Frisson Wine is a boutique producer sourcing grapes from premium vineyards in both Napa and neighboring Sonoma County. Their first vintage was 2009. Founders, Terry (and partners) and his wife Pam are from Houston; both have been passionate about food and wine for decades although Terry admits he was a scotch drinker before he met Pam. After their son was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis in the early 1980s, they began to look at ways they could help support research into fighting this terrible genetic disease. With an appreciation for food and wine they helped organize a charity event for Cystic Fibrosis in 1983 in Houston called ‘An Evening with the Masters’. This premier food and wine event attracted top talent from both the culinary and wine worlds.
In the process of organizing this event, Terry and Pam called upon a number of vintners in Napa Valley to provide wine and also attend the event. Michael Mondavi and Kathleen (Heitz) Myers were several who attended and notable chefs included Wolfgang Puck and Thomas Keller. Through the event, Terry and Pam met a number of people in the industry – and friends soon invited them to come out to the Napa Valley to attend the annual wine auction.
The more they visited Napa Valley the more the enjoyed the area and the lifestyle it can afford. They purchased a home in Yountville and have since become part time residents.
At a dinner party one night they were randomly seated next to Napa winemaker Wayne Donaldson. Terry recalls by the time the night was through he had convinced Wayne that he wanted to make a great Napa Cabernet. Wayne wasted little time and called Terry within a few days of the party and Terry soon became the proud owner of three tons of Cabernet Sauvignon from a Diamond Mountain vineyard. Not quite sure how this had transpired so quickly, he reached out to one of his business partners asking him to become an investor (with the caveat that Terry knew little about wine making) and running a wine business.
These three tons of grapes were used to create their first wine in 2009. Wayne was their winemaker through 2015. Winemaker Paul Colantuoni selectively consults for small producers in the valley and took over the wine making starting in 2016.
When Pam began to search for a name for their wine – she started with how she felt when she first discovered they were going to be making wine. Looking online she began her search in various European languages, ultimately stumbling upon the word Frisson. In French, it refers to a moment of intense excitement a thrill if you will.
They produce wines they both enjoy drinking – they source fruit from Sonoma and Napa County – tending in more recent years to focus on Napa grown grapes. While they own a small piece of Napa (their home in Yountville), they do not own any vineyards, preferring to source grapes from some of region’s most well-regarded vines – this includes a Chardonnay from Dutton Ranch in neighboring Sonoma County and a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Beckstoffer managed (and one of their heritage vineyards), Georges III in Rutherford.
The 2019 Frisson Toucher Vineyards Proprietary Red is dark ruby in color; the bouquet is wide open and expressive of both ripe fruit and a complementing character from its oak aging. It offers aromas of blackberry pie, ripe plum, cassis, dried herbs, cocoa powder, wood spice and some meaty characteristics. The palate is balanced from entry through to the finish, showcasing flavors that tend to be more darker including of plum and blackberry. The silty and slightly drying tannins are pleasantly textured, dense without being heavy while sporting rounded edges. This wine lingers savory with darker spices including crushed peppercorn and a dark mineral undernote. Tasting this wine made us crave the tantalizing smells of BBQing a juicy ribeye steak on some warm summer’s evening. Instead, it’s a frigid almost-winter evening in the city of Napa and we are not sure when the weather will warm up enough for a proper outdoor BBQ.
The 2018 Frisson Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford is deep ruby in color; the bouquet reveals plenty of fruit aromatics showcasing a modern Napa Valley fruit forward style including of sweet baked cherries, blackberry, boysenberry and some underlying notes of dark chocolate, Graham cracker and toasted oak. Across the palate this wine offers layers of flavor including of dark cherry, dark plum and black olive, lingering with dark and savory spices including of pepper. The earthy tannins are short gripping, dark in character and linger with a light but persistent dryness on the finish. This wine certainly overdelivers for the price point.
The 2019 Frisson Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County is deep ruby in the glass; the bouquet offers a pretty union of ripe fruits with secondary spices imparted from its barrel aging. Smells like it might be a higher alcohol wine when in reality its listed alcohol is 13.9%. It offers scents of dried rose petals, blackberry and boysenberry along with mocha and cocoa powder. The palate is focused on fruit, showing both ripe dark and red fruits. Its texture is a pleasing attribute, featuring chalky and rounded tannins which roll over the palate with ease. Lingers with a subtle dryness, medium acidity and a note of dried tobacco leaf. This wine drinks very well by itself.
The 2012 Frisson Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is 100% varietal and was aged 18 months in approximately 50% new French oak with the balance being used oak. The source is a vineyard at about 1,100 feet in elevation. Shows bright aromatics on the bouquet, cherry, cola notes, and plum. Fairly supple on the entry with a richer mid palate showing. Quite flavorful and very well balanced. Good acidity, with lingering flavor, a slight tartness and dusty tannins with a slight spice on the finish. Surprisingly balanced – with well-integrated mountain tannins.
The 2012 Frisson Rutherford Georges III Cabernet Sauvignon shows dark ruby in the glass – with an elegant bouquet (cherries) tinged with some caramel notes, a touch of cedar and floral nuances. As was pointed out to us when we tried this wine – sometimes you associate bigger name vineyards with muscular wines. Not necessarily true with this wine – shows decent acidity and balance with flavors tending to be higher toned rather than darker fruits (red cherry, blueberry). The tannins are not necessarily coarse, but they are certainly noticeable and last for some time on the prolonged slightly spicy finish.
In late 2016 Frisson joined the already existing Thorn Hill Vineyards tasting room in downtown St. Helena. This tasting room was located in the same space now occupied by Erosion Wine Company on Main Street. Frisson’s wines were represented here for less than one year.
Appellation Trading Company
In 2020, Frisson was sold to Appellation Trading Company. This business was founded by Charles Bartlett in 2008. Charles spent his formative years in Napa Valley (graduate of Justin Sienna High School), went to college at Chico State University and after graduating working in printing in San Francisco. Tired of commuting from Napa to San Francisco he started his own printing company in Napa and began printing labels for various wineries.
2008 brought a financial downturn and he began looking for other opportunities besides printing labels. He began buying and selling barrels, worked in winery equipment sales but then discovered that because of the economic hardships at the time, wineries had plenty of inventory but were having difficulties selling their wines. Sensing an opportunity and leveraging his relationships with wineries, he purchased finished wines but were not yet bottled. And would privately label the wines and offer premium wines at very reasonable pricing. This entrepreneurial spirit formed the early roots of Appellation Trading Company.
As the economic crisis faded and the economy became stronger these deals from the wineries were no longer available. So, he began to purchase bulk wine and sell to niche markets. He developed numerous labels in house (at the time of our latest update to this review they own nearly 40 individual wine brands). And over the years they have also acquired existing brands, beginning in 2013 with Edict Wines, in 2019 Beau Vigne, in 2020 Frisson and in 2022 On Q. Production has been remarkable over a fairly short amount of time; today they produce over 200,000 cases of wine each year.
The name fits their business model perfectly, Appellation in regard to purchasing wines from various wine appellations and trading, referring to the buying and selling of wine. Their operations are in a business park in south Napa; all primary fermentation is done off site and their role is storing wines in barrel and tank with final blending decisions made on site. And they have their own mobile bottling truck so they can bottle at their convenience, for their own projects only (rather than offering custom bottling services) and also label on site.
Frisson currently produces around 900 cases each year; a certain percentage of their proceeds are donated back to support Cystic Fibrosis research. Their wines have performed admirably over the years in a variety of wine competitions including the San Francisco Chronicle and the Houston Rodeo competitions. For more information or to purhase wine, visit: www.frissonwines.com