During the winter of 2006, Rich Pisacano, veteran grape grower and co-owner of Roanoke Vineyards, had a disagreement with his father Gabby, also a long-time grape grower. The source of the dispute? Employing a more manually intensive, hands-on approach in the vineyard.
"At the time, he (Gabby) was not entirely convinced that such differences in the process could have such a profound effect on the finished wine. He suggested taking a portion of the vineyard to do exactly what an extreme protocol asked of him to see what would happen," Rich told me in an email.
That was when "Gabby's Rows" became official.
If you've been to Roanoke Vineyards, you've seen Gabby's Rows. They are the 12 eastern-most rows right behind the tasting room, just off the patio. And there's a good chance that you saw Gabby tending those vines.
He's out there a lot. He has to be -- the protocol is much more intensive and time-consuming than what is done in the rest of the vineyard.
And Gabby is the only one allowed in the block. So if it's going to be done, he's going to do it.
Throughout the growing season, he thinned the canopy and dropped fruit multiple times. When anything had to be done in the vineyard, it was done immediately -- by Gabby -- not a day or two before or after they needed to be to accommodate vineyard crew schedules.
Yields were intentionally reduced. Grapes that "looked perfect but did not taste intense" were dropped to the ground. At harvest, Gabby's Rows yieleded 2 tons/acre rather than the nearly 3 tons/acre for the rest of the cabernet franc.
Those two tons per acre also hung in the vineyard longer than the norm. The extra hang time, plus lower yields, led to 23.2 brix versus 22.6 for the non-Gabby franc (which I reviewed back in May.)
This was intense, hands-on viticulture. "The time and effort Gabby spent in those 12 rows would be cost prohibitive for us to repeat in the rest of the vineyard," Rich said, adding "I always believed that fine wine needs to be made with the absence of imperfect fruit and without varying levels of ripeness. The fruit that went into Gabby’s Cabernet Franc was simply absent of imperfection," he said.
After tasting this wine, it's hard to argue that the hard work Gabby put in wasn't worth it.
The Gabby's 2006 is a standout for its finesse and elegant intensity.
The nose is spicy and complex, showing layers of sweet black cherry and blackberry with subtle but distinct earthiness, high-toned floral notes, a bit of chocolate and a sweet mint-menthol note.
Pretty and silky on the medium-bodied palate, plum and red cherry lead the flavor parade followed closely by earthy fall leaves, sage, basil, mint and beautiful layers of spice. The finish is long and that subtle chocolate note shows up right towards the end.
The tannins are ripe and mature, bringing structure without astringency. A charming, resplendent wine with a story to match.
The 2006 is sold out, but the plan is to released the 2007 Gabby's Cabernet Franc on September 25, when Gabby himself will turn 80.