Former Top Hollywood Executive’s Napa Wines Display Qualities Of A Highly Successful, Classic Movie
The juxtaposition of the elegance and charm of Paris, with its limestone buildings accented by intricate wrought iron balconies, with the chaotic traffic fueled by aggressive drivers didn’t faze the American executive in the back of a taxi as it weaved in and out of traffic. The executive was focusing on a crucial phone call as he was one of the few in the world with a cell phone. Serendipitously, the song “Oh, Pretty Woman” came on the radio, and a light bulb went off in the executive’s mind. “Call it Pretty Woman,” he firmly stated, and at that moment, one of the most successful rom-com (romantic comedy) movies of all time found the perfect name, helping it to achieve great success.
That executive in the car was Richard H. Frank, known to those around him as Rich. Describing Rich’s career in Hollywood as illustrious doesn’t do it complete justice as he is one of the most well-known people in the industry who is not known at all to the general public. He has a long list of iconic TV shows and top movies that were made under his stewardship. From 1985 to 1994, he was the president of Disney Studios and that faithful call he received in a taxi that day was about the issue of the title of the movie. Hundreds of movie projects fall through the cracks all the time, and so, not finding a great title could certainly sink the project, especially since Disney valued their family-friendly, wholesome image and they already had many reservations about producing such a film.
Yet Rich came to the rescue, as he had so many times, and the film shocked many in the industry as, at the time, it became the most successful rom-com in movie history and catapulted Julia Roberts into a megastar. The movie illustrated that a story can still be heartwarming while touching upon unsavory aspects of society. However, Rich would not only make his mark in the entertainment business but he would carve a name for himself in the wine world with the establishment of Frank Family Vineyards.
Frank Family Vineyards
Since opening its doors in 1993, Frank Family has built a strong following over the years as their Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay wines have always stood out as having the concentration that is expected, balanced with a jaw-dropping finesse that always stands out in a blind tasting.
And the winemaking life hooked Rich in once he bought a property in the legendary Rutherford wine-growing area of Napa Valley back in 1990, which included a classic Tudor home with a hillside planted next to a small vineyard. He planned to use it as a weekend home to get away from the fast pace of the city but once he started selling the fruit to neighboring producers and his “phone started ringing off the hook from wineries” wanting his grapes, he knew he had something that was “very special.” That estate vineyard would become known as Winston Hill, after his Springer-Spaniel who had the best life any dog could have, running through the vineyards chasing birds, hence protecting the grape bunches.
In 2018, Frank Family founded “Frank for a Cause,” an annual fundraiser that has included seven campaigns raising money for non-profit organizations. Currently, they are raising money for K9s for Warriors as Rich has a deep love for dogs and a strong commitment to supporting veterans, as his father, Hy, served in World War II.
There is so much history to the Frank Family winery (“old” Larkmead winery) as wine has been made there for over a century; in the mid-1900s, it was bought by Hanns Kornell. Hanns would bring the Champagne method to California to focus solely on producing excellent sparkling wines. And Rich Frank has kept that tradition by making a small quantity of top California sparkling wine to this day.
The fascinating history that is part of the foundation of the Frank Family Vineyards, is prominently displayed on most of their wine labels with a drawing of the “old” Larkmead winery. Yet the history is not only rooted in winemaking but a uniquely great woman, Lillie Hitchcock Coit, who lived in the “old” Larkmead stone building starting in the mid-1800s before it was converted into a winery – she is the one who gave the place its name. She was considered an oddity for her time as she smoked cigars, wore pants and often dressed like a man so she could take part in her favorite pastime – gambling. She was obsessed with firefighters and many thought she wanted to be a firefighter herself. She became known as the firefighter patroness as she supported them in numerous ways. Still, today she is most known for leaving behind a big part of her fortune to the City of San Francisco, which was used to build the Coit Tower, a structure that offers panoramic views over the city.
Frank Family winemaker and general manager Todd Graff says that the label is a funny story because Rich Frank had probably been in hundreds of marketing meetings when he worked for Hollywood production companies, coming up with posters for future movies. But when it came to the label of his winery, nothing else but showcasing the history would do.
And yes, many have asked Rich when he will change the labels to a more fresh and contemporary look, but his answer is always “never.”
Embracing Power In All Its Forms
The beautiful harmony of intense concentration and elegance in the Frank Family wines indicates how Rich appreciates power in all its forms. He has certainly lived a life where he has been drawn to powerful women.
His wife, Leslie Frank, has had her own impressive career as an Emmy Award-winning journalist. She has been a great help in improving Frank Family’s communications and marketing strategies and coordinating their charity initiatives. Knowing his respect for strong women, it is no wonder that he would be drawn to the former home of Lillie Hitchcock Coit, or that one of his greatest movie successes was Pretty Woman, a film based on a very powerful female lead that took the most unlikely form.
And that understanding, that the best kind of power uplifts instead of dominates, helped him to create a winery that makes Napa Cabernet wines that illustrate power with a breathtaking finesse. Like a young woman from a small town who ends up down the wrong road only to have her life changed by a man who makes a lot of money… yet she walks away from it all as she won’t compromise on a relationship based on love and respect, and in the process, saves him from his empty life.
2016 Frank Family Vineyards, Blanc de Blancs Sparkling, Carneros, Napa Valley, California: 100% Chardonnay from the coolest part of their Lewis Vineyard in Carneros. The Lewis Vineyard is named after Rich’s eldest grandson. Chalky minerality with orange blossom and lemon confit with lots of vitality and mouthwatering acidity with citrus zest and a saline finish.
2021 Frank Family Vineyards, Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa Valley, California: 100% Chardonnay from their estate Lewis Vineyard as well as famous grower Andy Beckstoffer’s neighboring LakeVineyard and Sangiacomo Vineyards located in the Sonoma section of Carneros, among others. Slight hint of hazelnut and wet stones on the nose and vibrant flavors along the textured body with notes of peach skin, juicy nectarine and a touch of grated nutmeg with bright acidity.
2020 Frank Family Vineyards, Lewis Vineyard Chardonnay Reserve, Carneros, Napa Valley, California: 100% Chardonnay from their Lewis Vineyard. Lots of acidity with an intense electric energy about this wine that is greatly complemented by a saline minerality that is balanced by rich flavors of lemon custard and hints of toasted almonds.
2021 Frank Family Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Carneros, Napa Valley, California: 100% Pinot Noir. Their Lewis Vineyard provides the foundation for this wine as well as Beckstoffer Vineyards in Napa-Carneros and Sangiacomo Vineyards located in the Sonoma section of Carneros. Lovely aromas of jasmine flower with red cherries and baking spices with an elegant texture and tannins that are like ribbons of silk with bright acidity and lots of finesse on the finish; Frank Family didn’t make red wines in 2020 because of the record-setting year of wildfires in California.
2019 Frank Family Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California: 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot and 1% Merlot sourced mainly from their S&J Vineyard (named after Rich’s grandchildren, Stella and Jeremy) in Napa’s Capell Valley and their Benjamin Vineyard located on the valley floor in the heart of Rutherford. Additional vineyard sources include Quarry Vineyard and Round Pond Estate, both in Rutherford, as well as Delouise and Shooting Star Vineyard, located in Napa Valley. Elegant from the start, with fresh black cherries, pristine raspberry aromas with crushed rocks and a deeply concentrated mid-palate with a round, inviting texture.
2018 Frank Family Vineyards, Winston Hill, Rutherford, Napa Valley, California: 89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot from the Winston Hill Vineyard. This is their flagship wine as it is Frank Family’s original estate vineyard that is located 500 feet above the valley floor in the eastern edge of Rutherford. It is named after Rich’s English Springer-Spaniel, Winston, who loved running up and down the hills among the vines, chasing birds and protecting the crop. Multilayered wine with rich flavors of blackberry preserves and black cherry pie with a sensual texture that is out of this world with complex layers of tobacco leaf and sandalwood with a long, flavorful finish that has that overall classic Frank Family characteristic of elegance.