Todd Graff of Frank Family Vineyards wins Wine, Beer & Spirits Industry Awards Napa County winemaker category
The winner of the Napa County winemaker category in North Bay Business Journal’s beverage alcohol industry awards has worked around the world for over two decades.
How did you get into the industry? And what has been your career track since?
Born and raised in Petaluma, I was drawn to winemaking at a young age. I enrolled in an introductory wine course while attending Santa Rosa Jr. College before graduating from the University of California Davis with a degree in plant science and viticulture in 1984.
Upon graduation, I circled the globe working for world-class producers. I worked in the cellar at Joseph Phelps Vineyards before expanding my horizon at Weingut Klaus Schweicher in Mosel, Germany; Château Yon-Figeac in Saint-Émilion, France; and at Arrowfield Estate in Australia’s Hunter Valley.
I returned to Napa Valley in 1987 to work as an assistant winemaker at Stag’s Leap Winery. From 1990 to 1995, I was the assistant winemaker and vineyard manager at Schramsberg Vineyards, where I honed my craft in making sparkling wines according to the méthode champenoise. During my tenure at Schramsberg, I also served as technical director and winemaker at Caves Transmontanas in Portugal, a Schramsberg joint venture.
After twenty years of working as a winemaker in every corner of the world, I landed at Calistoga’s Frank Family Vineyards in 2003 and have never looked back.
How have you or your company influenced the industry in the last five years? What are key accomplishments?
I have played an essential role in Frank Family’s steady growth over the past 18 vintages.
It’s been a joy of mine to apply my expertise in making both still and sparkling wines to the Frank Family portfolio, contributing to our winery’s reputation as a world-class producer of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
I directed the construction of Frank Family’s new state-of-the-art winery in 2008, worked closely with Proprietor Rich Frank on the acquisition and redevelopment of our Benjamin Vineyard in Rutherford in 2012, and in 2014 helped Frank Family receive Napa Green certification for both land and winery.
In both 2012 and 2017, Frank Family was recognized for our across-the-board success and received the “Winery of the Year” accolade from the Connoisseur’s Guide to California Wine.
Our achievements are all possible because of the team we have built over the years. Some of our cellar team members have been with Frank Family for 20+ years and the same is true with our wine educators, many of whom started packing boxes after high school and now lead the Tasting Room. We’re very proud to see our work family grow and thrive.
What changes have you noticed in your industry in the last five years, and how have you and/or your company moved to capitalize on or adjust to those changes?
The wine industry has been experiencing a wave of changes in the past five years, many of which have presented challenges for wineries.
The consolidation of distribution is one such challenge that has been a fact of life in the wine industry for decades and even more so recently due to big mergers in the wholesale market.
To secure our route to market, Frank Family has expanded our national sales team to work closely with our distributors and help drive the business. The manpower of our small but mighty sales force around the country is our winery’s strength. Frank Family has become a nationally distributed and well-respected brand because of our forethought to invest in our excellent team and our outstanding marketing and distribution relationships.
How have you responded to growing competition from craft spirits and alternatives such as hard seltzer?
I welcome the emergence of alternative drinks and view them as a complement, not a substitute for traditional beverages like wine and beer.
We anticipate that the current hard seltzer or craft spirits drinker will be introduced to wine down the road, creating a steppingstone from one category to the other.
How has the pandemic affected your business? What has been the impact of restrictions on visitors, closure of restaurants and bars, surge in online shopping, and rise in digital consumer experiences and marketing?
Earlier this year, as wineries had to navigate closures, it was a challenging but also a transformative time for the wine industry. It forced us to get creative in connecting with our fans from across the country.
Many of us were thrust into the practice of engaging online as a survival strategy during the pandemic. Our winery needed to move in a very different direction from anything we had done before and embark on a new way of connecting with members and guests. Within days of the COVID-19 shelter in place order, Frank Family was one of the first Napa wineries to introduce virtual wine tastings.