Frank Family Winery is located just east of Larkmead Winery at 1091 Larkmead Lane. Larkmead Lane is a sleepy narrow road that cuts across the northern part of the valley. There is a lot to say about this unique winery, especially in regards to its rich history. The winery was founded in 1884 and the building that still stands dates from this year and used to be home to Larkmead Winery (which is just down the road). In fact this original building is on the National Register of Historical Places and is worth taking a tour of in its own right. From 1952 until 1990 it was home to Hans Cornell and only sparkling wine was made here during this time. There are some blown up black and white photos hanging in their tasting room showing the old riddling racks and wine making operations during this time period. The owner of Frank Family is Rich Frank & his wife Connie. Rich is the former President of Walt Disney Studios and Chairman of Walt Disney Television and Telecommunications. This isn't the only Disney connection to Napa. Also note that Walt Disney's only child, Diane and her husband Ron own a Napa Valley Winery - Silverado Vineyards.
Frank Family wines have won a number of awards especially their Cabernet Sauvignons. Tasting is complimentary (yes, a rarity in Napa these days!); there are two tasting rooms located in the yellow house behind the main winery and administrative offices. One of the tastings is for their "champagne" and the other is for their still wine. A private elegant sit down tasting room is enclosed off from the main tasting room. This winery was completely remodeled in 2008 and it has become one of the more photogenic wineries in the northern part of Napa Valley. As of our latest visit, Frank Family owns 330 vineyard acres in the Napa area, ranging from the cool weather Carneros (their Chardonnay comes from here), to Rutherford to the very little known Capell Valley region in eastern Napa County. They own no vineyards on site of the winery.
If you enjoy sparkling wines or "Champagne" as Frank Family lists on their labels, start your tasting as soon as you enter the main house. Compared to the number of commercial still wine producers in Napa there is an extremely small number of sparkling producers. We enjoy sparkling wines and after tasting with 600+ commercial wine producers in Napa, something more unique always strikes up a fancy with our palate. That's right! This is one of the rare wineries in the valley that focuses both on sparkling and still wines and has separate tasting facilities for each. They make a very nice non vintage Blanc de Noirs from 100% Pinot Noir. Much of this wine's pinkness comes from the short time the skins were left in contact with the juice. This is a nice fruit driven sparkling wine - you will notice (unlike still wines), you can really feel this wine on the roof of your mouth. Nice melon and strawberry characteristics on the palate.
In 1919 there was a treaty signed in Paris indicating that only producers from the Champagne region in France could bottle and label their sparkling wines as Champagne. The USA was in the midst of the early prohibition years and never signed this. As a result USA producers technically can bottle their sparkling wines with the word Champagne. As respect to the French most American producers do not. Frank Family, however does not export this wine and all their sparkling wines are labeled Champagne. Their "signature brut" is a well aged wine. Normally signature means your flagship wine and in this case this is one of their higher end sparkling wines, but it also takes on an additional meaning as the owner's signatures are printed on the label! They bottle this in a Cava style bottle (pronounced Kava - the name for sparkling wine produced in Spain) which means it won't fit in normal size wine shipping boxes! We tried the 1997 vintage which is 60% Pinot noir and 40% Chardonnay (current vintage had 11 years of aging by the time of release). There is some good citrus fizz in this wine, with some lemon and tangerine flavors. Keep aging this if you can resist drinking it! We found the Rouge (red sparkling wine) to be a real winner - red Champagne is not often found and theirs is a real treat. Again, this is a non vintage wine - its dark red with nice blackberry and raspberry flavors.
For being so far north in the valley Frank Family can have one of the more crowded tasting rooms. The long time pourers are informative and friendly. In our several visits here, one word often rises to the surface about the typical drinking experience - that is the word "fun", and compared to some wineries an experience here is more about the drinking and tasting, rather than just tasting (and yes there is a difference). The atmosphere is welcoming and very social with strangers often picking up conversations among themselves. Rich Frank is sometimes here as well; he does not run this winery from a distance which is great. The still wine tasting can vary but it typically includes a Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Napa Valley Cabernet. The 2006 Zinfandel is a winner; the somewhat subtle bouquet is misleading as to how packed in flavor this wine actually is. Great black fruit and spices abound. This is a juicy ripe wine. The 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is a delicious vintage. It is soft, smooth and elegant with delicate yet structured tannins on the finish. If you remember tasting in their trailer type facility for many years, their new tasting room brings them on board with many of Napa's other elegant tasting rooms, not that the no frills trailer tasting was a bad thing. We hold some memorable moments from that old tasting room. Picnic tables are available directly outside the tasting rooms. Note that groups of 6 or more require appointments. Visit: www.frankfamilyvineyards.com