Rich Frank had the money and Hollywood connections to launch his own winery in 1992, but it was no guarantee of success in the big-time Napa Valley market. Fortunately, Frank’s knowledge of and passion for wine, expert business sense, and close-knit family talent were the most valuable assets in the overall equation.
The former president of both Disney Studios and Paramount Television Network, Rich and his wife Leslie, a former award-winning Los Angeles TV news anchor, make up the cornerstone of Frank Family Vineyards. They play a big part in tasting blends and assembling wines crafted by chief winemaker Todd Graff.
Sons Paul and Darryl – business executives in their own right – handle the winery’s marketing efforts. Three of the four estate vineyards, totaling 450 acres of plantings, are named for grandchildren – Lewis, Benjamin, and Stella & Jeremy.
The winery’s tasting room is located in the historic yellow Craftsman house (1884) in Calistoga. The stone building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and featured prominently on each Frank Family Vineyards (FFV) bottle label.
The annual Bay Area A-List contest has voted the Larkmead Lane facility as “Best Napa Valley Winery” for eight consecutive years!
FFV takes pride in its small-lot wines. Its single-vineyard Reserve collection, ranging from 300 cases to 3,000 produced, is among Napa’s best; wines can only be purchased at the winery or online (www.frankfamilyvineyards.com).
The Napa Valley collection is also top notch and more accessible to consumers via retail outlets. What follows are my impressions on four of those wines.
2018 Carneros Pinot Noir, SRP $38, 14.5% alcohol – People magazine recently published a special 30th year anniversary edition commemorating the hit movie “Pretty Woman” (1990) starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. While re-watching the film (the late Roy Orbison’s title track is incredibly energizing), I drank FFV Pinot Noir. Both were fabulous. The connection? Rich Frank was an original founder of USA Network that brought “Pretty Woman” to the big screen.
Remember Vivian’s gorgeous red gown that she wore to the opera (La Traviata)? Well, FFV Pinot Noir has a stunning color of its own – ruby red that gleams in the glass. OK, that’s the last of my movie comparisons. However, for a great stay-at-home experience, pair Pretty Woman and FFV Pinot Noir with a pork tenderloin dinner.
Ripe fruit, intoxicating flavors (cranberry, cherry, spices), velvety texture and balanced acidity make FFV Pinot Noir a delightful wine. It starts with fruit from Carneros, a cool climate district at the southern tip of Napa Valley influenced by ocean breezes and morning fog. Grower grapes from Sangiacomo and Beckstoffer vineyards dominate the wine, which also contains fruit from Frank’s Lewis Vineyard. Soils are clay-loam based with gravel deposits.
Winemaker Todd Graff employs the same wood-aging technique for all red wines. Equal proportions (33%) of the fermented wine are aged separately in new French oak barrels, once-used French oak, and twice-filled French oak before final assembly. The only difference is the length of aging. For Pinot Noir it’s 10 months.
Approximately 17,000 cases of the 2018 vintage were bottled.
2018 Carneros Chardonnay, SRP $38, 14.4% alcohol – This creamy Chardonnay is built on estate-grown Lewis Vineyard fruit and earned 90 points from Wine Enthusiast. It deserves a higher score. Some Chardonnays lose their identity after two swallows, but Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay is highly focused and never fades. Round layers of fresh fruit – lemon custard, yellow apple, Asian pear – merge seamlessly above a vibrant acidic core. The finish is spicy, smooth and enduring. We enjoyed this with grilled chicken breast, thinly sliced and placed over tagliatelle pasta in an alfredo sauce. Mamma mia! There’s plenty of this vintage in circulation – 70,000 cases were produced – and N.H. wine outlets have it in stock. (For an added treat, microwave buttery popcorn and watch The Lion King, a movie also created during Rich Frank’s tenure at USA Network.)
2016 Napa Valley Zinfandel, SRP $38, 14.8% alcohol – This garnet-colored Zinfandel is plush on the palate and powerfully packed with transcendent black fruit flavors – blackberry, cherry and raspberry. Several spicy elements – black pepper, cinnamon – push it to a higher sensory level. I’ve never heard of Chiles Valley previously, but that’s where FFV’s S&J Vineyard is located. The 206-acre site is named for grandkids Stella and Jeremy. Soils are well-drained and clay-loam based. The Benjamin Vineyard in the Rutherford AVA – named for a fourth grandchild – is another contributor. Acquired in 2012, the 70-plus acre site is marked by gravelly sediment from two nearby rivers. The Zin-Petit Sirah blend is aged in a mix of new and used French oak for 16 months. The winery produced 5,000 cases. It’s selling for $36.99 in N.H. (Note: Wine Enthusiast gave the 2016 a 90-point rating. )
2016 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, SRP $59.99, 14.5% alcohol – Frank Family Vineyard’s flagship wine is well worth the listed price for a high quality Napa Valley Cab. Wine Advocate gave it 90 points. A touch of Merlot (9%) and Cabernet Franc (1%) add softness, structure, and complexity to the mix. Still there’s no doubt that Cabernet Sauvignon – rich, robust, mouth-filling – is the star. Two estate vineyards – S&J and Benjamin – produce the fruit for this heavy-hitter. It’s silky and penetrating on the palate, elevated by a gorgeous medley of black fruit tastes – cherries and berries – that connect with plum pudding, licorice, cocoa, and baking spices. FFV Cabernet Sauvignon would be the piece de resistance to a magnificent ribeye or sirloin accompanied by a steaming hot baked potato topped with sour cream and chives, and green beans almondine.
About 25,000 cases were bottled and it’s available in Massachusetts and N.H. retail outlets.