Hollywood and Vines: An Interview with Rich Frank

How do you make a million dollars in the wine business? You start with five million. That’s an old saying in the wine business—and probably a dozen other businesses that people dream of making a living in (the restaurant and hospitality businesses to name a couple).For Rich Frank, the Ex-President of Disney Studios who over-saw hit movies like Pretty Woman and The Lion King, this was not the case. 

Perhaps this is because Rich already had tremendous business acumen— plying his trade in the cut throat industry that is Hollywood and entertainment—and transferring those skills to running a winery. OK, they are certainly different businesses with different skill sets but they both deal in revenue, capital expenditures, profits and losses, cash flow, etc. It helps when you have a good product, but knowing how to run a large business and having first hand experience is always a plus and for Rich Frank, it’s probably a major reason that his namesake winery has been so successful.   

I’ve had the good fortune of meeting and chatting with Rich several times over the past year—first at his winery in Napa Valley and then at the Polo Bar in New York City for the winery’s 25th Anniversary celebration. Not only do I love his wines—I’ve tasted all of them—but I love his story too, moving from LA to Napa Valley and applying his experiences from Disney to crushing grapes in Napa Valley.

The following is a Q&A with Rich Frank of Frank Family Vineyards. 

GLR: How/why did you get in the wine business?  

RF: It all started with the purchase of my Tudor home in Napa Valley’s Rutherford AVA in 1990. At the time, I was President of Disney Studios and enjoyed coming to Napa to relax each weekend and take a break from Hollywood’s hustle and bustle. Right after moving into the house, my phone started ringing off the hook from wineries wanting our fruit, and I quickly realized we had something special.

In 1992, the Hanns Kornell Champagne Cellars winery was being sold by the bank. I had winemaking friends urging me not to leave Hollywood, but I decided to make a low bid on the property just to see what would happen. With some good luck and a bit of business savvy, we managed to capture lightning in a bottle, and the winery is now celebrating its 25thyear. 

GLR: What are your favorite varietals that you produce?

RF: Cabernet Sauvignon. A good Cabernet Sauvignon has structure, character and longevity.  You can savor a Cabernet the way you savor a moment in time.

GLR: What’s your favorite varietal that you do not produce? 

RF: That would be the varietals that make a great Sauternes—Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. I love a great glass of Sauternes with Foie Gras—it is so decadent and one of the culinary world’s great treats. Our winemaker Todd Graff occasionally is able to make a late harvest Chardonnay, but the vintages we are able to get noble rot and do this are few and far between, so it is like gold here at the winery. It is VERY good. 

GLR: What’s your favorite thing about Napa Valley outside of wine? 

RF: The community. Napa Valley is one of the premiere wine regions in the world but it is also incredibly community oriented, environmentally conscious and extremely charitable. As a vintner, the spirit of Napa is translated into everything we do from crafting wine to welcoming guests to curating an unforgettable experience for all who visit.

GLR: What’s the best wine you think Frank Family has made and why?  

RF: My favorite wine was the 2012 Patriarch. It was the first vintage of this bottling—100% Cabernet Sauvignon from a specific area of our Winston Hill Vineyard in Rutherford. I made it as a gift to my father. He was just an incredible human being. He was a World War II veteran and drove support vehicles for the First Army and General George S. Patton’s Third Army days after D-Day. At the end of the war, he returned to our family in Brooklyn and founded Heide Meat Company, which he operated successfully for 30 years. Because of his hard work and dedication, I was given the opportunity to be the first person in my family to go to college. 

My father was mentally and physically active in his old age, and always joked that he only had time left to drink our reserve wines. So, 2012 came along, and it was a fantastic vintage, and I had been waiting to make a great wine to honor my Dad. The label mimics the butcher paper he would use to wrap meat, and it is named for him—our Patriarch. I was able to give him the first bottle of the wine on his 98thBirthday which was very exciting for the entire family.  

Frank Family’s 2014 Patriarch Cabernet Sauvignon is $225 a bottle and scored 96 points from Robert Parker 

GLR: Are there any varietals in the valley that you see gaining a lot in popularity in the next decade?

RF: Nothing will ever be as important as Cabernet Sauvignon is in the Napa Valley. Napa only produces 4% of all the wine made in the state of California, and I would argue it is hands down one of the best places in the world to grow it. Additionally, land is very expensive, and Cabernet is the only variety that fetches prices that correlate with the cost of land and labor here. As land owners—we own more than 380 acres—we have the bandwidth to make some fun varieties. We have four rows of Sangiovese growing at the top of Winston Hill on high-elevation prime Rutherford hillside dirt. We make this for the love of it, not for the business of it. 

Frank Family wines ranging from Chardonnay to Pinot Noir to Cabernet to sparkling wine

GLR: What is your favorite thing about working in the wine business?

RF: Sharing our passion for wine and Napa Valley with not only guests at our winery but with our wine club members across the country. We’re proud to be family-owned, estate-driven, and nationally distributed – a tricky trifecta to master.  We make our decisions based on quality and what is best for our wines and our guests, not based on bottom-line and investors. 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.

Rich with his wife Leslie who co-owns and co-runs the winery