Q&A with Daniel LeFrancois
Daniel Lefrancois has worked in the wine industry for over 30 years. Originally from Virginia, he went on to work in Cognac, France, and San Francisco, CA, where he also worked as a wine broker. Read on to learn more about this amazing American winemaker.
How did you get into wine?
My journey into wine world began when I left Virginia as a young adult to spend 18 months backpacking throughout Asia and then Europe. I was enjoying a glass of wine at a café in Paris while looking at a map, trying to figure my next move. A drop of wine spilled onto the map, right next to Saint-Émilion. I took that as a sign and went on to backpack through Bordeaux. It was then that I just fell in love with the world of wine.
When did you become a winemaker?
The idea first germinated when I was working in France at Camus Cognac, developing new wine and spirits brands. I knew that this is what I wanted to do, but first figure out my own style and choice of terroir. It was as a wine buyer, tasting wines from around the world, that I found myself gravitating towards winemakers who sought balance and harmony. I was so excited with my first 2004 Wine Spots Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon vintage. My next wine was my 2005 Zinfandelic Amador County Old Vine Zinfandel. That entire experience was amazing, from the label design to the wine blending.
What do you love most about California wine?
California is blessed in its diversity of regions and terroir. I love the kiss of California sunshine on the vineyards, we are blessed with great weather. Neighbouring regions, even neighbouring vineyards, can impart completely different personalities to the wine because of the varying terroir. I am constantly able to explore the different characteristics of the varietal, vineyard and region. While every vintage is unique, I am able maintain consistent quality along with excellent ripeness and freshness that is unique to California.
What is your absolute favourite food-wine pairing?
Without a doubt, Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and lamb chops. It’s that pairing that always has me pausing between each bite and sip, just enjoying how the interplay of the full-bodied Cab mingles with the earthier flavors of the lamb chops.
Among the wines featured by Opimian, which one are you most proud of? And why?
One of my favorite wines is my Wine Spots Napa Valley Cuvée 38 Red Blend. Napa Valley is one of the premier regions in the world for Bordeaux varietals and one of the iconic “spots “for Cabernet Sauvignon. The Napa Valley Cuvée 38 is an ode to my Bordeaux days and a celebration of the art and nuance of blending different varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet France & Malbec) to create a harmonious wine. I love how the Old World varietals take on a fresh, ripe quality from Napa Valley terroir.
Describe your philosophy in one word or sentence.
What do you love about the 60s rock movement that inspired you to create Zinfandelic?
Being a child of the 60s, I did not get to enjoy sixties music until my teenage years. There’s a unique style to 60s rock that you just don’t get from other decades. So much feeling and independent thought is captured in the songs. You can listen to the music and, without even knowing the history of that time, get a sense of what the artists were experiencing and almost relive it through their songs. It’s still my favorite music genre today.
When I moved to San Francisco, I instantly explored the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, where the music and festival posters from that era are still hung on walls or in stores. I absolutely love that art style, from the psychedelic treatment to the use of color and typography. There’s a huge music store at the end of Haight Street, Amoeba Music, that’s filled with vinyl records. Walking in there and smelling the vinyl is akin to walking into a library and smelling the books. The walls are lined with music and festival posters, creating an immersive art experience that takes you back to that decade. So much history to experience through the music and art that captured it all.
After releasing my Wine Spots Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, I knew I wanted to make a uniquely California wine, one that captured the personality of California. Zinfandel is considered the quintessential California grape, deeply rooted in California’s winemaking history. The Golden State is home to some of the oldest Zinfandel vines in the world. Creating a wine that showcased a uniquely California grape with a label that captured a uniquely California art was a wonderful experience.
And yes, I have been known to wear tie dye on occasion.