The wine industry in California, is alive and well just judging from the oenophiles who are carrying boxes of bottles as they wait at the checkout counter of the boutique winery, Frank Family Vineyards. Although small in comparisons to wineries like Mondavi, they may be a well kept secret known by the very savvy wine collections and where quality is the most important factor. However, far from small in reputation or size. The Frank Family owns over 200 acres of vineyards Napa Valley

Not only is Frank Family, a major producers of Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Sangilovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve Pinot Noir, Reserve Chardonnay, Port and methode champenois California champagne, it’s also the American Dream come true for Rich Frank , a man with endless energy and imagination. The winery formerly owned by the Hanns Kornell family, was purchased in 1991 by Rich Frank, a totally media driven man and former president of Disney Studios who has always had a passion for wine.

In 1992, Frank and his former wife Connie, found the perfect location in Napa Valley. The Larkmead winery’s historic building dating back to 1884,the third oldest winery in Napa Valley.

Frank loves the business, not as hobby but a real passion and comes to Napa 10-12 days of each month. And since they seem to have proven themselves, he allows the winemakers a free hand to produce fine wines. “The Cabernet Sauvignon and the Chardonnay are considered the best wine”, I was told by Rick Healey, who escorted us through the private tasting. They also produce wine to wholesale at reasonable prices to local restaurants. However, price tags here go well over $100 for the Reserve wines.

Entering the tasting/reception area, there were a few dozen tasters and purchasers, obviously a knowledgeable crowd.

In the private office off the main shop, we sipped various wines with explanations by Healey. Best known is Tasting Room manager, Dennis Zablosky who for over 20 years has become a wine legend and also one of the areas’ best known personalities. Fun, food, and of course wine is his formula for work.

Although no country or area in the world other than Champagne, France, can claim to produce champagne, Frank Family can label their sparkling wine as champagne, because they had a grandfather clause dating back to prohibition. So calling their sparkling wine, methode champenois, is completely legal. This is sold in limited quantities at the Tasting Room and only 2500 cases are produced each year.

All wines are in French oak barrels. The wine maker, Todd Graff, feels that French oak creates softer tannins and also adds a touch of butterscotch and vanilla. About 125 new barrels are brought from France each year and they are used about 3 times.

The biggest release was in 1994, the first years of production. And asked which sells more, the answer is no surprise. They sell and produce more red.

This boutique winery, sells an interesting two tier system. Their splendid Reserves of only 5000 cases are sold only in The Tasting Room and to long standing clients. Production in all is approximately 42,000 cases annually.

As per wine itself, percentage wise, although it seems there is a great amount of wine produced in Napa, worldwide it’s only ½%.

“The care of the vineyard is so different in Napa than the rest of California. It’s special here. No one wine is better than the other,” Healey states proudly.

All the bottling is done on site, where there is a state of the art bottling facility, and a 100,000 square foot warehouse where they also custom crush for other wineries.

So far there’s no convincing Rich Frank about screw tops. He’s a firm believer in real cork. However, cork is becoming very expensive with cork trees maturing only every 12 years. The issue on screw tops, for now is out of the question, no matter the price. However, that may change since there are rumors that in Australia, they have developed a screw top that breaths.

The wines tasted are the Reserve. Firstly, the Chardonnay and then from the small production of under 1000 cases of Caneros -the appellation where their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is grown. It’s creamy in style, spends 14 month all new French oak barrels, the softness of this wine is really created by the extra few months of aging and the extraction of the vanilla/butterscotch coming out of the oak. Absolutely sublime. Citrusy, crisp, some spiciness. It’s complex palate is very silky. The Reserve, also complex and much in the grand cru style and is described as “ very decadent”, with dark cherry currant, dryness and not a lot of tobacco with an espresso finish”, says the very knowledgeable and sophisticated Healey whose taste buds are to be admired.

As for Winston Hill Red wine, rated 96% out of 100 by a well known wine expert, sells out every year. And those two bottles were packed carefully waiting for a grand occasion to sip it slowly. Cheers.

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