Frank Family Chardonnay 2017, Carneros
Cost: $37-39
M ost people are fortunate to succeed at one career in a lifetime but Rich Frank has been a star in two professions.
First he was a leader for Disney Studios, and for more than 25 years his Frank Family Vineyards has been known for its high-quality wines. Just about every wine the winery releases is spectacular, including its latest, Frank Family Carneros Chardonnay 2017.
The wine is from the tricky 2017 vintage that saw two large wildfires raging through Northern California’s wine country. Luckily, the chardonnay grapes had all been picked before the fires hit, but Frank Family sold off thousands of gallons of potentially tainted cabernet sauvignon. The winery made a conscientious decision not to bottle any wine made from grapes harvested after the Atlas and Tubbs fires, which started on October 8, 2017 and raged through wine country.
The cab grapes they kept that were picked before the fires could produce some of the best wine in a decade, but that wine hasn’t been released yet.
The wine is a pale straw yellow in the glass, with aromas of brioche and lemon. The first sip floods your senses with layers of yellow apple, melon, pear and lemon curd. The creamy texture is balanced by lively acidity. The finish is pleasantly long and smooth.
I often like unoaked chardonnay for its crisp, fresh flavors, but the Frank Family chardonnay is a great example of what an oaked chardonnay should taste like. The juice is barrel fermented in 34 percent new, 33 percent once and 33 percent twice-filled French oak barrels for 9 months. While aging on the lees, the wine was hand stirred regularly to promote depth and longevity.
The heart of this wine is the the Frank Family Lewis Vineyard located in the heart of Napa-Carneros, near the shores of the San Pablo Bay. The grapes benefit from the predominant maritime influence of the Pacific Ocean creating the cool temperature, fog and wind that make Carneros ideally suited for growing cool climate varietals.
The vineyard has been certified sustainable through the Napa Green program since 2015.
Chardonnay is king of white wines in California and Frank Family winemaker Todd Graff has done a great job of developing a reputation for fine chardonnay in a relatively short period of time.
From its first vintages in the early 1990s, Frank Family chardonnay has been something special. It starts with great grapes in the vineyard and then Graff and his staff make minimal adjustments in the winery, allowing the natural flavors from Carneros to show through.
There are 1,500 different chardonnays produced in California each year, but you won’t find very many, if any, that are better than Frank Family.
Winery: While Rich Frank was president of Disney Studios, he often visited wine country on weekends before buying the historic Larkmead Winery in 1992. His partner was Koerner Rombauer, whom he bought out in 2007. The stone building from the original winery is on the Registry of National Historic Places, and is now used for parties and receptions.
Winemaker Todd Graff has been with the winery since 2003. He and his staff make a wide range of varietals, including cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, petite sirah, sangiovese, chardonnay and some very good sparkling wines. They get grapes from 450 acres of estate vineyards as well as other vineyards under long-term contracts. Since October 2015 Graff also has been general manager.
Frank’s wife Leslie, an Emmy-award winning news journalist, also takes an active role in the winery.
The winery equipment is state-of-the art, and the tasting room usually is voted best in the state. The staff keeps it loose and fun, but they also teach you about the wine. The winery has taken the experience up a notch with a newly-designed tasting room and several reserve tastings.
The winery is open daily, but reservations are required Friday-Sunday. It has become a popular spot for picnic lunches.
Goes with: I was celebrating a productive week, with lots of yard work done, getting my vegetable garden planted and finishing some writing projects. So we had one of my favorite meals, fried shrimp that we brought back from Edisto Beach.
The shrimp were fresh when we brought them back from the beach and then I peeled, breaded and fried them. I love shrimp, and there are none better than the shrimp caught off the South Carolina coast and sold by Edisto Seafood.
Every time we go there, we buy a bunch and freeze them in one-pound blocks. Then they’re ready when we want to fry, steam or grill them. I usually buy 20-25 pounds when we’re there.
This night we fried the shrimp in House Autrey breading, adding hush puppies, sweet potato tater tots and a tossed salad.
The fruity, citrusy chardonnay was a perfect pairing for the fried shrimp and sides. I offered my wife Teri a choice of about six wines and she chose the Frank Family chardonnay. I asked her why, and she said “If there is a choice, why wouldn’t I choose Frank Family?”
It’s definitely her favorite chardonnay.
This wine would pair well with just about any seafood, poultry, strong cheeses and some pork dishes. Serve it well chilled and let it warm up for about five minutes before serving.

If you have questions about wine you can email Dennis Sodomka at

Write A Comment

Pin It