Peter Franus Wines. Founder, Peter Franus has been involved in the Napa wine industry since late 1979. Originally from Connecticut he moved out west to attend UC Berkeley where he earned a journalism degree. His first exposure to Napa was when he was in his late teens though a friend’s family, but it wasn’t until later that a passion for wine began to develop. Not satisfied with being an educated wine consumer, he went back to school at Fresno State in their viticulture and enology program and ultimately earned his master’s degree.
After graduating from Fresno State, he worked Harvest at William Hill Winery (his first introduction to winemaking in the Napa Valley). he worked at several area wineries before starting at Mt. Veeder Winery where he his first job was assistant winemaker, by the time he left 10 years later he was the head winemaker. Mt Veeder was an integral part of his early career; during his time here, he became familiar with mountain grown fruit, especially Zinfandel which soon became a varietal favorite.
As a result of his exposure to Mt. Veeder he worked with the Brandlin Vineyard, a very historic in part Zinfandel vineyard located at about 1200 feet on the slopes of Mt. Veeder. If the name of the vineyard sounds familiar, it is because it is one of the most historic vineyards on Mt. Veeder (the Brandlins have lived on Mt. Veeder since the 1880s). Today this vineyard is owned by Cuvaison Winery (in part known for their Brandlin vineyard designate Cabernet Sauvignon).
At the time of this review, the vines are more than 90 years old and are some of the oldest vines still in production on Mt. Veeder. As a result, their production is very small. Peter’s first commercial release was none other than Zinfandel in 1987 bottled under the name Franus; he has worked with the Brandlin vineyard every year since 1991. He knows this vineyard and what it is capable of. Sitting outside at Laird Family Estate Winery (where Peter makes his wine) this vineyard is rather noticeable. Look to the west and spot a single tree in a saddle in the hills and you have the exact location of the vineyard.
Peter Franus produces several wines that are not common from Napa based producers including Chenin Blanc and an Albariño (incidentally from Napa’s lowest by elevation vineyard just off of Highway 29 south of the city of Napa). Peter also works with Lake County fruit and has made a Mourvèdre and a Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre blend (GSM).
Peter Franus Winery is one of the older virtual wineries in the Napa Valley – having never owned a physical winery nor vineyards. Any winery that has been producing since the 1980s in the Napa Valley is now considered quite old. Preferring to fly under the radar, Peter remains true to his personality and to his customers. He works with top vineyards and crafts wines that all over deliver for the price point; these are some of the Napa Valley’s better value wines.
Peter produced his first vintage of Albariño in 2009 from the Stewart Ranch located next to Highway 29 on the east side, just north of the intersection with Highway 12. Vineyard manager Doug Hill first planted a small section of Albariño in in this vineyard in 1997 (3 acres) – we have been told by several parties associated with this vineyard, that this site is just above sea level and until proven otherwise, is the lowest vineyard in all of the Napa Valley. And this was the vineyard site of the first commercially released Albariño in the country.
Currently along with this vineyard, there are only a select few other vineyards in the Napa Valley planted to this variety including a vineyard in American Canyon, Carneros and on the slopes of Mt. Veeder.
The 2017 Peter Franus Napa Valley Albariño is medium golden in color with aromas of freshly mowed lawn, reminding us of sitting inside banging away at the keyboard, listening to a nearby lawn mower while deeply breathing in the smells of the cut grass wafting through our open door. Also, a lime zest, hints of lemongrass and citrus blossom. Like a young dancer in a Degas painting, this wine is full of energy – and whirls across the palate. Fresh, lively and youthful the lift from the bright acidity is certainly noticeable. But there is a nice balance going on here – a creaminess across the palate complemented by the richness of flavor and some mineralities. The finish is generous and long lasting.
The 2017 Peter Franus Napa Valley Chardonnay, like the Albariño was also sourced from Stewart Ranch. It was whole cluster pressed, left for one night with the juice drained into barrel. Then it was fermented slow and cold and aged sur-lie for 10 months in barrel. It is between medium and deep gold in color. Generous aromatics, offering a pleasing toastiness, hints of butter, nutty characteristics (which perhaps will become more pronounced as this wine ages a few more years). A creamy, velvet-like texture (almost a bit briny) spans the palate – features flavors of hazelnut and tangerine. A secondary finish kicks in immediately after the fruit and acid – and lingers for a long time with both hazelnut, almond, various dessert spices and just a kiss of sweetness from the oak. Only 100 cases. Like Franus’s other wines, this beauty way over delivers for the price point.
The 2014 Brandlin Vineyard Zinfandel tastes like a Zinfandel should – well balanced without any harsh edges from oak or alcohol. On the bouquet there is a sweetness including red cherry and a hint of brown sugar. There is a pleasing depth to the palate with notes of blackberry, and chocolate. The finish is long with fairly well integrated tannins and a touch of mocha that lingers.
The 2005 Peter Franus Red Wine is an alluring gem that is very dark in color. The elegant nose starts off slightly floral; the core of the palate is all about the fruit with flavors of blackberry and cherry. Spices begin showing mid palate and finish slightly spicy and smoky with just a kiss of toasted oak.
Brandlin Zinfandel is their flagship wine and perhaps the wine they are most known for. Not 100% varietal, this is a field blend in the tradition of old vineyards in Napa that were often inter-planted with multiple varieties and then harvested all together. The majority of this wine is Zinfandel with smaller amounts of Mourvèdre, Charbono, and Carignane.
The 2004 Peter Franus Zinfandel (merely labeled PF on the front of the bottle), is from the aforementioned Brandlin Vineyard. The first word out of our mouth when we tried this was “delicious”, which is a word Peter has grown accustomed to hearing about his Zinfandels! The nose is elegant with notes of graphite, dried fruit, and red cherry. Shows some briary characteristics with deeper notes of blackberry, chocolate and just a touch of vanilla. As the nose opens further – additional fruit aromatics are revealed. This is not a spicy Zinfandel either in the bouquet or on the palate. It is extremely well balanced. Rich fruit flavors show along with cedar box spices, toasted oak and earthy components. The finish is balanced, rather lengthy, rich and warm.
The 2007 Sauvignon Blanc is from two vineyards in the cooler Carneros region. This was tank fermented and then left to sit on the lees in the barrel for 3 months which helps contribute a slight creaminess to the wine while still retaining its crisp component. However no new oak is used, rather Peter wants to focus on the varietal characteristics of the wine. This wine is not overly filled with citrus components that you sometimes find in Sauvignon Blancs, rather you may find pineapple, melon and even ginger. There are good mineralities anchoring the pleasant finish.
Peter also makes a Napa Valley Zinfandel which unlike the Brandlin gives him more blending flexibility and is not always sourced from the same vineyard. While the Brandlin is his flagship Zinfandel the Napa Valley Zinfandel is more of a “drink now” with food styled wine. And in 2016 Peter produced his first ever Cabernet Sauvignon from the Brandlin Vineyard.
Peter spends a significant amount of the year on the road both domestically and internationally – helping promote and sell wines. Sizable international markets include Canada and the United Kingdom. One can often find their wine locally at Backroom Wines in the city of Napa or direct via their website. For more information, or to join their wine club, visit: www.peterfranus.com
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