The Birth of Cabernet labrusco

The birth of Cabernet labrusco varietal grapevine – by Jerry Rodrigues (Dec. 2013)

Cabernet labrusco was derived from a crossing between Cabernet sauvignon N. CS5/R46 (Vitis vinifera L.) (seed parent) x Danugue noir (Vitis vinifera L.) (pollen parent), and was realized in 1994 in Plumstead, a suburb close to the historical Groot Constantia vineyards in the Western Cape (South Africa). This new ruby-red wine varietal was registered in 2013 with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF).



The Cape Barbarossa (Danugue noir) was the pollen parent


The Cabernet sauvignon was the seed parent


I have finally built my Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) riddling rack!

This step is close to the penultimate one in making my MCC (‘champagne’) and is known in France as “remuage”, the process of “riddling” the upside-down MCC bottle. This process is performed by slightly rotating the ‘capped’ MCC bottle (about ⅛ to ¼ turn each time) over a period of about 22 days so that the “plug” of old yeast cells and other debris (called the ‘lees’) eventually packs into the neck of the upside-down bottle. The bottle starts out in an almost horizontal position (angle of approximately 45⁰) and ends up at a 90⁰ angle to the surface of the table.

Interestingly, this ‘riddling’ process is the only instance of which I am aware that tends to “defy” Newton’s Law of Gravity. Did you know that at the end of the riddling process the smaller particles of ‘debris’ are generally found to be right at the bottom while the larger debris and dead yeast cells are on top of the smaller ones? This is the ‘secret’ of the ‘remuage’ process. It apparently works because the slight twisting motion causes the smaller particles to ‘roll off’ the larger ones, while at the same time the smaller particles are ‘nudged’ further down the bottle by the larger ones behind them, especially as the bottle becomes more vertically orientated. This aspect is very important because it is the larger particles that ‘press down’ on the smaller ones in order to prevent the ‘champagne’ from becoming turbid as a result of the disgorgement process which will follow (see below).

One of the final processes will be the removal of the “frozen” plug of lees through a process called “disgorgement” (in French, “dégorgement”) and, hopefully, not losing too much of the precious bubbly contents in the process!
Please see the photo of my home-made “riddling” rack which is of a somewhat different design to the conventional French A-frame design (called the ‘pupitre’ or ‘desk’) which has been used for over 200 years. I built my “riddling” rack from one stave which I salvaged from my old 200-litre oak wine barrel.

We have had a successful Cabernet labrusco MCC 2016 vintage inauguration and wine tasting (18 March 2017).

The theme for my Cabernet labrusco MCC 2016 vintage inauguration was ‘Dom Pérignon’. My Cabernet labrusco grape harvest ‘coincided’ with the Tricentennial Celebration (300 years) of the death of this ‘most famous’ Benedictine monk, Dom Pierre Pérignon. Benedictine monks were also known as the Black Monks because of their black habits (attire).
If you don’t already know, he became famous for ‘perfecting’ the Champagne-making process in France, where he was in charge of the Vineyards that were attached to the Abbey in Hautvillers, near Rheims, in the Champagne region. Dom Perignon died in 1715 at the age of 75 – which was regarded as a ripe old age at the time.



The Cabernet labrusco MCC 2016 vintage had been aging for 12 months on its lees i.e. Sur Pointe, the French term for ‘storing the bottle upside down on its neck’. The ‘disgorgement’ process was performed using a specially-made disgorgement tool. Please see photo below…


After the disgorgement the frozen ‘lees plug’ which ejected from the bottle was miraculously retrieved (by a friend) in the process.


The MCC was poured into fluted ‘Champagne’ glasses which immediately produced bubbles and a rather heady froth. Someone remarked that it was reminiscent of beer froth. We then proceeded to the ‘proof of the pudding’, so to speak – the wine-tasting itself.


It seems that some wine-tasters found the MCC to be very ‘yeasty’. Also the ‘typicity’ of the Cabernet labrusco grape did not come through enough. One of the conclusion, therefore, was that either the maceration process should have been longer or that there should have been a period of ‘skin-contact’ fermentation. I had not fermented this vintage on their skins, but rather macerated this batch for about an hour before filtering through the cheese cloth. However, one wine-taster gave an overall score of 19 points out of 25 (i.e. 76%), which was close to what I had allocated. I gave it 80%, but there again I guess I’m biased. smilley_face

Please see some final photos of the wine-tasting – there is also a photo showing one of the tasting scorecards with some scoring results.