Wine Talk

Snooth User: EMark

Larkmead Winery/Frank Family Vineyards

Posted by EMark, Jul 4, 2012.

I had my first example of a Frank Family wine, yesterday--2006 Napa Valley Zinfandel.  I was intrigued that the back label on this bottle had an interesting discourse on the Larkmead Winery:

"Historic Larkmead Winery was originally built of wood in 1884.  in 1905, new owners Felix Salmina, Sr. and his wife, Theresa, commissioned local stonemason, Wilbur Harrison, to build a square stone structure around the original wooden frame,  Felix, born in Corcapolo, Switzerland in 1860, was an heir to the Salmina family tradition of crafting fine wines.  At the age of 19 he immigrated to the Napa Valley, finding the soil and climate ideally suited to the production of premium wine grapes.

"It was Lily Hitchcock Coit herself, one of the most colorful figures of early California, who originated the winery's name.  She owned a spacious country home a short distance from the winery and dubbed it "Larkmead" after the thousands of wild meadowlarks that inhabited the open fields and filled the air with their melodious warbling.  From this comes the trade name which was later adopted by the winery and made world famous by its wines.

"We proudly introduce you to this vintage of Napa Valley Zinfandel, a continuation of the rare tradition of hand-crafted quality that began over a century ago int the Salmina vineyards of Switzerland."

So, a question to Napa Valley experts:  What is the relationship between the Frank Family Vineyards and Larkmead Winery, which is discussed on the back label?  The back label monologue says nothing about the Frank Family coming into the picture.

I looked up Lily Hitchcock Coit on Wikipedia, and I agree that colorful is an appropriate adjective for her.


Reply by JonDerry, Jul 5, 2012.

Before Larkmead started putting more efforts on their own wines, they were almost exclusively farmers, cultivating and selling their grapes to a lot of big names around Napa. Didn't know they grew Zinfandel. Anyway, Ramey's Larkmead Cabernet Sauvignon might be one of the more popular names they've recently been selling grapes to, though it seems Ramey doesn't produce from the Larkmead label anymore. 

It seems Larkmead is well respected among other wineries who buy their grapes, and/or they must "encourage" these wineries to reference the Larkmead name and/or history on the finished products. Obviously, this helps the Larkmead brand their own wines and get the word out. 

Larkmead's definitely a place to visit, though the speil about "Firebelle Lil" they've gone into both times I've been there gets a little tiring for me, they do have good history. Also, the terroir is interesting being from Calistoga (think minerality), and it's also good to know this is valley floor fruit in every sense. They produce estate wines so they seem to control everything that goes into it.

Reply by Eric Guido, Jul 8, 2012.

Thanks for the info JonDerry, Larkmead is one of my Napa Valley favorites.  However, I've never tasted what other's have done with this fruit.  I've always wished there was a Zinfandel I could taste from this property, so I'll see if there's any way I could find this. 


Did you like the wine?

Reply by EMark, Jul 8, 2012.

Eric, I thought it was a good wine.  I posted this Snooth review and assigned it 3-1/2 chalices. I love Zinfandel, and this one has all the flavor that I seek.  Unfortunately, however, I was thrown off a bit by alcohol--definite alcohol aromas on the nose and somewhat noticeable alcohol on the finish.  I am not normally one to complain about alcohol--I mock those who insist they will not try any wine that has an ABV of 14% or above on the label--but, for some reason or other, this one bothered me.

If you look at the other Snooth reviews of this wine, you will notice that many of them rate the wine higher than I did and, most interestingly, nobody else mentioned anything about alcohol.  So, I suspect that my experience was anomolous.  It may be related to something else that I ate that day, or it may have to do with my "under the staircase storage for two years," or it might have been a bottle that was abused by the retailer. 

Reply by Snoother 1071335, Jul 9, 2012.

Hi guys, I hope I can add some clarification to this, as my PR firm works with Frank Family Vineyards. Rich Frank and Connie Frank purchased the property on Larkmead Lane  in 1992 (it was Hans Kornell Champagne Cellars), which is today home to Frank Family Vineyards. The Larkmead Winery on the Frank Family property is the third oldest in all of Napa, and is on the National Register of Historic Places, hence the reference to this on the labels.  This is not related, however, to Larkmead Vineyards, which is located across the street. Frank Family does not source fruit from any of the Larkmead Vineyards (though they surely make good wines too!)

My understanding is that all of the property was at one point owned by one family. At some point, it was sold off and divided. Today, Larkmead Vineyards and Frank Family Vineyards are the only properties on Larkmead Lane. I believe most of the surrounding vineyards belong to Larkmead Vineyards. Frank Family owns its own vineyards too, but in various regions: The Winston Hill Vineyard is on Rich Frank's estate in Rutherford; the S&J Vineyard is east of the Vaca Mt. range in the Napa's Capell Valley, and the S&J Vineyard is in Carneros.

The Zinfandel is actually the only bottling Frank Family produces that is entirely sourced. Winemaker Todd Graff blends in a trace of Petite Sirah in each vintage—for the 2009, he added 3% Petite Sirah as well as 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine had 18 months maturation in 35% new and 65% once and twice-filled French oak barrels.

The 2006 you tasted was 91% Zin, 6% Petite Sirah and 3% Syrah. Insofar as alcohol, the 2006 vintage was higher than some others--15% vs. the usual 14.5%. Storage that is not idea would have accentuated that.

I hope this helps clarify things!

Reply by EMark, Jul 9, 2012.

Thank you, very much, Snoother 1071335, for the excellent report. 

So, the 2009 Larkmead Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon that I purchased a few weeks ago is produced and bottled by Larkmead Vineyards of Calistoga, CA (says so right on the back label).  While they appear to be neighbors, this is a completely different enterprise from the Larkmead Winery on the Frank property.

Thanks, also, for the breakdown on the grape content of the 2006 example that I tasted.  I am not surprised at the Petite Sirah component.  Most of my favorite Zins are field blends.

Reply by JonDerry, Jul 9, 2012.

Thanks for clarifying FF PR...thought I'd made a safe assumption, but good to know about Larkmead Lane.

Mark, all of Larkmead's wines are estate wines, sourced from their own vineyards. Frank Family has nothing to do with them, other than owning/farming a specific vineyard in close proximity to Larkmead, on Larkmead lane. I'm glad this was cleared up because I was given a Larkmead vineyard chart a couple years back and didn't see any Zinfandel planted on it.

By the way, I have a ton of Larkmead in my cellar, going back to 2006. My favorite standard Cabernet vintage they've done is from 2008, though that has become very difficult to find unfortunately.

Reply by EMark, Jul 10, 2012.

Jon, it's unlikely that I'll see it, but if I do stumble into the 2008, I'll pick some up.

Reply by zufrieden, Jul 17, 2012.

Well, this all had some real potential for terminal confusion.  I have had Larkmead Vineyards Cabernet on a number of occasions (and have reviewed the 2006 - which was, by the way, delicious) but was not aware of the potential for thinking Larkmead was associated with the Frank Family holding across the street.  Thanks for the clarification.


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