Frias Family Vineyard is owned and operated by Manny and Maria Frias and their family. They were one of the original Hispanic owned wineries within the Napa Valley – although today there are certainly more. Manny grew up in San Francisco and fell in love with the Napa Valley during tasting trips in the 1960’s when Cabernet Sauvignon was several dollars per bottle! Finally in 1977 (along with his father) Manny was able to purchase 100 acres on Spring Mountain above the town of St. Helena. The timing and circumstances for this purchase were favorable – they sold three properties in San Francisco and paid the owner $1000/acre with the caveat that she remain on the property as long as she desired.
After the prior owner moved away Manny’s parents moved into the home on site in 1983. Manny would often visit and slowly became interested in the wine business – taking courses at Napa Valley College.
Manny planted 5 acres of vines 1985; his first home wine was from 1988 – the first commercial release under the Frias Family label was from the 1991 vintage. They later planted more Cabernet Sauvignon along with small blocks of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Today their total vine acreage is around 20 acres. First and foremost they are growers and vineyard managers. Wine making starts in the vineyards and they spend significant time in their vineyards micro managing each vine. Their winemakers and wine making locations have changed several times throughout the years, but one thing remains consistent; the high quality grapes from their own vineyards.
Their vineyard neighborhood is certainly in a well-regarded part of the valley; nearby neighbors include Grace Family, Colgin’s Tychson Vineyard and Vineyard 29.
Soil types differ dramatically from one block to the next and parts of their vineyard are extremely rocky. This unique “terroir” all makes for interesting and complex wines.
Second generation, brothers Fernando and Manny Jr. have taken over operations from their father and bring a significant enthusiasm and creativity towards promoting the brand. Both have put significant effort into not only helping oversee their vineyards, working on harvest activities but also promoting and selling their wine. To this, Fernando speaks about the great personal satisfaction of seeing his hard work rewarded when he walks into a fine restaurant and sees a bottle of wine on their wine list, or better yet sees a patron enjoying one of their wines.
Over the years their wine making has become more detailed – sorting three times in the vineyard and another several times in the winery. Not only this, but they have also upgraded the look and feel of their packaging to represent the time invested into producing premium grapes. Their wine labels now feature an attractive more contemporary look. They also used to use primarily American oak on their wine – today they have transitioned to using French oak.
For about 10 years they focused on a single wine – a 100% varietal Cabernet Sauvignon. Today they make two Cabernet Sauvignon wines from their Spring Mountain estate – a Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon (usually blended with small amounts of select other varietals) and their Reserva, a 100% varietal Cabernet Sauvignon. In addition, they source fruit from premiere vineyards in select parts of Napa.
Our first introduction to Frias Family was a rosé wine many years ago at a tasting in San Francisco. This was a varietal blend you won’t find anywhere else in Napa as it contains Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Syrah. It is orangish pink in color. Aromas of watermelon and strawberries lead to similar flavors on the palate. There is no bitter finish on this one that you sometimes find in select rosé wines. Depending on your taste your palate may trick you into thinking there is some residual sugar but it is totally dry.
The 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon is ready to drink now (we tried it not long after its release); it delivers flavors of blackberries, dark chocolate, and raspberry. Imagine raspberry flavored truffles (chocolate not the mushroom) and you will have some idea of the power of this wine. Their overall focus is producing affordable fruit forward wines structured so they can be consumed early in their life.
The 2013 Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is very dark in the glass; it features ripe blackberry and an underlying mix of dessert spices (cinnamon) and brown chocolate aromas. Like their other wines, the mouth feel is smooth with bold flavors. Fairly well integrated tannins – a bit chalky which lingers pleasantly. Mostly dark fruit on the finish.
The 2013 Reserva represents two small blocks from some of the oldest vines in their estate vineyard (100% varietal Cabernet Sauvignon). The wine is very fragrant, perfume like at times including aromas of violets. On the palate the wine is soft and plush with a density of fruit that is well layered – somewhat brambly with flavors of blackberry. The earthy tannins are noticeable – somewhat chewy in nature. The finish is very lively and lingers for quite some time.
The 2014 Block 5 was sourced from the immediate vicinity of what is arguably Napa’s most well-known vineyard, To Kalon (the heart of Oakville). Shows well young, it is 100% varietal Cabernet Sauvignon. Features a voluptuous well-endowed bouquet – showing floral notes and a sweetness of ripe fruit. Layers of flavor dominate, rich at times with dark cherry, blackberry and blueberry. Fairly soft on the palate with a prolonged finish.
The 2014 Prado was named in tribute to Manny’s wife Maria – Prado is her maiden name which means “meadows” in Spanish. This wine was sourced from a premium vineyard in Oakville not far from Screaming Eagle. Shows an initial sweetness of dessert spice on the bouquet along with aromas of fig, blackberry and ripe plum. As it opens deeper darker aromas continue to develop. Well layered aromatics. To be sure, this is a big wine but it still has balance. Fairly smooth texture. The finish has nice ‘oomph’ both in flavor and structure. Fernando indicates there is a certain sexy quality about the style of this wine along with several of their other reds.
Tastings are for serious enthusiasts and are held in north Napa (by appointment only) in a two-story set of offices appropriately called the Cooperage Square Business Center. This location is ideal as it is right next to Highway 29 on the north bound side. Tastings are private. At the time of our latest update, this small complex is now home to three Napa producers plus another one plans to move in at the end of 2016.
They currently produce around 4,000 cases annually with select distribution in a variety of states including New York, Texas and Florida. Their wines also see some distribution in British Columbia and Alberta as well as in Japan. For more information or to become a member of their mailing list, visit: www.friasfamilyvineyard.com