Friday I had the pleasure of speaking by phone with Eric Titus, second generation winemaker at Titus Vineyards in Napa Valley. Titus isn't one of those big, splashy, wineries...no they are a small family of people who love wine & love sharing what they can do with their lovely estate vineyards. This Thursday March 4th, Christophe Smith will be coming directly from Titus Vineyards to pour their wine at a wine dinner at one of the best restaurants in town, Restaurant Iris. I do believe the dinner is close to selling out if not sold out already. If they're sold out its worth it to get on the waiting list because you never know...
I first tasted their cabernet franc back in the fall & really fell in love with it. Its not brash & overblown, it is plush & round & filled with spice & fruit. So beautiful.
So I asked him, "why cab franc in a valley so cab sauv obsessed?"
"Back in early 90s we were doing a lot of replanting. At that time we decided to step up our cab program so we tore out chard & zin. The minority on the estate at the time was cab, no bordeaux varietals really at all. We decided to pursue more bordeaux varietals, The cab franc was meant for blending. At the time we were selling all of our fruit to Charles Krug, Cuvaison, BV, sean larkin, Pine Ridge, Clos Pegase. As the vineyard took shape we realized cab franc was way over planted. My brother & I started using more petite verdot in blends in order to get more stuffing & body. Therefore we had lots of cab franc to use. As opposed to just selling it off we decided to make use of it. Titus was still a very small label at the time, only about 1500 cases. No one was doing just cab franc so my brother & I decided to make a first edition cab franc of only 100 cases. That particular varietal has never been on the front of Wine Spectator to my knowledge. Cab franc never had its day in the sun but its a little more close to peoples hearts, the wine lovers or wine geeks. We had such a huge response from that first edition that its just grown & grown. We are on our 13th or 14th vintage. People really love it."
Do you think Napa needs or has any innovation? What keeps Napa in competition with the other dynamic & exquisite wine growing regions in the world?
"Well you know I think cab franc is a good example of the innovation in Napa. Most people think the wineries here are only watching the bottom line. I see people out here innovating with & exploring zinfandel, petite verdot, even a little charbono. There is s certain amount of innovation for sure. Many winemakers are trying to put forth that they are doing something different. To some extent they are compromising themselves somewhat because its thought of that cab sauv is the only napa grape. When you go to shops you just don’t see a lot of Napa cab franc or petite verdot on the shelves. I think that there will always be that faction that is trying something new."
When was Titus founded?
"The property was purchased in 69, first vintage in 90. Before 1990 we sold off our fruit to a few other wineries."
Do you farm sustainably, organic or biodynamic?
" I would say that everyone who farms on a smaller scale in Napa has a more environmentally positive approach for sure. By and large, we are low impact in our farming techniques. Thats almost a given with the smaller guys. We understand the direct effect we have on our surroundings but more importantly our business. In my opinion some wineries with the certifications (organic, bio-dynamic) are using it as more of a marketing ploy than anything. In terms of my own practices, we are lucky that we don’t have a lot of pest pressure on our vineyard. We weed with tractors, shovels, we control mildew with elemental sulfur which is organic. Thankfully we are also in fertile soil so we don't have to use chemical fertilizers. Low impact is something that we see most everyone doing."
Our conversation was brief but Eric was a pleasure to talk to. I really am looking forward to the dinner. Call Restaurant Iris to get on the list!
City Kitchen: Rice, in a Starring Role - Rice and lamb, baked together and studded with Middle Eastern spices: an easy, fragrant one-pot dinner.
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