Rich and Leslie Frank established the Frank Family Vineyards, on its present Larkmead Lane site, in 1993, but the history of wine production on the property dates back to the late 19th century when Lillie “Firebelle” Hitchcock Coit (of Coit Tower fame) first planted vines and sourced grapes to nearby wineries.
The property was acquired by Napa Valley icon John Solari in 1948 and, after a cancer scare, he sold it to third generation German-born sekt (sparkling wine) maker and Holocaust survivor, Hanns Kornell, who established Kornell Champagne Cellars in 1958. Due to a serious injury and ensuing poor health, Hanns unfortunately lost the winery to foreclosure and it was later purchased by the Frank Family.
Stories have been told of Marilyn Monroe making annual visits to Kornell to stock up on the bubbly. For those who aren’t aware or do not remember, actress Marilyn Monroe was also known for being crowned the 1947 Artichoke Queen in Castroville, California.
With a distinguished career in film and television, Rich Frank was the President of Disney Studios when he, with his wife and Emmy award winning news journalist Leslie, purchased their first Napa Valley property as a weekend retreat that also provided access to their passion for good wine. Today, 25 years later, Rich and Leslie have acquired vineyards in Rutherford, the Carneros and Vaca Mountain appellations and expanded production to nearly 75,000 cases annually.
At the Waterfront Restaurant on the Embarcadero, looking across the Bay to Treasure Island and the Bay Bridge, Todd Graff, General Manager/Winemaker at Frank Family Vineyards since 2003, paired fresh shellfish with the Blanc de Blanc 2014 Napa Valley ($55), his only sparkling wine distributed outside of the winery.
Sourced from their estate Lewis Vineyard in Carneros, the Blanc de Blanc consists of 100 percent chardonnay and, like all their sparkling wines, is made in the methode champenoise that requires a second fermentation in the bottle. Aged on lees for three years, it has a rich rounded texture, fruit-forward flavors and a spirited, effervescent acidity.
The small production Rose’ ($55), Rouge ($55) and Lady Edythe Reserve Brut ($110), also originating from the Lewis Vineyard, are available only at the Calistoga tasting room.
Prior to Frank Family Vineyards, Todd Graff honed his skills in making sparkling wines at Schramsberg Vineyards, but his style, upon graduating from the University of California, Davis, developed earlier through global stints in Mosel Germany, Saint- Émilion in southwest France and Australia’s Hunter Valley.
The single largest bottling at Frank Family Vineyards is the fruit-forward 2017 Carneros Chardonnay ($38) at 25,000 cases. Sourced from the Beckstoffer and Hudson Vineyards in Napa – Carneros and five blocks within the Sangiacomo Vineyard in Sonoma-Carneros, the wine, after partial malolactic fermentation is aged sur lee in a complex barrel regimen to achieve roundness and ripened fruit flavors.
From two specific vineyard blocks, The 2017 Lewis Vineyard Reserve Carneros Chardonnay ($70) comes from small-cluster Dijon clones that go through full malolactic fermentation and are aged in complete new oak, resulting in a full-bodied, rounder wine with fruit, honey and spice on the nose and palate.
When it comes to pinot noir, Todd is looking for “Goldilocks in a bottle,” not too bold nor austere. The 2017 Carneros Pinot Noir Napa Valley ($38), fruit-driven with integrated red cherry and baking spice flavors, is just that and a good value.
Sourced from vineyards in four Napa Valley appellations including Chiles Valley, known for quality zinfandel vines, the full-bodied 2016 Napa Valley Zinfandel ($38), with added petite sirah, spent 16 months in French oak, a third new. The small production, vineyard specific 2016 Chiles Valley Reserve Zinfandel ($60) is available direct to consumer only.
The term “Rutherford Dust” has been described as the “fine dusty tannin effect with hints of plump cocoa powder” that is associated with cabernet sauvignon releases from the local soil. The 2016 Rutherford Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($95), Todd’s last pour, brings the term to life with a seamless flavor
profile including coffee and dark fruit that is carried through the finish.
The Frank Family Vineyards, on Larkmead Lane, south of Calistoga is one of many notable wineries in the area. Upon arrival, the recognizable stone winery building, first constructed in 1884, appears, fronting the small yellow craftsman house that hosts a diverse menu of tasting and food pairing experiences. A day exploring this historic area is one well spent.
Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email him at email@example.com. He is a guest columnist.