- Chez Panisse opens (1971)
A Rich Production in Napa Valley
Recipe of the day
When Rich Frank walks through the door of his winery, Riley, the rescue German shepherd glued to his heels, you immediately know you’re about to have some fun. Frank is wearing jeans, an untucked button down, and a baseball cap (all stitched with the Frank Family logo), and he walks up to our group like he had just stepped out for a minute. It’s clear that Frank is an important man; you can hear it in the way he speaks, see in the car that he has parked in front of the building (a 1971 cornflower blue Mercedes convertible), and feel it in the way he shakes your hand. But he never once came off as pompous. He has certainly earned the right to be a snob, there’s no doubt. His résumé would take days to rattle off, but I get the sense that he’s just the same man that he’s always been. He’s the kind of man you want to have a beer with, or better yet a glass of Frank Family wine with.
His wines are outstanding and fairly easy to find if you look hard enough (the Napa cab is available at most wine stores). But Frank Family is far more than just a big cabernet house. They vary from the most crisp, yet delicately creamy blanc de blancs that has ever tickled my tongue (we drank the 2008) to the most intensely unique and rich port I have ever had. The port, if you close your eyes, presents more like a tawny madeira, with the flavor of graham crackers and a salty-nuttiness that is utterly addictive, and yet the color is a deep, rich purplely brown. It’s decadent, it tastes of every type of chocolate, and it’s unbelievable.
A standout for me, if I really, really, had to choose one, besides the port, besides the blanc de blancs, besides the 2011 chardonnay that tasted and smelled of fresh baked apple pie, and besides the 2011 pinot that was elegantly laced with the scent of lavender and spice, would have to be the Frank Family Rouge. It’s a sparkling wine, made of the usual champagne suspects, pinot noir and chardonnay (mostly pinot), but it’s as deeply colored as a pinot itself. It’s not overpoweringly strawberried, as one might expect from the color, you get the dark cherry flavors that are typical of a pinot and a bit of orange peel, and it is so completely amazing that I had to stop myself from finding a corner on the lawn to have a moment alone with it.
We drank our wines outdoors while we nibbled on cave-aged cheeses, fresh figs, Marcona almonds, and garlic shrimp, and watched master paella-maker, Gerard, prepare our dinner for us. The table was set with purple linens and hydrangeas, we had rows and rows of grape vines surrounding us, and it all had the magical feeling of equal parts casual and fancy. Frank told story after story, each one speckled with famous people and places, each one ending with an uproar of laughter, his beautiful wife sparkled as much as the wine in my glass, and it is a scene I hope to never forget, a scene that could only be played out by such an accomplished producer.
After spending so much time with Frank, his wife, and part of his crew, sharing a delectable meal on the property that he was recently married, I feel like I know the man. I feel like I understand why his wines are so popular and coveted, his TV shows watched by millions. That old baseball cap he wore when I first met him undoubtedly has a lot of titles. His wines, as different as they all are, all speak the language that is Rich Frank — they make a statement, they’re lovable, and they make you want to come back for more.
The entire experience for me, all in all, was very, very rich.
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