Peter Franus Wines. Founder, Peter Franus has been involved in the Napa Valley wine industry since late 1979. Originally from Connecticut he moved out west to attend UC Berkeley where he earned a journalism degree in 1971. His first exposure to Napa Valley 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; this was his first introduction to winemaking in Napa Valley. He worked at several area wineries before starting at Mt. Veeder Winery in 1981, only 8 years after Michael and Arlene Bernstein founded this winery. In the early years Mt. Veeder Winery produced both an estate Cabernet Sauvignon and also a Mt. Veeder Zinfandel. Peter’s first job was assistant winemaker and by the time he left 10 years later, staying on during two transitions in ownership, 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 grapes, especially Zinfandel which soon became a varietal favorite.
As a result of his exposure to Mt. Veeder he worked with the Brandlin Vineyard, a mountain site, partly planted to Zinfandel 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 Brandlin family settled on Mt. Veeder in the 1870s. Today this vineyard is owned by Cuvaison Winery; in addition to the old-vine Zinfandel, Peter Franus produces a Brandlin vineyard designate Cabernet Sauvignon.
At the time of this review, the vines at Brandlin Ranch are more than 90 years old and are some of the oldest vines still in production on Mt. Veeder. As a result, their yields are very small. Peter’s first commercial release was Zinfandel in 1987 bottled under the name Franus; in 2001 he changed the name of the brand from Franus to Peter Franus. He has worked with the Brandlin vineyard every year since 1991 and intimately knows this vineyard and what it is capable of. Sitting outside at Laird Family Estate Winery, where Peter makes his wine, one can see this vineyard. Look to the west and spot a single tree in a saddle in the hills which marks the exact location of the property.
Peter Franus crafts several wines not common from Napa Valley based producers including Chenin Blanc and an Albariño; this latter bottling is from Napa’s lowest by elevation vineyard, Stewart Ranch next to Highway 29 south of the city of Napa. Peter also sources Lake County grapes and has made a Mourvèdre and a Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre blend (GSM).
Peter Franus Winery is one of the older virtual wineries in Napa Valley – having never owned a physical winery nor vineyards. Based on personal observations and archiving well over 300 reviews of Napa Valley wineries and brands we have met with since 2006 who are no longer producing, most wineries or brands never last at least 10 years.
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 quality to value wines.
His approach to winemaking is a long term one. A quote which appeared in an article about his wines in the March 24, 1991 issue of The Napa Valley Register, sums up his philosophy well, “I’ve finely tuned what I’ve learned over the past 10 years. Wine is a long-term thing. In a business where there’s so much transition and turnover, continuity is important”.
Peter’s wife Deanne, a former lawyer oversees the business side of the operations and also pours the wines at select consumer and trade tastings.
Peter produced his first vintage of Albariño in 2009 from the Stewart Ranch in Carneros. 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 is the lowest vineyard in all of Napa Valley. And this was the vineyard site of the first commercially released Albariño in the country. For more details including the history of Stewart Ranch, view our detailed notes filed under Belted Vines on this website.
The few Napa Valley based producers who craft wine from Albariño often source grapes outside of the county. There is not much Albariño in Napa Valley; four sites we are aware of that grow this variety include the aforementioned Stewart Ranch, Artesa on the Napa side of the Carneros District, on V Sattui’s Hibbard Ranch in the deep end of Carneros and a hillside planting in Deer Park owned by Fleury Winery.
The 2017 Peter Franus Napa Valley Albariño is medium golden in color; the aromas remind us of the many times over the years, 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. There is also, a lime zest, hints of lemongrass and citrus blossom. Like a young dancer in a Degas painting, this wine is full of vibrancy and whirls across the palate with the energy of youth. Fresh and lively the lift from the bright acidity is certainly noticeable. But there is also a pleasing balance going on here including 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. The bouquet features generous aromatics, offering a pleasing toastiness, hints of butter and 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 which 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 a kiss of sweetness from the oak. Only 100 cases were produced. Like Franus’s other wines, this beauty way over delivers for the price point.
The 2014 Brandlin Vineyard Zinfandel tastes like a Zinfandel should; it is well balanced without any harsh edges from oak or high 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 dark ruby 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 the Franus flagship wine and perhaps the bottling they are most known for. Not 100% varietal, this is a field blend in the tradition of old vineyards in Napa Valley 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 the generic but appropriate description of ‘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. It also sports 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. An intensity of fruit shows accompanied by cedar box spices, toasted oak and earthy components. The finish is balanced, rather lengthy, rich and warm.
The 2007 Peter Franus 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 sometimes found in Sauvignon Blancs, rather this wine offers notes of pineapple, melon and even ginger. Mineralities anchor the pleasing finish.
Peter also makes a Napa Valley Zinfandel which unlike the Brandlin bottling 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.
In 2016 Peter produced his first ever Cabernet Sauvignon from the Brandlin Vineyard.
The wines have earned numerous accolades over the years including the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc listed as number 24 in Wine Enthusiasts top 100 wines in the World. His 2008 Brandlin Vineyard Zinfandel was Wine & Spirits magazine’s number one Zinfandel of the year. And wine critic Antonio Galloni consistently awards top scores to the Peter Franus wines.
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, the United Kingdom and in parts of Asia including Japan. One can often find their wine locally at Backroom Wines in the city of Napa or Wine Country Connection in Yountville.
For more information, to purchase current release wines or to join their mailing list or wine club, visit: www.peterfranus.com