In Napa Valley this time of year, you’re likely to see vineyard crews scattered amongst the vines. “What are they doing,” you ask? They are Shoot Thinning and Leaf Pulling.
Shoot thinning and leaf pulling are part of overall vineyard canopy management, as seen here in Sauvignon Blanc vines at our Soliloquy Vineyard. Learn how our Soliloquy Vineyard is entirely unique to Flora Springs and distinct from more common Sauvignon Blanc vineyards in Napa Valley.
Shoot thinning is a process in which any unnecessary shoots are removed—typically those in the lower regions of the vine. Removing select shoots allows the vines’ energy to be directed towards the primary shoots, which will ultimately bear fruit.
Leaf thinning is conducted for a variety of reasons, particularly in wet years like this one when the canopy tends to be vigorous. Too much vigor can lead to vegetative characteristics—which we don’t want! Removing the leaves curtails this issue. Leaf thinning also opens up the canopy, allowing increased air flow and quicker drying in the event of morning dew or rain, and to prevent mildew in humid conditions. This opening of the canopy also increases light penetration—which is needed for photosynthesis. Sunlight exposure improves grape quality, protects the berry, and also elevates the phenols and polyphenols that are responsible for the color, taste, and flavor of the wine.
While this work is being done, the crews are also positioning the shoots. The shoots may be 24”–36” at this point. If we are working in a vineyard that has a vertical trellis system, there will be a series of horizontal wires running from one end of the row to the other. As the vine grows, the shoots will be tucked into the wire trellis to allow for what is commonly referred to as VSP, or vertical shoot positioning. This allows further opening of the canopy. There are other types of trellises, but VSP is the primary system implemented in most Flora Springs vineyard blocks.
After the initial thinning pass, each block will be monitored in the weeks to come to determine when/if additional passes are to be made.
Soliloquy is named for Flora Springs’ proprietary Sauvignon Blanc clone, a singular clone entirely unique to us.
It nearly went extinct when the vines became diseased a couple decades ago, but through various heroic measures we were able to preserve the clone in our Crossroads Vineyard. Recently I decided to re-create Soliloquy, relying on my early memory of the wine to produce what I think could be the finest white wine we’ve ever made.
It was a long process, three years of countless blending trials, but today I’m proud to say that the 2018 Soliloquy has earned its place as Flora Springs’ flagship white wine, a fitting companion to our flagship red, Trilogy. I could not be more excited to introduce this singular white wine. Watch our newest video and learn more about its fascinating history.
Winemaker Paul Steinauer recently traveled to Portugal for a behind-the-scenes look into the cork-making process and the operations of Flora Springs’ cork supplier. Here’s a peek into how corks are made.
First, a cork harvester carefully strips the cork bark from the tree.
Then the cork bark dries out on pallets for several months.
After drying, the cork goes into stainless steel tanks where it is submerged in water to be rinsed, cleaned and re-hydrated.
Then, the tops and bottoms of the outer bark is removed by a stripping machine.
And the bark is cut to the proper width.
After each cork is individually punched out of the bark, it is run through a machine that measures its density, and therefore its ability to contain liquid. If it does not meet a specific density, it is discarded.
Our supplier selects cork lots from only the top-quality manufacturers, and then hauls the lots to their facility to undergo additional quality control. They test for appearance and perform a sensory analysis. The corks are warmed to enhance any odor compounds that may be present. They are looking for Trichloroanisole (TCA), which is better known as cork taint and can damage the wine—as well as any other negative odor compounds. If any negative compounds are detected, the entire lot is returned to the manufacturer.
Random samples from various lots are then placed in these small bottles to undergo a soak test. This test will detect any TCA that may not have been found during smell testing.
Once the lots have passed all quality control requirements, samples from each lot are archived at the supplier’s headquarters. If we ever discover a problem with a number of corks, the supplier can reference the problem corks with samples from the same lot to determine what issues may be present.
A great deal of work goes into the cork-making process, every cork is handled approximately ten times by the time it is approved for use. The “simple” wine cork is an expensive part of the overall wine packaging costs, but necessary to ensure the quality we expect to protect our wines.
Five Fun Facts:
Cork trees are oak trees.
Cork bark is harvested from 35 – 200 year old trees.
For most 750mL closures, the bark is harvested every seven years.
Most premium corks are harvested in Portugal; Spain is the only other significant producer.
All of the corks Flora Springs uses are harvested in Portugal.
When John Komes bottled Flora Springs’ first Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – the Rutherford Hillside Reserve in 1989 – it became a benchmark for Napa Valley Cabernet, bringing awareness to the concept of site-specific wines. Since then Flora Springs has enhanced its Single Vineyard Program, and today we offer five elegant and powerful wines that reflect the small vineyard sites and even individual blocks in which they are grown – wines so outstanding they deserve to be bottled on their own.
The idea for “Flora’s Five Cuts and Five Cabs” dinner—which has been one of our most popular events since its inception four years ago—is a nod to John’s early days of selling these Single Vineyard Cabernets. Back then he developed a successful winemaker dinner pairing each Cabernet with a specific cut of premium beef. He found that the words used to describe the texture and tenderness of a steak enhanced the understanding and enjoyment of Cabernet. In true John fashion, he was well ahead of his time, and his innovative concept is still relevant today.
There may have been a few raindrops but they sure didn’t dampen the spirits of the folks attending our 2016 Trilogy Release Party on February 2nd!
Setting the upbeat tone were the ramp rippin’ skateboarders from OC Ramps, jumping, flipping and generally shredding to the crowd of pumped up onlookers. The lion dancers, decked out in rain-defying, bright yellow costumes, shimmied, shook and celebrated the Chinese New Year (and our new Year of the Pig Cabernet) with their traditional dance of good fortune.
Doing a little shimmying of his own was Nat Komes, Flora Springs’ third generation general manager, host extraordinaire, wearer of the Trilogy fez and mastermind behind the annual Trilogy Release Party. “One of the best parts of planning this party is deciding what special surprises we’ll offer our guests. It’s always about how can we make this event something people will remember forever…what will really set it apart?”
Nat and the extended Flora Springs family outdid themselves with stilt walkers, living statues, a cheese carver, a glass artist and a live performance by the up and coming rock and alt-country David Luning Band. The party was anchored by numerous wine stations pouring the new 2016 Trilogy and an amazing selection of Flora Springs wines – including library and current releases as well as our highly limited Flora’s Legacy Cabernet Sauvignon.
And as always, Flora Springs brought together top local restaurants to present delicious and inventive dishes, our way of sharing the celebration of our world class wine, Trilogy, with the community. We heard a lot of great comments from our guests throughout the party, but the one that’ll keep us motivated as we plan for next year’s release? “Best Trilogy Party Ever!”
See the OC Ramps team in action:
Save the date – February 1, 2020 – for the 2017 Trilogy Release Party. Learn more and mark your calendar!
Our one-of-a-kind Holiday Wines are a year-round labor of love. Each year, the artwork changes and provides a unique, limited-edition Napa Valley wine to give or collect for yourself.
We’re excited to expand our annual tradition with a beautiful new holiday-themed release, our 2016 Holiday Helper Cabernet Sauvignon. The charming label artwork was created for us by self-taught artist and illustrator Ruth Harper—who is best known for her work in many New York Times #1 best-selling children’s picture books.
This is the second wine label Ruth has created for us, and her whimsical watercolor of those hard-working but ever-cheerful elves wrapping their holiday gifts is a reminder that even Santa needs a little help!
Ruth began work back in December of last year. “Now that the holiday rush is over (and what a LOVELY Christmas we had!), I’ve settled down to resume creating – all warm and cozy, with a shivery snow-covered landscape outside. You should see the gorgeous frosty designs on my windows. Dark chocolate syrup in my freshly-ground coffee and a sweet Aussie at my feet warm my fire as I work…”
We love the comforting setting Ruth describes, and we love the final illustration even more. Below you can see the progression and evolution of this year-long project.
Twenty years ago Nat and Anne Komes tied the knot on Halloween in a unique and fun celebration – it really is Nat’s favorite holiday! This was after a beautiful, traditional ceremony in Anne’s hometown in France. Join us in wishing them a very Happy Anniversary!
Looking out across the Flora Springs Estate on this warm and sunny day, one would never know that fires were ravaging through parts of the Napa Valley just a year ago. From our vantage point, all appears to be as it always has been – green, lush and beautiful as always…something we often take for granted, but something we were reminded last year, that we shouldn’t.
As noted in previous updates, we didn’t have a crystal ball but we completed harvest on October 7th last year – the day before the fires began. This year, we are currently about one-third of the way through harvest. Last year we experienced several heat waves that sped things up a bit, while this year we have experienced a nice, consistent temperature range. We did see a small amount of rain last week, but fortunately it came and went without any effect on the vineyards.
In regards to harvest dates, people often ask, “Is this an average harvest?” or “Is this a “normal harvest?” However, “average” and “normal” are not necessarily synonymous. Average is a term that can be quantified. That is, if you have four decades of harvest dates, you can simply divide by 40 and find your average harvest date. But, normal depends on who you ask – and how long they have been farming grapes, and the conditions in which they have been doing it.
As you know may know, we sell a lot of our fruit to other wineries. Some of the newer wineries have only experienced harvests during the drought years, so their version of normal has been marked with early harvest dates and early completion dates. But if you ask someone who has been around for a while, you’ll hear a different definition of normal. Prior to 2008 for instance, very seldom – if ever, were grapes harvested before Labor Day, and seldom – if ever – was harvest completed before Halloween. So while we are only one-third of the way through harvest, it’s really more of the “normal” for us, if you don’t take into account the recent years of drought.
We have completed harvesting most all of our whites at this point: 100% of Pinot Grigio, 100% of Chardonnay and 96% of Sauvignon Blanc. We left a small amount of our Sauvignon Blanc on the vine to make a late harvest wine.
We will have pressed off all of the reds we have received thus far – Merlot and Sangiovese – prior to harvesting our next grapes on Monday. We will be receiving the first of our Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon starting next week.
Flavors are really starting to develop in the vineyard, and we’re looking forward to making some outstanding wines with what Mother Nature delivers!
Tuesday, September 18th, 2018 was a day of “firsts” at Flora Springs: the first day we harvested Chardonnay as well as the first day of harvesting reds. We hand-picked our Lavender Hill block of Chardonnay in Carneros in the morning. The ½ ton bins were delivered to the winery where the juice was pressed out of clusters. The fruit tasted terrific! It’s very tropical, with nice apple and pear characteristics and a good acid balance.
The Chardonnay juice resided in a holding tank at 45°F for 24 hours, and then we moved it to another tank and inoculated it with yeast. Once fermentation gets going we’ll move the juice to various fermentation vessels, including puncheons (a large 130-gallon oak barrel), standard 60-gallon oak barrels, as well as concrete eggs, which some of you may have seen in our cave. We ferment our Chardonnay at cool temperatures to retain aromatics. It’ll take upward of three weeks to ferment the juice to dryness.
We also picked two blocks of Merlot on Tuesday, both from the Rutherford appellation: our Windfall Vineyard at the very southern end of the Rutherford appellation, and a block on the Komes Ranch at the winery’s estate, at the very northern end of the appellation. Block B of the Komes Ranch is the first block to your right as you enter the estate, and the eastern section of this block is always about a week to 10 days ahead of the rest, so we pick this section first. Like the Chardonnay, the Merlots look and taste terrific. In both blocks the grapes were very well balanced on the vine and taste fantastic!
With the Merlot, we “cold soak” the fruit for about four days at 50°F. During that time we do “pumpovers,” where we pump juice from the bottom of the tank and irrigate the cap that forms at the top of the tank. This helps us get color, flavor and tannin from the skins. On the fifth day, we warm up the tank and inoculate the juice with yeast. We ferment at about 85°F, pumping over anywhere from one to three times a day depending on the stage of fermentation.
The cooler than normal temperatures we’re seeing this harvest is allowing fruit flavors to develop slowly on the vine without the spike in sugar – which is a great thing! When we can obtain physiological ripeness with lower sugar, it’s a gift from Mother Nature. We’ll have a bit of a break before we bring in the next grapes, but we expect to harvest some Sangiovese and additional Merlot within the next week. It looks to be another magical harvest!