Over that past few weeks our vineyards have been abuzz with activity. As farmers, our family constantly tends to the vineyards which means meticulous care for every vine throughout our properties in Napa Valley.
With the immense amount of rainfall received over winter, we are seeing a lot more vigor than in previous vintages. Earlier this month we kept busy with leaf removal and shoot positioning to foster adequate light through the canopy and properly see each cluster to maturity. Things are looking great out there and we anticipate a bumper crop for the 2017 vintage.
Over the years, my family has acquired nearly 350 acres of vineyards – which means we have spent much time planting and replanting vines. The newest of late, is the replanting of a 15-acre fallow block on our Crossroads Ranch to Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 2. We anticipate this vineyard to come to fruition in the next 3-to-5 years with excellent Oakville fruit. Stay tuned!
It’s that time of year when the bottling season is upon us.
We have completed bottling all of our 2016 white wines, and are now bottling the 2015 red wines. Seen here, we are currently bottling our 2015 Petit Verdot.
The bottles are first sparged with nitrogen on a sparging wheel. This serves two purposes – to displace any packaging cardboard dust, as well as to remove oxygen from the bottle.
Then the wine flows into the bottle from the upstairs tank via the 16-spout filler seen here.
The bottle then continues on the conveyor belt to the corker. The corker pulls a vacuum in the headspace of the bottle to displace the air, allowing the cork to enter the neck of the bottle without pressure.
As it enters the foiler, a foil is placed on the bottle and crimped tightly to the neck of the bottle.
The bottle then continues on to the labeler, where both a front and back pressure-sensitive label is applied.
Finally, each bottle will be checked for fill level height, any glass, label or foil imperfections, and then placed in a 12-bottle case box.
We bottle approximately 1,000 – 1,200 cases per day, or 12,000 – 14,400 bottles depending on the bottle shape, and stack the cases on a pallet of 56 cases per pallet. The wine then gets delivered to our cellar where it will age until the release date. At which point, it may find its way to your very own glass…
Note: The following article written by Sasha Paulsen and published in The Napa Valley Register can also be found here.
Say “Flora Springs Winery,” and many people will think of the distinctive tasting room on Highway 29, just south of St. Helena, the one inspired by the imaginative Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí that looks a bit like a soft-swirl ice cream cone, chocolate and vanilla.
But there’s a story behind the unusual tasting room — about a mile behind it, at the end of West Zinfandel lane in a stone ghost winery that is, literally, the roots of Flora Springs, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, as well as the 30th anniversary of its celebrated red wine, Trilogy.
Travel down this road to taste a few wines. And if you chance to meet John Komes, proprietor, you will hear stories about everything from how each wine in the Flora Springs portfolio got its name to why there is a statue of a wild boar greeting visitors on the grounds.
“Some people say I saved this property,” Komes remarked with chuckle as he surveyed the vineyards in front of the winery. “My dad was a gin drinker. If we’d left it to him, he’d have replanted everything in juniper.”
That was in 1977 when his parents, Jerome and Flora Komes, were looking for a place to retire after Jerome’s long, successful career with Bechtel Corporation. “He wasn’t that interested in wine,” Komes said. “A lot of his friends were retiring up here, just for the climate and the life. I think he thought he’d be a gentleman farmer.”
It’s well documented what happens to people who purchase land in Napa Valley, intending to retire. It this case, however, it was son John Komes who inspired — and took the lead on turning his dad into a vintner.
This was because just a few years earlier, John Komes’ wife, Carrie, had signed them up for a wine appreciation class. “I said ‘OK, I’ll do my social duty and go with you.’” They were living in Lafayette at the time, where John was a building contractor. He was in for a surprise.
“I loved the stuff. I’d never really tasted wine,” he said. “I was the kind of guy who went three times to the buffet and said that’s dinner. But I loved this. We tasted Burgundy, Bordeaux, Italian wines.”
Then came the real coup de foudre. He said, “A couple of people in the class said, ‘Wow, you are really enthusiastic. Would you be interested in joining our home-winemakers’ group?’”
He joined. “We really had fun making the wine. And it served a good purpose: I gave it to family and friends, and they never bothered me again.”
But when John Komes saw the property his father was going to buy, he decided they had to take it back to its original purpose — a winery.
The stone winery on the grounds had been built in 1885 by two brothers, James and William Rennie, immigrants from Scotland. “They were in the building trade too,” Komes said. “They built the winery and planted 60 acres of grapes.”
Then the brothers hit a patch of bad luck: phylloxera in the vines, and a fire in 1900 destroyed their wine press and cooperage. In 1904, they sold the winery, and 15 years later it was hit by an even greater calamity: Prohibition. The winery was closed until 1933. That year, Louis Martini, one of the valley’s wine-making legends, sensed the approaching collapse of the government’s experiment in teetotalism and bought the Rennie property. He built a new stone house, and made a reserve wine from the hillside vineyards but the old winery remained a ghost until the Komes bought the property, 325 acres, an old farm house, the newer stone house, and 60 acres of vineyards.
Komes said he originally thought he’d persuade his dad to restore the old winery by proposing to name it Chateau Jerome; but although it had been designed by Hamden McIntyre, the architect of other classic 19th-century Napa wineries, by 1977, the fire-scarred ghost was in all but a wreck. “The tin roof of the building had a million holes in it,” Komes said; “so many we called it the starlight roof. My dad looked at it and said, ‘ I’ve worked all my life for my good name. I don’t want to squander it now.’”
John’s mother, Flora, however, sided with her son on the potential of the property. And Carrie Komes suggested they could name the winery for her mother-in-law. Combined with the abundant springs on the land, they decided the name would be Flora Springs.
“That was the sure way to my mom’s heart and my dad’s pocketbook,” Komes said. Flora Komes, born and raised in Hawaii, had come to San Francisco during the Depression to study nursing at St. Mary’s College. There, she met Jerome. “He was a Fresno boy,” Komes said. “My dad was a tough old German. My mom was perfect, a great lady. My dad traveled a lot for his work, so she was the one who really raised us. We were a really happy family.”
Komes put his construction expertise to work to renovate the old winery, which still had scorch marks on the walls. So skeptical was his father about his son’s wine-making project, they divided the winery building and John rented half where he put his first fermenting tank, which he named R2D2.
He invited a couple of friends from his wine-making class to help make wine at the new place. He also hired MaryAnn Graf, who in 1965 had been the first woman to graduate from the viticulture and enology department at UC Davis to help manage the project. “She told me, John, if you don’t hire a winemaker, I’ll quit.” He did, and the 1979 Flora Springs chardonnay won a gold medal at the Los Angeles County Fair.
“In those days, it was fairs, not ratings, that made the difference,” Komes said. “This was my first lesson in marketing. We’d sold the wine before we won the medal.”
Their 1981 cab they submitted to eight fairs and won seven gold medals.
From there, the winery just kept growing. “We were the 67th winery in the county,” Komes said. “My sister, Julie, was a big part of building the winery. Later she left to go religious school, but I like to say she’s still in the spirits business.”
Julie Komes Garvey earned a degree in spiritual studies from the San Francisco Theological Seminary and the Franciscan School of Theology and now works in St. Helena. Her husband, Pat Garvey, and son, Sean, are the vineyard managers for the Flora Springs vineyards.
“We’ve had our ups and downs,” Komes said. “But we kept growing. We started small, but kept moving ahead. We were pretty much self-schooled.”
One highlight was the creation of Trilogy, one of the first meritage blends in the valley. By 1984, Komes said, they’d planted the Bordeaux varietals, malbec, merlot, cab franc, cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot. They wanted to create a blend “by taste, not by formula for a nice smooth wine that goes deep into the palate.” he said. “We want a little of this, a little of that. What God forgot, we added.”
The first Trilogy was cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cab franc was soon dubbed “velvet in the mouth. A lot of what we do is ‘taming the tanins,’ Komes said. ‘One man who buys Trilogy by the case said it’s the only red wine his wife will drink young.” From the “leftovers,” they began making single-varietal estate wines.
Another highlight was the discovery of a unique clone of sauvignon blanc in vineyards his dad bought in Oakville. UC Davis could identify nothing like in in their vast library of clones. “We were a bit ahead of the times, but this clone showed us what sauvignon blanc could be. It takes all the grassiness out of sauvignon blanc.”
It took eight years to register and then propagate the clone, an effort Komes said was well worth it. “We paid UC Davis $7,000-$8,000 to keep the clone so we are the only ones that have it.” They named the clone — and the wine it creates — Soliloquy “because of its uniqueness.”
“We’ve gone through some difficult stages, too,” Komes said. In the 2000s, they spent three years cleaning up a brettanomyces taint in the winery, which rigorous cleaning and replacing all of their barrels. “But we got through it,” Komes said, “Our winemaker, Paul Steinauer, is producing great wines. I think you’ll be amazed by them.”
John and Carrie also lost a son to cancer, but their other son, Nat, is increasingly taking a leadership role in the winery, and they are spending winters at their second home in Arizona.
Today, the Flora Springs portfolio is as rich as its history, and the labels tell its stories: The Rennie Reserve Cabernet, the Holy Smoke Cabernet (named for exclamations of Carrie Komes’ German father as he inspected the Flora Springs vineyards) and the Ghost Winery malbec. The expansive list includes luscious bargains like a $40 estate cabernet sauvignon and as $25 estate sauvignon blanc. Library wines are being made available for this 40th anniversary celebration.
Flora Komes died just three months short of her 101st birthday; her husband had died 10 years earlier. “We had a great 100th birthday party for her and she shook everyone’s hands,” Komes said. Flora’s legacy lives on, not only name of a winery and the larger-than-life-size portrait in the tasting room of Flora arriving from Hawaii at the age of 23, but in her own label, the Flora’s Legacy wines.
There are, in all, too many wines for one article to describe, although this writer attempted to taste as many as possible and thoroughly enjoyed them all. The best way to discover them is to make an appointment, and drive down Zinfandel Lane and into Napa Valley’s history. You’ll meet the wild boar statue, and just in case John Komes is not on hand to tell you the story, here it is:
“My dad was a great businessman, and when he came to the valley, land was selling for as much as $25,000 an acre. He thought that was shocking, so he decided when he was going to buy land in Pope Valley. He found 500 acres for sale that had 10 acres of grapes. He bought it for $1,000 an acre.
“Then he called me up. ‘John,’ he said, ‘I found an old house on the property I didn’t know it was there.’” A strange house, it had nine bedrooms and eight bathrooms and no living room. “And there were a lot strange tales about that house.”
“I asked him, ‘What do you want me to do?’ He said, ‘I want you to come over and build a living room so I can sell it.’”
So Komes built the living room and sent a plasterer to finish the project. “Then I get a call from him, ‘John, John, there’s a wild boar in the yard.’”
The upshot was the plasterer wanted Kome’s permission to shoot it. “I said I was a city boy; I didn’t know about wild animals, but then I said, ‘OK, as long as I can have the hind quarter.’ So the guy left to go get his gun, and then I got a call from the ranch foreman. ‘John,’ he said, ‘you won’t believe what’s going on here. Your workman just shot the neighbor’s pig.’
“So now we have the statue here so everyone knows what a wild boar looks like.”
And the wild boar has a wine label too. Wild Boar Cabernet Sauvignon.
“To ensure we are obtaining only the most premium fruit, we have had to make the difficult decision to replant vineyards when the quality starts to deteriorate due to various forms of vine disease. Two of our Cabernet blocks in our Oakville Crossroads vineyards have recently been pulled out. This vineyard site in Oakville at our Crossroads vineyard had previously been planted to Chardonnay, and has now been re-developed and will be planted to Cabernet very soon.
This is a newly-planted vineyard, also at our Oakville Crossroads vineyards. This was formerly Pinot Grigio, and has also now been planted to Cabernet.
Crews are currently going through all of our vineyard blocks and suckering. Buds, or nodes at the base of the leaves, produce shoots called laterals or suckers. By doing this, more energy is focused on the vine – which increases grape quality. It also keeps the vine off the ground, and helps prevent unwanted molds and various insects.
The area between the nodes, the internodes, are supported with adjustable ties which are attached to guide wires. As the vines mature during the growing season, the guide wires – and thereby the vines – will be raised on the trellis system. The vines will be trained in such a way as to evenly distribute the clusters of fruit, and the canopy of leaves will protect the fruit from direct sunlight in order to prevent burn. The canopy will be open just enough to allow filtered light, as well as sufficient airflow throughout the vineyard.
Finally, we have the start of bloom in our Hillside Reserve Cabernet Vineyard.”
Flora Springs has the distinction of being home to one of Napa Valley’s original “ghost wineries” – wineries built between 1860 and 1900 but abandoned in the early 20th century due to vine disease, the Great Depression, and Prohibition. Today, some ghost wineries still exist as ruins, but others, such as Flora Springs, have been renovated and restored to their former glory. Each year we bottle small amounts of estate-grown wines in honor of this illustrious history.
This year, we’re expanding the All Hallow’s Eve Cabernet Franc label artwork to an exclusive, limited-edition line of merchandise. Now you can show your Halloween spirit with clothing, accessories—even a “Stacked Jack” skateboard deck! Shop now.
About John Manders I was educated at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and later took courses at the School of Visual Arts and the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York where I studied children’s illustration, animation, and life drawing. My non-art interests include restoring my old house and trying to speak Italian.
My work is featured in over 60 children’s books and gazillions of children’s magazines. I am a founding member of the Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators and its first president. I organized the successful Bow Wow Meow art auction that benefited the Animal Rescue League and the PSI scholarship fund. In 2003 I curated Illustration: The Process, an educational exhibit of fourteen illustrators and their working methods. My latest curating effort, Once Upon A Page, an exhibition of Western Pennsylvanian children’s book illustrators, toured the United States in 2006.
My work has been exhibited at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh gallery, the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum, and I was honored in the 25-year retrospective of Cricket magazine covers that was held at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1999. That year I was also a participant at the Children’s Book Fair in Bologna, Italy. In May, 2006 I was named Outstanding Illustrator/Author by the Pennsylvania School Librarian’s Association. In May, 2013 I won a Reuben Award from the National Cartoonists Society for my work on Jack and the Giant Barbecue.
“This is from a block of Merlot in the Komes Ranch vineyard at the Flora Springs Estate and these grapes go into the Trilogy blend. Based on the current level of ripeness, I would suspect these grapes will be harvested around the second week of September. We are experiencing a bit of a heat wave at the moment, but the vines are looking strong and healthy.”
—Winemaker Paul Steinauer
The new logo, labels and packaging are designed to more clearly convey key messages about our Napa Valley estate’s core values.
“While critical elements of the original design have been retained, the new package tells the Flora Springs story in a clearer, more compelling way,” says Nat Komes, third generation vintner and general manager of Flora Springs. “Through imagery and words we’re communicating what makes Flora Springs special — the values that have been important to our family since we established our winery estate in 1978.”
The new logo features an updated, classicized image of Flora emerging from a pool of natural springs, holding aloft a cluster of grapes and supported by the tagline ‘Napa Valley Family Estate.’
“Flora has always been our icon, created in honor of my mother who inspired the founding of the winery,” says John Komes, Flora Springs’ founder, president and proprietor. “The new image underscores Flora Springs’ role as a Napa Valley grape grower as well as winemaker, while the water at Flora’s feet symbolizes the natural springs which nourish the vineyards surrounding our estate.”
The new labels will be introduced with the 2014 vintage white wines and 2013 vintage red wines as they are released throughout 2015.
We’ve dedicated countless hours — and poured our hearts — into developing our new labels. View our latest video for a behind-the-scenes look at the intensive process.