- Rating: 91 out of 100
- Tasting Fee: $40 for Public Tasting, $85 for the Elevated Experience
- Accepts Reservations: Yes
- Reservation Required: Yes for the Elevated Experience, No for Public Tasting
Calistoga, CA 94515
Frank Family is one of those vineyards that aren’t hyped by the major wine reviewers, but you continue to hear its name talked about on the wine apps (e.g. Vivino and Delectable) and see its bottles in stores, as their wines are nationally distributed. I finally had enough and decided to find out for myself what the fuss was all about. Like many other wineries, it was founded with capital earned in another industry. In the case of Frank Family, it was Hollywood. But not as actors - the owner was President of Disney and the son is currently the President of Dreamworks Studios. And what person in the movie business wouldn’t appreciate good vino? Better yet, what person in any industry wouldn’t appreciate good vino?
Found off Highway 29 in Calistoga, the Frank Family winery is very traditional in the design of its buildings and landscape. After all, the winery portion was purchased from Larkmead some years back. The interior is very polished with a darker, old fashioned wood theme. After taking a picture on their red carpet (of course they had one), I was led inside and joined by two other groups for the tasting.
The five others that were seated with me at the tasting were relatively new to wine, so the hostess adjusted the tasting to their experience level. And though she didn’t have any formal training or a wine background, she was very engaging and very good at recalling her facts! It’s nice to enjoy tastings like this because it serves as a reminder that not everyone will develop a passion or an intellectual curiosity for all things wine. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t enjoy it for what it is as much as I do. And instead of serious talk about wine chemistry, we enjoyed sharing stories about the biggest bloopers we’ve all made with wine.
While lots of fun, the pace and conversation at the table did distract me a bit from analyzing the wines and I couldn’t really ask questions regarding some of the more intricate details of their wine production process. It may very well be that my rating of the wines/wineries would’ve been higher on a different day with different circumstances. Though, if you are looking for a winery to bring a party of 6-8 people, Frank Family could be a very nice choice for the price point, since your party would likely be seated alone. Without further ado, the wines on the tasting menu!
- Blanc de Blanc ($55)
- Made in the traditional method (like Cremant, Champagne, and Cava) with 36 months on the lees and hand-riddled (remuage with a pupitre). The nose is clean with traces of lemon, lime, brioche, and definitely a high malic acid note (e.g. green apples) that is powerful. The high malic acid did overpower the palate a bit, leading to an imbalance in my mind that might have been avoided if the grapes had a brix level that was a little higher (ie. the grapes were more ripe). Still, it makes for a very refreshing sparkling wine if served cold on a hot day.
- 2016 Carneros Lewis Vineyard Chardonnay ($65)
- Wow – the melon and malolactic fermentation (MLF) flavors jump right out of the glass with high intensity. There is a little bit of a terroir influence to it as well. Medium(+) body, the butter is pretty pronounced on the palate but well blended with the melon and other stonefruit character. The medium acid means the grapes must have been pretty well developed - the acid was enough though to match the finish that goes on for quite a bit. The wine is dry, but there is an underlying ripeness that carries the wine.
- 2016 Carneros Lewis Vineyard Pinot Noir ($65)
- The nose is initially tight, but when you coax the wine a bit, the fruit and spice come out in force with ripe cranberry and fruitcake leading on the nose. The mouthfeel was much lighter than I was expecting from a Carneros Pinot this ripe. The palate has cooked cranberry, toast, spices, a medium body, and a smooth palate. What makes this wine interesting is the little piece of forest floor / tertiary / savory character in there at such a young age.
- 2015 Reserve Zinfandel ($55)
- Blended with Petit Sirah, this Zinfandel has a very fragrant/strong nose, a good amount of body and tannin, but with lighter fruit flavors (cranberry/strawberry), some sweet spice notes, and higher acid that tingles the cheeks. This is not your normal Zin – it has some elements that remind me of Turley Zinfandel, which is always a flattering comparison.
- 2014 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon ($95)
- 100% Rutherford Cab. The blue and red fruit on the nose and palate is almost candied. And although the wine and acid isn’t that bright (like Corison), the acid is still mouthwatering and the perfume is pretty and light coming off the wine. Give it a swirl to really open up the fruit, spices, tertiary notes (coffee/cedar), and high acid that wafts the flavors up. Super smooth on the palate, a med(+) body, and a light but persistent finish.
The price points of the first four wines are at the upper-end for solid Napa wines (the Rutherford Cabernet is even with peers). The profiles of the wines are appealing to a large portion of the population (e.g. their candied notes), especially those that want something a little lighter bodied than traditional Napa Valley, with good fragrance and some tertiary development too. And while the wines are not “ripe” by some people’s Napa valley standards (cranberry notes in a few of them), they are definitely not underripe. The wines taste like they undergo a slighly colder fermentation to preserve that floral prettiness and acid. I can definitely see why this vineyard is popular with many people, but some of the wines seem like they focus on complexity and intensity at a cost to integration and balance.
Frank Family definitely has one of the more relaxed atmospheres in the valley (even more so than Hall), which is very inviting for people that don’t yet know much about wine and want to fit in with the crowd at the winery. I personally like my wines with a bit more natural personality at the risk of being something that some patrons will love and others not so much. Still, deft hands make these wines and I definitely recommend Frank Family as a nice stop if it’s your first visit to Napa and you want something more relaxing. Even if you don’t stop by, try buying one of their wines the next time you see it at your local wine store! Cheers!!
Rating: 91 out of 100