Think Berkeley in the 1960s. That was Peter Franus then. Now he is
an independently successful winemaker who owns his own wine company
and is highly regarded in the industry....but theres still a
little bit o Berkeley in his soul and a lot of soul in his wine.
Peter Franus left a conservative home in Greenwich, Connecticut and
arrived at the famous campus where he got a degree in journalism and
a passion for the California lifestyle that would keep him firmly
planted here ever since.
1978 he studied enology and his winemaking journey began. He started
at Chalone, moved to William Hill, then to Chateau St. Jean before
beginning an 11-year stint at Franciscan Oakville Estates, Mount
Veeder Winery. He left them when they considered it a conflict for
Peter to have his own personal label. Peter knew it was time to
say goodbye to the corporate wine giant, and hello to his entrepreneurial
11am, Peter came walking through the door at Laird Family Estates
(a winery and co-op custom crush facility where he makes his wine)
with tussled hair and three bottles under his arm wearing shorts
and a T-Shirt. Instantly unassuming, warm and friendly, we greeted
each other and sat down to check out the goods. Before I asked the
first question or took the first sniff, Peter proclaimed himself
a Big Nosey-Body and asked me several questions about
myself -- he even guessed my East coast origin based on my accent
(I never thought I had an accent...).
When we started talking and pouring wine, Derek asked if he could
take some pictures, to which Peter replied, If I had known
you were going to take pictures, I wouldve worn my Grateful
Dead T-Shirt! He wasnt joking.
We began our tasting with the 00 Sauvignon Blanc, Farella-Park
vineyard (they used to sell their grapes to Duckhorn). A bordeaux-style
Sauvignon Blanc, it was lusciously rounded with tropical fruit and
Once we got on to wine, one of his favorite subjects, he revealed
a humorous and insightful side that is a tribute to his style and
persona. The most important part of the Peter Franus philosophy
is the D-Factor and that doesnt mean D-O-L-L-A-R-S
(like some wineries which will remain nameless)! He wants you to
have the word Delicious in your mind when you drink
He prides himself on being an intuitive winemaker. It is important
to him to choose and challenge the vines to achieve the grapes
own unique personality. Admittedly, Peter acknowledged that it is
a hard line for him to walk, ...sometimes you hit and sometimes
you miss -- but it is never boring.
The 98 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley was next. 100% Cabernet
fruit is from the Rancho Chimiles and Hyde vineyards. The Rancho
Chimiles gives the wine its stiff backbone, juiciness and tannins
while the Hyde offers the acid and violet floral nose. Deep with
rich fruit. Delicious. The D Factor. He made me say
In the cellar, we tasted four Zinfandels -- all were amazing. He
does have the Midas Touch. The 01 Mead is my favorite, but
you honestly cant go wrong with his wines.
Before we left, he stressed that wine needs to be just plain old
fun, I will never price my wine at $100. The whole idea is
to get the wine into peoples hands to drink it and to have
it be accessible. Wine is not a trophy. This is his Berkeley
training coming forth, but he is absolutely right. A wine doesnt
have to be expensive to be incredible. This one is $32.95 and has
a 90 point rating from Robert Parker! Furthermore, Peter never once
talked about this or any other rating or review. He says, quite
simply, the only critic he cares about is YOU.
We said our goodbyes and as he walked away, I heard him humming
a tune that sounded vaguely like Uncle Johns Band.