If there’s a short way to describe Peter Franus and his winemaking, it’s this: He takes his craft seriously, but not himself. He is a son of Connecticut and a product of Berkeley. He’s a regular guy filled with Old World ethos, New World spirit, and with rock and roll. And he’s a searcher who could not avoid his life’s path. Wine called to Peter and he answered with his soul.
Peter grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut and headed in the late 1960s to the University of California at Berkeley, to explore the expanding, rebellious world. He graduated in 1971 with a degree in journalism, and with an awareness of something else that would define his life. He discovered Napa and the world of wine – not just the taste, but the connection to nature, the attention to detail in the winemaking, the feel of vineyards and wine country, and the bonds people had with their vineyards, the wine, and each other.
He enrolled in Fresno State’s viticulture and enology program in 1978, then worked at a number of wineries before taking over as winemaker at Mount Veeder Winery in 1981. While he was still making Mount Veeder’s wine, he fell in love with the zinfandel from that mountain. He started his own label in 1987 and left Mount Veeder Winery in 1992 to devote all his attention to what would become Peter Franus wine.
Since then, Peter’s reputation as an acclaimed winemaker, and as one of the nice guys in the wine industry, has continued to grow. He’s spent decades finding the best vineyards in the region, and with the help of friends and connections throughout Napa Valley, he’s assembled a lineup of vineyards that speak to him and produce fruit he loves. And one of those very special places for him will always be the vineyards on Mount Veeder.
Peter says his first goal is to make wines that are delicious. He relies on intuition, experience and a minimalist approach to winemaking, and he believes that the more you manipulate and hover over a wine, the more you’ll lose its unique personality and character. He’s guided by his love of the vineyards he works with and of wines that have richness, complexity, harmony, and, most of all, that invite you back to discover something new with each taste.
Peter also consults for several other wineries that are getting their own raves and recognition. He lives with this wife, Deanne, in Napa and Sacramento, and besides his wife and winemaking, his other passion is running. Look for him in the early morning running through the parks and streets of Sacramento and Napa, or wherever his travels take him.
Deanne Franus has always loved to travel and explore, and she’s visited a long list of exotic spots around the globe. But it was a 60-mile trip to Napa Valley in 2000 that changed her life.
Deanne and a friend went to Napa for a getaway-from-work weekend, and during dinner asked for a wine that was a good value, interesting, and, of course, local and delicious. Their server suggested a 1997 Peter Franus Brandlin Vineyard Zinfandel. She fell in love with the wine, and later that weekend, went for a tour and tasting. Not long after, she fell in love with the winemaker. Five years later, Deanne and Peter Franus were married.
Deanne was born in Omaha, Nebraska, went to Skidmore College in New York, then returned to earn her law degree at the University of Nebraska. She found her way to Sacramento, where she practiced family law, then political law for the California Fair Political Practices Commission. But when she met Peter, her life changed.
Deanne retired from her law career and entered what she calls the “happy” world of wine. She now runs the business side of the winery and represents it at consumer and trade tastings around the world. Her other roles are to act as both “muse” and “consumer palate” for Peter.
In addition to the wine world, her great joys are her daughter Rachel and granddaughter Ella.
Tim Dolven’s roots are firmly planted on the East Coast—New Haven, CT Tarrytown, NY, Mercersburg, PA, and Bethel ME. In Sunday River Maine, he developed his great love for skiing which continues to this day.
He earned his degree in Radio and Television Communications at Marietta College in Marietta Ohio and upon graduation moved to Boulder, Colorado. Lots of skiing and Grateful Dead shows, but a visit to Berkeley CA in 1985 led him to Napa Valley and eventually a job offer from Robert Mondavi to be a stage manager for their summer jazz series of concerts. He has been in Napa Valley ever since.
In 1986 he landed his first harvest job with Joseph Phelps, followed by a stint at Newton Vineyards. He then moved to Honig Cellars as assistant winemaker where he first met Peter Franus in 1992. When Michael Havens and Peter Franus purchased a winery in 1995, he joined their new venture as assistant winemaker. In the ever evolving wine business, Tim went on to become winemaker at Bouchaine and then at Steltzner, a highly regarded winery in the Stag’s Leap appellation, producing their wines from 2004 through 2011. Hard to believe, but 30 harvests are now under his belt.
With the sale of Steltzner in 2012, the opportunity to reunite with Peter Franus presented itself. They have been working happily together ever since. The two of them have a great energy and synergy as a team in their quest toward producing memorable and delicious wines.
-Hagai, Rachel, Ella and friends enjoying our Napa Zinfandel in Tel Aviv.