At Drink The Bottles, we shine the spotlight on a winery or wine brand that we think have a unique or fun story to tell. The Winery Spotlight talks about the winery, the terroir, the people, the wines or just about anything that interests us! Enjoy!
October 16, 2018: With hundreds of wineries in California trying to stamp out their unique footprint and set themselves apart from the guy down the street, it doesn't take long to understand how Frank Family Vineyards has done just that. Before I get too far into this, it's time for a full confession. I knew very little about Frank Family Vineyards until just a couple of months ago. And, continuing with the honesty streak, what drew me to them initially was...............their bottles. Specifically, the labels. I saw those gorgeous, classic style, full color labels on those beautiful bottles of wine and felt like I was transported back into the golden era of Hollywood. Bizarre. I know. But once I saw the labels/bottles I knew I had to find out what was inside.
For those of you who are familiar with Frank Family Vineyards............ Ok, sorry. I'm going to stop for a second. If it's ok with you, I'm going to refer to this wonderful winery as FFV going forward, ok? It's just easier to type and I'm sure I'll be referring to it many times in this article. I digress. So if you know the story about the winery, you undoubtedly know that Rich Frank is an icon in American television and film. Literally. Mr. Frank has so many successes under his leadership that you would nearly need a phone book to list them all. So, what does a former president of Disney Studios do when he has turned everything he has touched into gold? He makes wine!
In 1992, Rich bought a home, proposed to his then-girlfriend and highly Emmy Award winning journalist, Leslie, a few years later and set down roots to what would become Frank Family Vineyards. The two of them loved wine and understand that wine is not just a labor, but a labor of love. On the home page of their web site it reads, "GREAT WINE HAPPENS EVERY DAY". I recently had the honor of finding out more about FFV from Leslie Frank, proprietor and half of the power duo at this exceptional winery. Here's what she had to say....
1. With so many wineries competing for customers and collectors, how does Frank Family Vineyards set themselves apart from others in the same space?
With 380 acres in the Napa Valley and a winemaker who has been with us 15+ years, we have consistent vineyard sources and winemaking - our customers know what to expect from our wines year in and year out: wines of the highest quality, priced competitively. We produce several different kinds of wine - from sparkling Methode Champenoise to great Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Sangiovese as well as limited release dessert wines. We truly offer something for everyone.
We are 100% family owned, yet because we have distribution nationally, often compete with some of the larger producers, ones that are sometimes owned and run by investor groups. Our farming and winemaking decisions are quality-based, not bottom-line investor-driven decisions. Our customers' experience when visiting Frank Family Vineyards is one of the utmost importance to us. Our staff (our extended family) makes each and every visitor feel like they are being welcomed into our home; our tasting experiences are bar-none in the Napa Valley.
2. A lot of people think about the romantic side of owning a vineyard and making wine without realizing there is more to this than just picking and crushing grapes. What is the hardest part of making a quality wine that will appeal to your fans?
You can't make quality wine without quality grapes. We own four vineyards in prime growing regions in Napa Valley, and we have an exceptionally talented and intuitive winemaker, Todd Graff, who is capable of making every varietal in our portfolio with the same balance and consistency year after year. Being a vintner or a winemaker is not a seasonal job. We are working year round to ensure success for the next vintage, but it's truly a labor of love.
3. If I had to make with with only ONE grape varietal for the rest of my life it would be ______________. And this is why _______________.
Cabernet Sauvignon. It's almost spiritual. I compare a big, bold Cabernet to living life to the fullest. It has structure, character and longevity. You can savor a Cabernet the way you savor a moment in time.
4. Success to Frank Family Vineyards looks like this: ___________________
For 25 years we have grown by word of mouth. Our wines speak for themselves. Our Carneros Chardonnay has been named the number one wine by the glass in fine restaurants in America by Wine & Spirits Magazine. But it is also reassuring to know that guests appreciate our hospitality, as we've been named "Best Napa Winery" by the Bay Area A-List for 8 consecutive years and the Connoisseurs Guide to California Wines has named us "Winery of the Year", the only winery to win the award twice.
5. If we could change one thing in the wine industry or educate people about wine, (maybe a pet peeve?) it would be _______________.
Over-chilling our Chardonnay. If the wine is too cold you can't taste the grape. The true flavors of the wine really come through when it's slightly chilled, not cold. (As a side note, I mention this in many (most?) of the white wines I taste on this wine blog. This is definitely a pet peeve of mine! Great minds think alike. Check out my FFV Chardonnay post! -JL)
6. As we slide into fall, when the grapes are crushed and you have a few moments to relax, what will be the wine and what will you pair it with?
Frank Family Vineyards Reserve Zinfandel paired with Rich's baby-back ribs and chicken wings. It's a combination that is simply delicious. We call our Zinfandel a "two bottle" wine; drink one while you're grilling and one when you're eating.
7. Our biggest accomplishment to date has been........
Starting a winery, a passion project 25 years ago and growing the business successfully to become a brand with national recognition.
8. The biggest compliment someone can pay us is........
Telling us they enjoy our wine and it's a great value.
9. Tell me about your wine club and special events that you have for those members throughout the year.
Our wine club only ships twice a year - in the spring and in the fall. We offer a variety of options in our club, from bubbles to wine club-only wines in several varietals. Club membership does have perks, with savings on wine purchases to exclusive club events throughout the year, including the holidays, both at the winery and nationally.
10. If we weren't making wine we would be.......
Sober, and not as happy.
11. The person or people who influence us the most is/are........
Hy Frank. He was the patriarch of the Frank Family and Rich's father and in 2012 we named a wine in his honor. Hy was a World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge. After the war he returned home to Brooklyn and opened a meat packing business, making enough money to send Rich, the first member of the Frank Family, to university. Hy was a man of morals and ethics who had a commitment to country, community and family. He was a true American patriot. He lived a full life up to his passing in 2015 at the age of 98. His legacy lives on in the luscious Rutherford Cabernet we make from our Winston Hill Vineyard that we affectionately call "Patriarch".
What I learned from Leslie Frank is there are parallels among her family and mine although we are thousands of miles apart. A family business that treats everyone like a guest instead of a customer is a business that people want to be connected to for many years. Honoring those who guided generations to come with a moral compass and compassion to "do good" is not done because it is good marketing. It's done to honor heritage. And eating great food (hey Rich, I need that rib recipe!) and sharing moments with a bottle or two and friends makes us happy.
Because of Frank Family Vineyards, I found out about the book "Wine Country Women of Napa Valley" can't put it down. This amazing collection shares the lives of incredible women in Napa Valley, information about their journey and some of their favorite recipes. Get the book and flip it open to page 188. There you will see Leslie Frank and learn more about FFV. Keep going to page 192 and you can see a smitten Matt Damon admiring Leslie on the red carpet. Love it!
I absolutely loved Leslie's answers and one thing that really resonated with me is "great value". To hear a winery owner tell you that they want to make sure their customers (I mean, guests) get a great value in addition to enjoying the wine is not only refreshing, but it speaks volumes about their compassion for the people. If you're looking to try something new and have an incredible experience, I encourage you to try some Frank Family Vineyards wines. The labels are beautiful, paling in comparison only to the amazing wines and beautiful people who craft them. I know I'll be stopping by the next time I'm in Napa Valley. Cheers!
May 23, 2018: I love a good story, especially when it comes to the wine world. And I grew up watching baseball and collecting baseball cards. A couple of months ago I stumbled upon a wine brand - JACK wine - and thought I'd take a look around their web site. Admittedly, I knew nothing about them but immediately I realized that this story was unique and one that I wanted to share.
Two baseball players. Yes, you read that right. Professional baseball players. Here are two guys who are having a great night out, enjoying a delicious meal accompanied by great wines and one seemingly innocent comment about having their own wine label snowballed into something that would become a wine brand on the up-and-coming "to watch" list.
While there are countless decisions to make when deciding to create your signature wine label - location, wine maker, varietals, bottles, artwork, public relations, capital output, web site, etc - one decision came to them easily. The name JACK was inspired by the names of the owner's children - Jayce, Ashlyn, Christian & Kylie (JACK) and that set the ground work on what would be a labor of love for two guys from the major leagues!
I had the opportunity to pick the brain of Vernon Wells about JACK wines and about their thoughts of the wine world. Here's a quick 10-question panel that I think you'll enjoy:
1. Why wine? In a world where whiskey is sexy and IPA beer is the latest fad, why did you guys choose to make wine?
I'm not a beer guy. I'm a big fan of whiskey but it's the new "go to". But wine....I love the process and the culture. You can share a bottle of wine over dinner with friends and family. Annnnd......Jesus turned water into wine so it has to be the right choice!!
2. When deciding to move forward with wine, finding the right fit in a wine maker that shares your vision and passion is critical. How did you determine that [wine maker] Grant Long was your guy?
Grant was the perfect choice for us to partner with to start our dream project. He was instrumental in educating us on the process and allowing us to lean on him as we built this brand.
3. What does the JACK vision and business model look like for the next 5-10 years?
Continue to grow. Continue to make quality relationships. Produce wine that people truly enjoy. We are off to a good start but becoming a name in Napa Valley takes time and we are looking forward to that challenge.
4. If I'm not doing something baseball or wine related, you can find me....
With my family! I don't miss a moment of my boys lives now. Baseball was a lifestyle that required a lot of sacrifice when it came to family time.
5. What advice would you give to someone who had the romantic idea of starting their own winery?
Do what you're passionate about! Wine making is a tedious process but it can be rewarding is so many ways.
6. What were the biggest surprises or misconceptions for you from the time you decided to go into business together until present day?
Chris and I knew each other really well before this decision to start a business together. I think I've taught him to be a little more patient and I think he's taught me to be a little more aggressive. We are a great match for this venture.
7. Success to us looks like this...
Happy people enjoying a great bottle of JACK wine for years to come.
8. Our biggest accomplishment to date has been...
Selling out of every vintage. As a young brand at the price point we are at, it is no small feat.
9. If we could make a significant mark in the wine industry and be "the winery" known for something, it would be...
I want people to love the story behind the brand. We will make great wines but I want our customers to feel like they are part of our family.
10. The person or people who influence us the most are...
I read about entrepreneurs all of the time. I love the uniqueness of each individual's story. They inspire me to take chances and boldly go after different ventures.
There is no doubt that JACK is on the fast path to success while raising the eyebrows of neighbors in the wine industry. The big wine dogs like Robert Parker and James Suckling have praised both the Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc and an exclusive allocation list hints that people are literally waiting in line to get their lips on this wine. This wine blogger had the great pleasure of tasting the 2016 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc and I was blown away. You can find that review on this site.
I'm going to keep an eye on JACK wines to follow their story, successes and what I anticipate will be a future expansion with additional varietals in their offering. Who knows? Maybe some day we'll see JACK wines at the ball park? Hmmm... a hot dog and Sauvignon Blanc? Sign me up!
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