In Napa, where history is recent compared to Germany, France or Italy, a handful of stone buildings recreate wine country as it was during the 19th century. One of these is Frank Family Vineyards in Calistoga. Located in the original Larkmead Winery built in 1884, the structure appears on the national Register of Historic Places.
Rich Frank, a former Disney executive, purchased the property in 1992. The legendary Hans Kornell had operated Kornell Champagne Cellars there since 1958 and today’s visitors can tour the historic sparkling wine cellar, which has been preserved along with an assortment of vintage barrels and riddling racks. Frank operates the winery with his wife Connie, his sons Paul and Darryl, and winemaker Todd Graff, who previously did stints at Schramsberg, Codorniu Napa and Sonoma Creek.
Frank Family produces a complete line of varietals in small amounts, primarily from estate vineyards. In deference to the property’s heritage and Graff’s background they produce four different sparkling wines, the most distinctive being the fruity and delicious Rouge ($45), brimming with bright strawberry and raspberry flavors. Of the basic releases, the 2009 Carneros Chardonnay ($30) is nicely balanced, with good acidity and pronounced spice notes. The small-production 2009 Pinot Noir ($40) is ripe and compact, with exotic flavors of wild strawberry and rhubarb. The 2007 Cabernet ($40) is rich and rustic, with savory notes of sage mixed in with flavors of ripe blackberry.
The reserve tier is more expensive and harder to find, particularly the Rutherford Reserve Cabernet ($85) and the Winston Hill Red Wine ($150), a blend from their best estate vineyard. Graff also makes small amounts of the rich, sweet Zinfandel Port ($65), a perfect way to conclude a meal accompanied by strong cheeses.
The tasting room at Frank Family vineyards is open to the public, and visitors can wander off into the vineyards—although you’re likely to be accompanied by Bristol, Graff’s chocolate lab. The winery is calm, quiet and secluded, and offers a fascinating window into Napa’s past.