that are expensive and would be enjoyed as an “occasion” wine. However, Franciscan found that their value to their customers is to bring an outstanding wine that is reasonably priced and can be on everyone’s table several times a week.
I have to be honest, I have ordered Franciscan wines by the glass, but never took the time to find out more about their offerings. I have driven past the winery 100s of times, and never stopped in. It was truly my loss. And to find out that Magnificat, a meritage red wine crafted in the Bordeaux style comprised of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec has a twenty year plus following. Magnificat, a five voice choral piece by Bach is the perfect name for a signature Oakville wine that is comprised of complimentary varietals. Tasting the Magnificat it comes together like many pieces the puzzle to create a seamless flavor experience.
Jay is a wonderful educator on how Napa Valley is ideal for growing certain fruits which thrive with the hot days and cool nights. Specifically how Oakville is prime for Merlots and Cabernets. We discussed dry farming, an old method which was reintroduced to the valley many years ago and is contributing to a better red grape.
Franciscan is not a sideline player, but an advocate for the valley to gain the recognition of a Napa Valley Bordeaux styled wine. Meritage was selected to company red wine on the label that is crafted of merit and heritage. Today the Meritage Alliance has hundreds of members. Jay shared the Franciscan check and balance system of ensuring a successful wine through the harvest and non-harvest seasons. The team of three are hands on for the assembly of Franciscan wines; overseeing the vineyards, crush, cooperage and the blending of their products. In doing so Franciscan is able to showcase their vineyard, fruit and the experience in the glass. I was able to see a picture of the 100s of glasses of wine awaiting potential selection for the Magnificat, a blending process so many us would like to have participated in helping the team.
Jay introduced me to the 2012 Franciscan Napa Valley Sauvignon that won the Best in Class at the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Competition. A delicious light, crisp wine that has a wonderful citrus and lemongrass finish embraced of 100% Sauvignon Blanc. I was blown away by the 2012 Equilibrium Blended White made from Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and the hint of Muscat that brought a tasting experience of its own. I loved this wine and how the essence of grapefruit dances on your palate. Many times, wine is described on how well it pairs with other elements of dining. This wine stands on its own and does not need to paired with food. It is an outstanding Sunday afternoon sipper.
It would not be a wine tasting without Chardonnay. The 2011 Cuvee Sauvage Chardonnay born from the Carneros appellation is an “a game” Chardonnay that is barrel fermented in French Oak for 14 months and uses native yeast. Franciscan is willing to take on the risk of the native yeast to bring a better wine to the table. The result is a wine that is not two pounds of butter in the bottle, but has elements of pear, citrus and apple.
Franciscan wines are outstanding and without regret I can state they are very underpriced. In doing so, Franciscan is staying true to their beliefs of creating outstanding wines to be enjoyed by all and over delivering on price.
Deirdre Goggins is a frequent contributor to Wines.com and currently serves as Austin regional editor. Her expertise in the wine industry stems from years spent in Northern California wine country, where she was co-owner and operator of Regis Martin Tours. Deirdre may be contacted through this web site.