Before We Became Frank Family Vineyards

In the Fall of 1990, Disney Executive, Rich Frank purchased a home in Rutherford with a small planting of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, on what would become, Winston Hill. Intrigued by the idea of making a small amount of world-class wine from the fruit on his property, Rich began to seek out a partner in winemaking.

After enjoying a glass of Rombauer Chardonnay at Napa’s famed restaurant Tra Vigne, he asked the waiter about the man behind the bottle. Koerner Rombauer, he was told, was a man with an engaging personality and a generous spirit, and one who may be open to the possibility of a business partnership.

The following day, Rich visited Rombauer at his home, where he was watching Sunday football. Koerner invited Rich in and they spent the day talking about all manners of things, including wine. When he left that afternoon, Koerner’s advice to Rich was “sell your grapes and keep your day job”. Rather a lifelong friendship between the two men began that day, which eventually led to the creation of one of Napa’s most treasured wineries.

In 1992, Rich and Koerner purchased Kornell Champange Cellars on the property which housed the Historic Larkmead Winery in Calistoga. The following year, the first Cabernet Sauvignon from Winston Hill, under the label “Frank-Rombauer”, was created. Rich was the proprietor, overseeing all financial decisions while remaining President of Disney Studios, and Koerner was Winemaker and General Manager, overseeing production and sales of the wine. On weekends, Rich would come up to Napa and work with Koerner to get their winery up and running and to learn about the business, then return to Hollywood by Monday morning.  

Years later in 2000, what transpired was devastating and unforeseen. Fire tore through the historic winery property, burning for three days as firefighters from across Napa County tried to put out the flames. The aftermath was a period of rebuilding, and Koerner and Rich decided it was time to part ways as business partners but remained the best of friends. Rich rebuilt the damaged portions of the winery, with the historic stone building still intact, and that is when Frank Family Vineyards was born. 

Today, more than two decades later, we still call the Historic Stone Building on our property “home,” a place where we make wine and welcome guests daily. As we wrap up another year, we look back on the unique history of our family winery and how it all began thanks to the friendship between two dear friends.

Historic Stone Building as it stands today – December 2020