Note: The following article written by Stephen Fay and published in The Ellsworth American can also be found here.
If you thought Prohibition was tough on wine drinkers, imagine what it did to wine makers.
The 13-year stretch from 1920 to 1933 just about killed the California wine industry. The Volstead Act’s ruinous disregard for a good time was especially disastrous for the Napa Valley, which had weathered the phylloxera blight of the late 19th century and the great earthquake of 1906 that flattened its warehouses only to be crushed like one of its own grapes when the “drys” prevailed.
As with any prohibition, the initial reaction was to cheat. Medicinal wines that could cure only sobriety became a hot item. But so many permits were sought for the manufacture of patent medicines that the federal authorities cracked down.
Some found religion in the Volstead Act, noting that it allowed an exclusion for sacramental wine. Religious leaders, in particular, managed to secure a steady supply with the result that attendance at Mass and temple took off. Suddenly, sacramental champagne, crème de menthe and brandy became instrumental in communing with God.
A federal judge was asked to rule on whether these alcoholic offshoots qualified for the sacramental wine exception. He ruled it was OK, saying “it is not the content of the beverage, but the purpose for which it will be used that determines whether or not it is sacramental wine.”
The Beaulieu Vineyards of Northern California sent sacramental wine to churches across the country. Wente Vineyards, Beringer and Martini also remained afloat by selling to the church. But only barely.
Because it wasn’t the same. The Napa Valley wine industry had been the finest in the nation, supplementing perfect terroir and weather with technical advice and advances from the oenological studies department at the University of California at Davis. But enforcement ramped up and production ramped down. According to an Aug. 16, 1923, story in the Napa Valley Register, the county treasury had been “enriched by $7,100 in bootleg fines from raids conducted in one day in St. Helena, Calistoga and other points in the valley.”
The result? Napa Valley wineries built between 1860 and 1900 were abandoned. Sitting empty, they were known in the valley as “ghost wineries.”
And there the story might have ended, might never have been known, were it not for the efforts of Flora Springs, arguably the source of the best reds in Northern California. A limited label — Flora Springs Ghost Winery — honors the history with an estate-grown malbec for which the adjective has not yet been invented.
It’s bull’s blood black with deep, dark fruit. The flavors of black cherry and plums join to create a single, joyous note from first sip to final swallow. This is but one of the products Prohibition sought to eradicate. And it took years before the Napa Valley recovered and restored itself to the pantheon of best wineries.
The vineyards have survived blight, earthquake, the Volstead Act and the Depression, overcoming adversity and offering a fresh take on Hemingway’s observation that “the world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong in the broken places.”
To me, the real value of a bottle of wine lies in what you eat with it and who you share it with. When I select a wine I always imagine the food that I’ll serve, and if possible the characteristics of the person or people with whom I will share it. At our table, one of our favorite topics of conversation has to do with the wine we’re drinking and the food we’re enjoying it with.
Let’s say I’ve selected Chardonnay as the white wine and Cabernet Sauvignon as the red wine. In my opinion, Chardonnay is the Queen of the wine world and Cabernet Sauvignon is the King. Winemakers love to work with these varietals because of the naturally full flavors that come from the fruit. Plus, there are many more complex flavors that arise during the fermentation and aging processes.
I like Chardonnays that are full-bodied, meaning they show weight on the palate. At Flora Springs, we like to have a slight creaminess to the wine and at the same time preserve the acidity so it will finish clean on the palate. The flavors experienced should be in the range of fresh-picked fruit such as pears or peaches. One should be able to taste a delicacy of honey with a slight lactic tone. My favorite food pairing with Chardonnay is lobster or even better, lobster bisque. The buttery character of the lobster and creaminess of the bisque are perfect with a well-made Chardonnay. And my favorite companion to share this pairing would be my wife, Carrie.
Now for the King. Cabernet Sauvignon berries are small and intensely concentrated; they don’t carry a lot of liquid that would dilute their flavor. I think of the Cabernet grape as masculine with its tannic structure. The tannins give the flavors of cassis and blackberries a ride on the palate, but the palate doesn’t getting overly saturated with fruit flavors. Thus, Cabernet is perfect with a medium rare steak; it cleanses the palate of the fatty meat flavors and leaves a lasting impression of structured fruit. Again, Carrie is my preferred partner with Cabernet, along with the rest of my extended family!
I hope you enjoy my passionate description of the wines I love. May your next bottle of wine be enjoyed in good company!
It was 1994 when we created our first Single Vineyard Cabernet from our estate vineyard in Rutherford – the Rutherford Hillside Reserve. Three years later we added a Cabernet Sauvignon from the St. Helena portion of our estate, a wine that would become known as our Rennie Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Today we offer five Single Vineyard Cabernets, each one from particular blocks within our estate vineyards that consistently produce wines that stand head and shoulders above the rest.
As far as the 2014 vintage goes, here’s what Robert M. Parker, Jr. had to say:
“I thought this was a very good to excellent vintage when tasting from barrel, but I now have to rate it as another superlative year based on how the wines showed from bottle.” –October 2016
Notes from Winemaker Paul Steinauer:
“2014 was celebrated by Napa Valley vintners as another vintage for the record books. Heavy winter rains nourished the vines as they emerged from dormancy, and a warm, relatively frost-free spring allowed bud break, flowering and fruit set to proceed without interruption. Continued warm, dry weather throughout the summer brought the grapes to perfect ripeness in a harvest that was relatively early and also bountiful.”
Our Preferred Palates Wine Club Members have a guaranteed allocation of these very limited wines. Learn more about the benefits of membership.
We’ve once again commissioned Melissa and Mercedes Baker, known as The Baker Sisters, to create several seasonal art installations at The Room this year.
As a celebration of Arts in April and Earth Day, currently installed on the exterior of the tasting room is “Imagine” – a living tribute to Flora Komes, our mother, grandmother, and the woman who inspired the founding of Flora Springs Winery.
Visit any day in April to witness this tremendous artistic feat. Then, step inside for an art-centric flight of select wines and peruse a curated gallery – featuring some of the most popular visual artists in the valley. Every weekend we will feature a mix of live music, live paint sessions, a barbershop quartet, and spontaneous songs courtesy of BottleRock’s – and our own – Serf & James.
Join us after-hours for our Flora’s Social Open House on April 21st. Learn more and RSVP by April 19th.
“Love the land and it will love you back,” as Flora said, and after 40 years of winemaking over three generations, this remains at the heart of Flora Spring’s mission.