Frank Family Carneros Chardonnay 2020

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Nestled amid the picturesque landscapes around Calistoga in Napa Valley lies a story that spans generations. It all began in 1993 when Rich and Leslie Frank embarked on a journey to establish Frank Family Vineyards, unaware of the rich tapestry of tales woven into the very soil they tread upon. Little did they know that they were about to become stewards of a legacy that stretches back to the late 19th century.

Larkmead Lane, where the Frank Family Vineyards stand today, has a storied history. It was once graced by the presence of Lillie “Firebelle” Hitchcock Coit, who was a patron of San Francisco’s volunteer firefighters and the benefactor for the construction of Coit Tower in San Francisco for whom it  was named.

Lillie Hitchcock Coit

In 1948, the property was purchased by one of Napa’s pioneering winemakers, John Solari. It next passed to a German-born sekt (sparkling wine) maker named Hanns Kornell, who established Kornell Champagne Cellars in 1958 (not to be confused with Korbel California Champagne). The following year, Kornell’s daughter Paula was born, and the winery continues to this day as the Paula Kornell Winery in a different, and undisclosed, location. (Stories have been told of Marilyn Monroe making annual visits to Kornell to stock up on the bubbly.)

In 1992, the Larkmead Winery and vineyard acreage was acquired by Rich Frank, who made his fortune as President of Paramount TV and then as president of Disney Studios, and his wife Leslie, an Emmy award-winning news journalist.

Rich and Leslie Frank

Frank, with his demanding career in the entertainment industry, found solace and inspiration in the vineyards of Napa Valley when he went looking for a vacation retreat. What started as a desire “to get away from it all” occasionally, would become an esteemed winemaking enterprise. Today, their operation spans across appellations, with vineyards in Rutherford, Carneros, and Vaca Mountain, producing nearly 75,000 cases of wine annually.

Photo: Stewart Michie

Todd Graff, the General Manager and Winemaker, brings an expertise honed in renowned wine regions across the globe, including at Weingut Klaus Schweicher in Mosel, Germany, Château Yon-Figeac in Saint-Émilion in France, and at Arrowfield Estate in Australia’s Hunter Valley. Graff has played an essential role in Frank Family’s steady growth over the last 20 vintages. He oversees the making of both still and sparkling wines. He directed the construction of Frank Family’s state-of-the-art winery in 2008, worked closely
with Rich Frank on the acquisition of the historic Wood Ranch Vineyard in Rutherford in 2012, and in 2014 helped Frank Family receive Napa Green certification for both the land and winery. In 2020, Graff was named
“Napa Winemaker of the Year” by the North Bay Business Journal as a result of his positive contributions to the wine industry, and in 2022 he was voted “Best Napa Winemaker” by the readers of Napa Valley Life magazine.

The Miller House tasting venue. Photo: Kathy Wolf

Beyond the accolades and the wines that grace tables around the world, there’s a deeper narrative etched into the ethos of Frank Family Vineyards. It’s a story of resilience in the face of adversity, as seen in the aftermath of the Phylloxera outbreak in the early 1990s that reshaped the landscape of Napa Valley viticulture. Through collaboration and shared knowledge, the community emerged stronger, reaffirming the spirit of camaraderie that defines the region. “In retrospect, that’s what made Napa Valley great,” Frank said. Everyone had to replant. Which really helped Napa turn the corner in vineyard farming. Vines planted by the old Italian and German farmers didn’t always thrive. Up valley (towards Calistoga) where there is heat you want to plant Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Syrah, but there was also Chardonnay mixed in. Down valley, in Carneros (which wasn’t even a real region at the time) it was cool and foggy. There were red grapes growing down there. We were smart enough at the time to say if I have to pull this out, let me look at my neighbors and see what is growing best. So the valley got reoriented over five or six years as people pulled out the phylloxera-infested vines and replanted. So now in the valley, everything is where it should be,” Frank explained.

The Larkmead Vineyard. Photo: Stewart Michie

In a world where mass production often eclipses craftsmanship, Frank Family Vineyards stands as a beacon of authenticity and tradition. The meticulous attention to detail, from vine to bottle, reflects a commitment to excellence that resonates with wine enthusiasts and connoisseurs alike. As Rich Frank aptly puts it, “There’s nothing wrong with the big guys, but you start to get a homogenization of what they’re making because one or two winemakers are making the whole array of wine. At the end of the day, our name is on the bottle. Our brand is our name. If I learned anything at Disney over 10 years it was you can never mess with the name.”

Today, Frank Family Vineyards has 450 acres of estate vineyards checkerboarded throughout Napa Valley, and was recently awarded “Winery of the Year” for a second time by Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine.

Frank Family Carneros Chardonnay 2020

This Chard presents with a pale yellow in the glass. The nose is fairly aromatic, predominantly melon and honeysuckle.  These continue on the palate, supported by an nice lemony acidity.  There is also just a hint of sweetness.  It is all carried in a lush mouthfeel. Extremely well balanced. ABV is 14.4%.

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