My first visit to Napa Valley was with my husband in 2007 and it was the most memorable wine experience we have had. I have been back to Napa Valley many times since, but there is nothing like the memories of your first visit.
As we are driving along Route 29 in Napa Valley, we happen to make a right turn onto a sleepy road called Larkmead Lane. We see a sign for Frank Family Vineyards, and we immediately pull in. We had heard of Frank Family wines and were excited to visit a winery that we were familiar with. A random stop turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences my husband and I had in Napa. Now fast forward 11 years where I had to opportunity to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Frank Family Vineyards.
Rich and Leslie Frank
Rich Frank is a big guy with an equally big, charming and charismatic personality. Rich is the former President of Walt Disney Studios and Chairman of Walt Disney Television and Telecommunications. He has had a long and triumphant career with television and film. You have all heard of his famous movies and TV shows, Pretty Woman, Lion King, Golden Girls, Ellen, Family Ties, and Cheers to name just a few. Rich was the longest-serving President of The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (Emmys) and is currently Vice Chairman and Executive Board Member of the American Film Institute.Leslie Frank has had an illustrious career as an award-winning journalist and broadcaster. She spent 26 years covering and reporting historic events like Hurricane Katrina and 9/11. Leslie was an anchor at KCPQ in Seattle, here she helped launch its 10 pm newscast, which became number one and won an Emmy for Outstanding News Anchor.
Having a huge affinity for wine, Rich would make many trips to Napa Valley. Needing a break from his hectic corporate life, Rich bought a serene and beautiful Tudor home on Rutherford Hill overlooking the valley. The vineyards were later named Winston Hill after Rich’s beloved Spanish Springer. Shortly upon the purchase of his home, he had many inquires to buy his grapes. That is when he realized he had something really specially and started production of Frank Family Vineyards.
History of Frank Family Vineyard
The Frank Family Vineyard has deep roots and history in Napa Valley. Originally founded in 1884 in Calistoga as Larkmead Winery by Lillie Hitchcock Coit and is now on the National Registry of Historical Places. The original building still stands today.
The property has changed hands several times, and in 1958 was bought by a Napa pioneer Hanns Kornell. Hanns was involved in winemaking from the early age of four when he picked grapes with his grandfather in Germany. The wine that made Kornell famous was a Riesling bubbly, similar to German Sekt, which he began making in 1972.
Fast forward to 1991, an opportunity rose for Rich Frank to purchase the winery and as they say, the rest is history.
25th Anniversary Celebrations
The story of Rich and Leslie is one of romance, happiness and togetherness. They both fell in love with Napa separately but it is here in Napa that they fell in love together. Though the celebration was for Frank Family Vineyards 25th Anniversary, the events felt like a celebration of Rich and Leslie’s love and passion for each other as well as their wines, celebrations that I was honored to be a part of.
The last time I visited the Frank Family Vineyards tasting room was in an old shack in 2007, so I was excited to see the newly remodeled tasting room and barrel room. The reception was in the new tasting room that is housed in a remodeled yellow country-style home that is inviting and stylish. We were greeted with 2013 Blanc de Blancs Carneros made from 100% estate grown Chardonnay, which had great length and minerality. Rumor has it that Marilyn Monroe would often visit the winery to get her bubbly game on.There are two seated tasting rooms in the new house. There is the Patriarch Room, named affectionately after Rich’s father who was Patriarch of the family. In 2012 they made the first vintage of Patriarch, which was 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from their Winston Hill property. A tribute to Rich’s father, who an American patriot and World War II veteran. The tasting room is a homage to him. The room is adorned with pictures of Rich’s father in army uniform and veteran memorabilia.
The second tasting room is the Hollywood Room. It is a fun room with news and coverage around Rich and Leslie’s careers in Hollywood. Both Rich and Leslie’s Emmys are displayed in the room.
Vertical Tasting of Winston Hill
Following the reception was a grand vertical tasting of Winston Hill Cabernet Sauvignon from 1999-2013 in all odd years. The tasting was held in the original stone house that provided an authentic and incredible atmosphere for the wine tasting. The vertical tasting was moderated by Andrea Robinson, Master Sommelier. The tasting was educational and insightful. We discussed winemaking, technology, and innovation. With great respect for Todd Graff, Rich says, “Even with all the innovation in winemaking, it all comes back to the artistic talents of the winemaker and the uniqueness of the land. You need an artistic vision to make great wines.” The vertical tasting of Winston Hill was an artistic display of the site and the winemakers expertise and talents.
The 1999 was a perfect example of how the wines can age and develop. The wines evolved throughout the tasting in the glass. The 1999 was an expression of the ageability of Winston Hill Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine had robust expressions of cinnamon and spice. I was surprised and impressed by the wine’s freshness. The tannins were lush and velvety. The 1999 clearly exhibited that there is still many more years left to enjoy this expressive wine.Another favorite of mine was the 2007 vintage. It had hints of dark fruit and savory spice. What was especially interesting was that dusty Rutherford characteristic was clearly evident. Todd Graff had pointed out that the 2007 vintage had a lot more Petit Verdot than the other vintages, which added depth to the wine. The consensus was that this wine was voluptuous, lush, rich, and luxurious. It is a wine is well balanced. Exhibiting notes of purple flowers and violet on the palate. A beautiful wine that was expressive and lively. There was so much structure, fruit and mouthfeel on this wine. Its acidity makes it the perfect wine to pair with food. We can easily come back to this wine in 20 years.
Following the vertical tasting, there was a Paella luncheon at Rich and Leslie’s home atop the Rutherford Hill overlooking the valley. In addition to the vertical tasting of the Winston Hills Cabernet Sauvignon, there was a special wine awaiting for us. We had the opportunity to taste the 2015 Frank Family Vineyards Owners Blend, a Rutherford red wine made with Cabernet Sauvignon, blended with Cabernet Franc. The wine is made by Todd Graff and his winemaking team, with a contribution from Rich and Leslie Frank. They have created a unique and special wine to celebrate their 25th anniversary in Napa Valley, 1993-2018. The wine is made specially to commemorate the 25th anniversary and is made only in Magnum. The Owners Blend is sensual and complex. It was a special treat to be the first to taste and enjoy this wine that was yet to be released at the time.
Polo Bar – New York City
As I was preparing to write this article, I received another invitation from the Frank Family to celebrate their 25th Anniversary on my home turf, in New York City. The celebrations were held at the trendy Polo Club in New York City I was touched and honored that with all the media events around their 25th Anniversary, and having met Rich and Leslie only once prior, that they both greeted me by my first name. Their hospitality and generosity was heartwarming.
We started with a bubbly toast of their 2014 Brut Rosé. Leslie says they are the only winery in Napa that hand riddles every bottle. In the month of October they had launched a campaign in honor of breast cancer awareness month, called #FrankDrinksPink. T-shirts were created and wines were sent out to press and media to raise awareness for this campaign. Over dinner they proudly announced the campaign had $145,000 in sales, and Leslie and Rich will donate 10% to breast cancer research.We continued the evening with delectable food paired with some exceptional Frank Family Wines, that represented their many vineyards and varietals. The celebrations were jovial, entertaining and fun. What really stood out at the end of the evening was how much this winery is a family affair. Rich and Leslie are intensely involved in every aspect of the winery. What made these celebrations so special and unique was the love, respect and admiration, that was clearly visible between Leslie and Rich. Wine is a labor of love that has brought them together. The sweet flirtatious banter between the two throughout the dinner was heartwarming.Rich and Leslie have opened their home to celebrate their milestone, and so this holiday season, I am honored to open the Frank Family wines for my family celebrations and milestones. The Frank Family story is one of love, passion, celebration and commitment, a story I am thrilled and overjoyed to share with all.