At the recent National Cabernet Franc Wine Competition, Shale Canyon Wines once again won a Gold Medal and Best of Class in the $30 and less category. Remarkably this is their second year in a row that they have pulled off this feat. Last year it was for their 2014 vintage and this year the 2015 continues to outshine the others.
So who are the owners/winemakers of Shale Canyon Wines? It started out as three brothers and Ken Gallegos as the winemaker. Today it is a two man show with Keith Prader and his brother Tim. The responsibilities are for Keith to handle the winemaking, software, sales and marketing. Tim handles the vineyard management, facilities manager and tasting room manager. For the last two years, Keith has also been the winemaker. While lines of responsibilities may be drawn, each can and do fill in any and all needs of running a small two man winery.
The Cabernet Franc that was submitted this year was their 2015 which comes from their Estate in Arroyo Seco in Monterey County. Their property is 375 acres with only 7 acres planted in vineyard. On the estate property they have planted besides Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel. Tim mentioned to me that on the estate grapes, they drop a lot of fruit and target about 3 tons per acre. Flavor profile is key and dropping fruit allows more “flavor per grape” (FPG). They have sourced grapes for their Chardonnay, Malbec and Syrah. In 2018 they produced about 1,000 cases and in 2019 produced approximately 1700 cases. Looking out in time to 2025 they believe they will be between 2000 to 2500 cases maximum. Since starting in 2007 and having their first crush in 2008 with purchased grapes, they have been primarily producing 100% varietals. A small exception was their 2014 & 2016 Consortium blend with limited supply for club members, essentially a “Bordeaux style” blend.
For those not familiar with Arroyo Seco AVA in California, here is a map first of the area in California and secondly a map of where Arroyo Seco AVA fits in:
(Map from Arroyo Seco Winegrowers Association)
Consisting of 18,240 acres the Arroyo Seco AVA is one of the smallest AVAs in California. While this area receives about 13 inches of rain per year, they have gone 100% solar power for their operation and today are one of two wineries working completely off the gird.
So back to their Cabernet Franc. This wine is a dark violet on the eye and medium viscosity. On the nose, cherries and a hint of cedar. On the mouth a wondrous blend of blueberry, plum and chocolate. This years was not as “chewy” as the 2014, but surprisingly the 2015 Cabernet Franc with mild tannins and subdued oak was exceptionally smooth and silky with a long lasting finish. I was shocked that a wine at this price tasted so good!
You can experience their wines at their tasting room in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Paseo San Carlos, west side of San Carlos between Ocean and Seventh. They are open with limited hours per the government orders, so best to check with them directly. They offer some unique wines like a 100% Mourvèdre and Tempranillo, two varietals uncommon for Monterey County.
The Food Pairing
Last night this wine was paired with pork chops seasoned with mesquite spices and Applewood bacon salt. Accompanied with Yukon gold potatoes and baked parmesan mushrooms completed the meal. An excellent pairing.
Quality has been their mantra since inception and to this point, they drop between 40-50% of the fruit on the vines to provide the most intense flavored grapes for their wines. Kudo’s to Tim and Keith for some excellent work. I have yet to taste their other vines due to Covid pandemic and Stay in Place orders, but can’t wait to taste and review some of their other wines.