Cavallo is the latest project of Frank Gigliotti, the record executive turned management consultant who decided to drop his business career and focus on the two things he loves most: wine and music. Frank is a high-energy entrepreneur who has a passion for everything he does, especially when it comes to making wine.
Frank’s entry into the wine world started as his business career ended. At a young age he joined Columbia records, at the time the largest record company in the world, and worked his way up into the executive suite signing numerous artists to that label. When being part of a huge corporation became too much for him, he left Columbia and set out on his own as a consultant helping to turn around the operating performance at many recognized names within the Canadian business landscape. Though he was very successful in that role, it ultimately was not satisfying for him. In the early 2000s, he finished up his consulting gigs and created his first winery.
That winery was built around his love for California wine and his natural affinity for innovation.
A proud and fiercely loyal Canadian, he did not want to leave his Vancouver home but wanted to make his favourite wine: Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley. Frank figured out the perfect angle to accomplish this. Importing finished wines from California is subject to the confiscatory level of taxation that Canada places on alcohol. But importing grapes from Napa is not subject to any tax when they are brought in as raw, unprocessed fruit.
Frank began importing grapes from Napa and set up a winery in North Vancouver at which to vinify those grapes. There is a big enough capital outlay to secure the premises and purchase the winemaking equipment. There is another big capital outlay to purchase the grapes. It is an especially big outlay if you are purchasing from some of the top vineyards as Frank wanted to do.
So, he created California Cult Classics (“CCC”) where consumers would buy an allotment of grapes, pay up front, which Frank would convert to wine for his customers to take delivery of two years later. People liked the idea and people loved Frank and his energy. They also liked the fact he was able to source fruit from some of the top vineyards in Napa. Those brave souls put up some money and took a chance on this entrepreneur. His first vintage at CCC was 2006….and it was a winner! His clients loved his wine, re-signed for more grapes and encouraged their friends to do likewise. California Cult Classics is a thriving winery today.
Cavallo Winery is Frank’s new project. It is similar to CCC in that it imports grapes from Napa and vinifies them in Vancouver. But at CCC the clients choose the grapes. And Frank was discovering new blocks of vines that went beyond that Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah that his clients were regularly ordering. He wanted to be able to respond quickly when a grower offered him some exceptional fruit and not have to rely on the willingness of his existing customer base to try something new. And he wanted to act on his vision for a new concept in retailing wine.
Cavallo Winery is a beautiful looking operation located in South Surrey.
The front of house is an elegantly designed tasting room that is sophisticated but comfortable. Behind the tasting room is a modern state of the art winery with all brand new equipment as well as a barrel room. Both the tasting room and the winery look like something you would find along Highway 29 in Napa Valley.
Here is where one of Frank’s truly great innovations comes in. Harvests in Napa can occur anywhere in September or October, depending on the weather of the vintage.
When the grapes come in, they pretty much all come in together and are processed and placed into fermenters within a few weeks from first to last.
The winery is a hive of bustling activity for 2 or 3 months. Then, when the wine goes into barrel, things get much quieter, until the next harvest. For the management consultant in Frank, who focused on making efficiency gains for his clients, the idea of having your equipment idle for most of the year was anathema to him. He knew there had to be a better way.
Frank discovered the better way: he would flash freeze the grapes when they arrived in Vancouver. That way he could utilize his fermenters and other equipment not just after harvest, but throughout the year. Just thaw the next batch of grapes when your fermenters are free again. A winery set up to produce 3,000 cases per year using traditional methods can do close to 30,000 cases per year using Frank’s frozen grapes. Freezing the grapes does nothing to harm them. In fact, Frank discovered that the tannins in his frozen grapes were slightly less aggressive and a bit more polished than in those grapes that were not frozen.
Frank’s winemaking pursuits are all about quality. Frank spares no expense when it comes to making his wines. “If it’s not the best, we’re not interested. My name is on every bottle”.
All of his wines are aged in new oak barrels. Top quality barrels come from the likes of Seguin Moreau, the famous cooperage in France. He also likes to mix in American oak barrels as well. Frank tells us “American oak is a different tree (than French oak) and actually has a little residual sugar not unlike a maple tree. So, when we toast these barrels to my specifications, slowly for 45 minutes over an open fire, it carmelizes this sugar so every one of our wines are bone-dry but they have a really sweet mouthfeel. It’s not sugar…it imparts butterscotch and caramel and notes like that.”
Frank loves the richness and boldness of Napa fruit. This is the type of fruit that can stand up to a lot of oak, without tasting “oaky”. The fruit is the dominant flavour and the oak ends up adding texture, but not taste, to the wine. To get even more of that texture from his oak he has barrels specially made. “ A typical barrel is round with a flat surface; on the inside of the barrel we put a groove in like a jack-o-lantern tooth, it creates twice as much oak surface space for the wine to come in contact with.” The wines rest in those barrels for 2 years and do not undergo any fining or filtration. They are periodically racked and topped up, but otherwise left alone to naturally express the terroir they came from. A minimal amount of sulfites are added just before bottling to keep the wine stable. The result are powerful wines with intense flavours and rich textures. They are big and bold. When asked about this style Frank responded “I drive 500 horsepower cars. What would you expect?”
This is now Frank’s 33rd vintage. He has never taken a winemaking class. He has spoken with many of the great winemakers of Napa and learned from them, “Everything I have learned is what you are seeing here.” With the exception of one blend (Ton of Brix), all his wines are single varietal. Most are single vineyard as well.
And like all good stories, the end brings us back to the beginning. Frank’s other passion, as talked about at the beginning, is music. Upstairs at his California Cult Classics winery in North Vancouver he has a full recording studio. He helps new, local talent by recording their work. And, surprise, surprise, he is an excellent musician in his own right. Just listen to him paying the drums in video above. And look closely at his drum kit. That’s right, made completely from wine barrel staves!
2017 Speranza Rosé
Made from Black Muscat grapes, the Speranza label is the flanker label to Cavallo, and provides top notch value. This is a fruit driven rosé, made for summer deck drinking with its flavours of strawberry and Jolly Rancher candies. The palate is medium to full and the fruit is ripe and low acid. A bigger take on the rosé style that offers more texture than most.
Very good/Excellent (CAD$19)
2016 Cavallo Chardonnay
Green/gold in colour, you can see the depth and texture that is about to meet your palate. Intense flavours of white peaches, guava and other tropical fruits. Rich and relatively low acid, this wine gets its full body and texture from barrel fermentation and sur lies aging. Unabashedly California in style, this won’t do much for the hipster somm crowd but will delight lovers of old school, full bodied Chardonnay.
Very good/Excellent (CAD$49)
NV Ton of Brix
This is a great value and no doubt a real crowd pleaser as well. Medium dark red, we get morello cherry and plum delivered in a compote style of wine. This coming from the 7.8 grams/litre of residual sugar. The blend is 40% Napa Merlot, 30% Zinfandel and 30% Petit Syrah from Lake County. The mouthfeel is soft and plush. This is a fun, drink-now wine, that delivers the goods in terms of power and intensity without being at all heavy.
Very Good/Excellent (CAD$29)
2016 Beckstoffer Carneros Pinot Noir
Coming from The highly acclaimed Beckstoffer Las Amigas Vineyard, known for producing big, dark, Pinot, this wine keeps up with that reputation. We get notes of black cherry, licorice, earth and baking spices on a full body with good structure. This is a Syrah-lovers Pinot, that leans towards power over elegance. High impact, and delicious with its black-fruit profile.
Very Good/Excellent (CAD$59)
One of our favourites of the tasting, this Zin is definitely in keeping with the house style: fruit forward, full bodied, high impact with rich texture. Lots of bramble berry and boysenberry fruit to form a rich blanket over the 15.7% alcohol, so we pick up no heat or astringency. There is a great spice component on the long finish.
2018 Beckstoffer Clone 7 Cabernet Sauvignon
Beckstoffer owns the Red Hills vineyard in Lake County where they produce beautiful fruit from the somewhat rare Clone 7 clone of Cabernet. At home we served this wine against a $100 Napa Cab from a major producer and the quality level was at least equal, yet half the price! We get classic Cab notes of Cassis, blackberry, and dark cherry along with secondary nuances of cedar and leather. The focus is sharp and the balance is right at the fulcrum. A brilliant wine at a very fair price.
2016 Stagecoach Merlot
This wine shows just how delicious Merlot can be when you get the right fruit. And it is hard to beat the high-elevation vines at Stagecoach Vineyard as this wine amply demonstrates. Plum, black cherry, on a body that is oh so smooth. Rich and full with secondary notes of herbs and brown spices, this wine is a hedonists delight!
Cantare is Italian for “sing” and is an ode to Frank’s musical past and present. The fruit is all Stagecoach and is mostly Clone 4 and Clone 6 Cabernet Sauvignon blended with a bit of Syrah and Merlot. The result is a deliciously smooth Cabernet-dominant blend. More Bordeaux-like than the Clone 7, this combines Frank’s trademark power with a good amount of elegance. If his other wines are linebackers, Cantare is the gymnast. Red and black fruit with a hint of sweetness that comes from the two years spent in American oak.
This wine is an homage to Frank’s Italian heritage, specifically his father.
Made from 80% Sangiovese utilizing the Brunello Grosso clone that is blended with 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot. Structured and still youthfully tannic, this is a brilliant, New World version of a Brunello di Montalcino. Spicy, red cherry fruit gets plenty of support from the secondary notes of earth, minerals forest notes. Very complex. This may be thoe most age-worthy of all his wines.
This is the Cavallo flagship, the Napa Cab designed to go toe-to-toe with the top Napa cult wines. Here the fruit is 100% Clone 2 Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from the upper elevations of Stagecoach Vineyard. Super ripe black currant and blackberry flavours are delivered with extraordinary smoothness. The wine just glides over your palate and delights your senses. Power and elegance come together in this wine to form the proverbial iron fist in a velvet glove. Terrific complexity. Wonderful now, this will have a long life in the cellar.
Winery/Tasting room open daily:
Location: 19288 22 Ave #150, Surrey, BC