Rich Frank sees a lot of parallels between making movies and making wine. “They both take about a year to make,” the former head of Disney Studios says with a chuckle. “And you must lay out a lot of money at the beginning.”
Frank knows quite a lot about getting successful films and wines to market. In addition to being one of the most powerful players in Hollywood in the 1980s and 1990s, for the past two decades he has owned and operated Frank Family Vineyards, located in the bucolic, anything-but-Hollywood setting of Napa Valley.
Before he started making wine, Frank escaped the pressure and pretense of Los Angeles by heading to Napa on the weekends and the sanctuary of his 1930s-era cottage located in Rutherford. In 1992, however, he was offered the chance of a lifetime to buy the historic Larkmead Winery in Calistoga. This sudden plot twist landed Frank in the wine business.
“We had 10 acres of grapes and we sold them all off,” the former president of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences says. “Back then, we were making small amounts of wine to give my friends at holidays.”
Today, Frank owns more than 200 acres and produces thousands of cases wines. He continues to divide his time between Los Angeles and Napa Valley, but maintains only tacit attachments to the entertainment industry. (He still has a vote for the Academy Awards. He likes the chances of The Wolf of Wall Street and Bruce Dern’s performance in Nebraska.)
The worlds of Hollywood and winemaking couldn’t seem more different, but Frank draws startling similarities between the two industries.
“In the wine industry, it is all about getting great grapes. In the movies, you have to get a great script,” says Frank, who secured the scripts for movies such as Dead Poets Society, Pretty Woman, Aladdin, The Lion King and a long list of hit TV shows. “If you don’t start with that level of quality, the odds of getting anything good is unlikely.”
OK, great movies begin with a great script; great wines begin with great grapes. But that’s just the raw material. Much of Frank’s success in both industries comes from putting the raw material in the right hands.
“When you get grapes, they go to the winemaker who is going to figure out how to make a great wine. With a script, you give it to a director. The director finds casting and adds the stars. The winemaker does his casting with a cask. He will decide which barrels and how long it is aged.”
Both endeavors come with endless variables, says Frank. “And we just don’t know how either is going to come out until it on a shelf or on the big screen.
Frank will not be attending this year’s Oscar ceremonies, but he will be watching with a bottle of his top-shelf Winston Hill cabernet sauvignon, which he likens to his pick for Best Picture, The Wolf of Wall Street. “I think it is a movie about total excess and living the good life; to me, that’s our Winston Hill.”
Gil Kulers is a sommelier and maitre d’ for an Atlanta country club. You can reach him at email@example.com.
Note: Wines are rated on a scale ranging up from Thumbs Down, One Thumb Mostly Up, One Thumb Up, Two Thumbs Up, Two Thumbs Way Up and Golden Thumb Award. Prices are suggested retail prices as provided by the winery, one of its agents, a local distributor or retailer.