Note: The following article was originally written by Chris Macias and published in the San Francisco Chronicle on October 30, 2018 and can be found here.
The Napa Ghost Wineries You Can Visit
Trek around Wine Country, near its luxury hotels and fine-dining destinations, and you’ll find the remnants of wineries that date back to a time when Napa wasn’t so flush. These are vestiges of the Dark Ages for California wine. They’re known as ghost wineries, not because they’re haunted (though that’s up for debate in some cases), but because they serve as an important link between Napa’s early years as a wine region and the bustling destination it is now.
Napa Valley had a thriving wine industry in the 19th century, with more than 140 operating wineries opened by the final decade. But starting in the late 1880s, the region was hit with a triple blow that left the local wine industry reeling for decades. First, an outbreak of the lethal grapevine virus phylloxera crippled wine production for 20 years. Then the Great Depression arrived, which dovetailed with Prohibition from 1920 to 1933.
This half-century of setbacks left many California wineries in ruins. Although a few were able to stay in business by selling sacramental wine or grapes for home winemaking, the industry had withered to about three dozen by the time Prohibition was repealed. Many of the buildings remained vacant for decades, falling into ruin. Halloween notwithstanding, Napa’s ghost wineries are worth visiting any time of year. They’re scattered throughout the valley, offering a peek into a storied history and a spirit of perseverance that defines the area.
Here are a handful of the ghosts you can visit:
Flora Springs: This former home of the 1900 Rennie Brothers Winery in St. Helena, suffered a one-two punch at the turn of the 20th century. Not only were its vineyards hit by phylloxera, but a fire in its wine cellar decimated its production capabilities. After decades of inactivity, the property was purchased in the mid 1970s and renamed Flora Springs. The ghost winery has since been renovated and serves as a production facility, which visitors can see during tours of the Flora Springs estate. Flora Springs plays up its ghost winery heritage with Halloween releases including All Hallows’ Eve Cabernet Franc and Ghost Winery Malbec…
Note: The following article was originally written by Catherine Bugue and published in the St. Helena Star on October 16, 2018 and can be found here.
Wine of the week: Flora Springs All Hallows’ Eve 2016 Cabernet Franc Napa Valley
It was dark. She was tense. He came at her with a knife.
And as she grabbed the knife away from him, she sighed irritably, and used the corkscrew end to open the wine bottle herself. She was in no mood for his theatrics.
It’s Halloween — it’s time for stories! Why not gather up friends and good wine on the 31st for a night’s respite from the weekly grind? Adding a wine like Flora Spring’s iconic All Hallows’ Eve Cabernet Franc brings good fun to the mix. The 2016 Cabernet Franc label features a spooked black cat and carved pumpkin; the wine has enough rich dark fruits and spice complexity to stand up to the spookiest of ghost stories.
See also special etched bottles like the Drink in Peace Merlot, complete with coffin wine box.
Order by 5 pm October 23 for delivery by Halloween. Please call (800) 913-1118 with questions on shipping times. Shop now.
Note: The following article was originally written by Jess Lander and published in the Napa Valley Register on October 11, 2018 and can be found here.
Creepy visitors, ghostly wines: Flora Springs gets into the spirit of Halloween
As a tribute to their 1885 ghost winery, one of the few remaining in the area, Flora Springs Winery goes all out for Halloween.
You can’t miss the trio of enormous skeletons that dance outside their Highway 29 tasting room in St. Helena. Inside, the walls are covered in cobwebs, rooms are transformed into a crematorium and morgue, and you might just find a headless horseman sitting at your table and struggling to sip his wine (for a lack of mouth). But the decorations, done by local design team, The Baker Sisters, are just the beginning. The winery’s Halloween preparation starts months in advance.
For eight years running, Flora Springs has released a collection of limited release, Halloween wines. Featuring custom labels and usually 100 percent bottlings of varieties that are traditionally used for blending, the initiative was started by Nat Komes, general manager and son of proprietors John and Carrie Komes. He has a personal fondness for the holiday and even tied the knot on Oct. 31.
Komes’ inspiration for the Halloween collection came from an unlikely place: beer. Once a year, hundreds of thirsty fans spend hours lined up outside Santa Rosa’s Russian River Brewing Company, all for a taste of their cult release, Pliny the Younger.
He wanted his own version of that, saying, “I was trying to generate some of that excitement in the wine business.”
There might not be a line outside of Flora Springs, but there’s certainly a high demand among the winery’s followers. The Halloween wines often sell out well before Halloween each year and have become collectors items in the cellars of many wine club members.
It all started with the Ghost Winery series in 2010. For the labels, Komes partnered with artist Wes Freed, best known for his eerie illustrations on Drive-By Truckers album covers. One of those albums was a favorite of Komes’ brother.
“My brother passed away from cancer right when I was starting the Ghost Winery project,” said Komes. “That’s how I got a hold of Wes Freed, because that was his favorite record at the time. I reached out to him, started telling him about my brother, how he loved the art, and he came right back to me and said, ‘Let’s get going on this.’”
Over the years, the Ghost Winery series evolved into the Halloween collection with a Ghost Winery label at its centerpiece. Always a bottling of malbec —fittingly sourced right in front of Flora Springs’ ghost winery — the label is a modern interpretation of the 1978 label. It features a sketch of the stone ghost winery building, which was severely damaged in a fire in 1900, but has since been restored.
While the Ghost Winery Malbec stays the same every year, the labels of the others change. Komes develops his vision by scouring through children’s books, album covers, comic books and even skateboards, then contacts the respective artist and commissions them to create a one-of-a-kind wine label for that year’s release.
His favorite label of 2018 is the 2016 All Hallows’ Eve Cabernet Franc, a throwback to old school Halloween imagery of a black cat and jack-o-lantern. The art was done by artist Emmenline Forrestal, a former wig maker who illustrated the children’s book “Gloppy,” a favorite of Komes’ daughter’s.
The true collectors item this year is the 2014 Drink In Peace Merlot. On it, a hand-etched, glow-in-the-dark skeleton holds a wine bottle across its chest. It even comes packaged in a coffin box.
And then there’s the 2013 Black Moon Cabernet Sauvignon. Available only in magnums, it’s already sold out and therefore as rare as an actual black moon (defined as an additional new moon that appears in a month or in a season, or the absence of a full moon or of a new moon in a month).
Skateboard artist Dennis McNett’s illustration depicts the phases of the moon surrounded by bats, which Komes said are regulars in the steeple of the ghost winery. The art is etched and hand painted on the bottle.
The new ghost tour
Those who want to taste the Halloween wines can reserve a tasting at The Room, Flora Springs’ St. Helena tasting room, but this year, the winery is taking their celebrations to a new level of creep with a ghost tour. Flora Springs has teamed up with Napa City Ghosts & Legends to lead a paranormal tour of the ghost winery and estate on Sunday, Oct. 28 at 10:30 a.m.
Komes said he was always curious if the ghost winery was haunted and that Napa City Ghosts have since identified three spirits during their recent visits. There’s Matthew, who supposedly died in a horse-related accident, a flapper who loves to party, and another man who gave off a particularly unsettling vibe.
Let’s hope he’s not in the mood for socializing that day.
For more information on Flora Springs’ Halloween tastings and ghost tour, visit www.florasprings.com/events.
Note: The following article was originally published in the Wine Spectator on September 27, 2018 and can be found here.
Paranormal Activity at ‘Ghost Winery’
“…But if you missed the chance to commune with Napa’s dead last weekend at the St. Helena Cemetery, fear not: There are plenty more spectral vintners doomed to roam the terroir for all time (it’s been said some Napa winemakers even sold their souls), and not a few so-called “ghost wineries” they’re thought to haunt. The old Rennie Brothers Winery, completed in 1900, is one—the once-thriving wine factory sat derelict through Prohibition before its rebirth as Flora Spring Estate. On Oct. 28, the winery is bringing in local paranormal investigators/Napa history fiends Ellen MacFarlane and Devin Sisk, who most recently appeared together on the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures, to lead a haunted tour and wine lunch in the old stone cellars and caves. “As one of the few remaining Napa Valley ‘ghost wineries,’ we are constantly reminded that there are phantoms and spirits who walked here before us,” noted general manager Nat Komes to Unfiltered.
As in past years, Flora Springs is also releasing a set of Halloween-themed wines…with limited-edition label art from painters and illustrators: All Hallow’s Eve Cabernet Franc, Ghost Winery Malbec, Black Moon Cabernet Sauvignon and Drink in Peace Merlot (glow-in-the-dark label; comes in coffin-shaped gift box) are a few representative treats.”
Note: The following article was originally written by Julia Hollister and published in the Capital Press on July 22, 2018 and can be found here.
Western Innovator: Vineyard, winery work in progress
John Komes constantly experiments with new techniques at Flora Springs Vineyards and Winery.
NAPA VALLEY, Calif. — John Komes can tell you a lot about viticulture and the changes he’s witnessed; he’s been at it for 41 years.
“My ‘first’ career was as a contractor, and I worked on construction projects all over the Bay Area,” he said. “But in the early 1970s I took a wine appreciation course and my fascination with wine just took off. When my parents bought the Flora Springs property in 1977, I convinced them to let me start making wine from the vines there.
“Part of my motivation was that I wanted to move my family to Napa Valley. It was so unspoiled, so bucolic, and it seemed like a good place to raise children. And I loved the idea of having the whole family involved in the winery. Today I work closely with my son, my brother-in-law and my nephew, which is very satisfying.”
Komes said there have been many changes in viticulture since he got started, and he’s learned much over the years. At Flora Springs he is constantly experimenting, both in the vineyard and the winery. They were one of the first wineries to try barrel fermentation with Chardonnay.
“Our flagship wine, Trilogy, which we introduced in 1984, was one of Napa Valley’s the first proprietary red Bordeaux-style blends,” he said.
“Because we’ve owned our vineyards for so long we’ve had several opportunities to replant, and every time we do, we experiment with different spacing, rootstocks, clones, trellis systems, you name it,” he said. “It’s all about fine tuning as you go along, and I can tell you that the wines we make today are more compelling than ever because of the experimenting we’ve done over the years.”
Napa Valley is a superb place to grow grapes, but over time Komes admits he has learned a lot about which varieties grow best here. This is a region where Cabernet Sauvignon thrives, and the Sauvignon Blanc also grows well.
“I guess to answer the question, the hardest grapes to grow are the varieties that are planted in the wrong place,” he said.
The family has 500 acres throughout the Napa Valley, 300 of which are planted to vineyard.
“We have estate properties in Carneros, Oakville, Rutherford and St. Helena, and we produce varietal wines ranging from Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay to Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and other red Bordeaux varietals,” he said. “All of our vineyards are sustainably farmed, and many are farmed organically.”
Wine tastes are changing, and Komes sees more people gravitating to reds these days, but that’s not to say there aren’t a lot of white wine lovers out there.
“In fact, we happened to notice recently that there is no white wine emoji, just a red one! So Flora Springs launched a ‘Where’s the #WhiteWineEmoji’ campaign, and we’re inviting people to sign a petition to have one created,” Komes said. “People can go our website at www.florasprings.com to learn more.”
In spite of the excellent weather and high-quality grapes, Komes said two challenges stand out.
“The two that stand out to me are climate change and labor,” he said. “But the wine industry has faced a lot of challenges, and when we work together we usually find solutions.”
One more thing: What about the big wineries in Napa?
“People often ask me if I think there are too many wineries in Napa Valley. I don’t think there are too many wineries; I just think there are too many big wineries,” he said. “In the last couple of decades the wine industry has experienced what many American industries have undergone: conglomeration. A few big guys buying up the little guys.
“But the little guy is the genius of this industry. The one who discovers new techniques in the vineyards and wineries, who finds and develops small plots of land that produce outstanding grapes, who innovates and creates. I like to think we still have that spirit at Flora Springs, and I certainly think it shows in our wines and hospitality. I also think there will always be little guys, people willing to risk everything to pursue their life’s passion. And to them, I raise my glass!”
Residence: Napa Valley
Occupation: Founder, president and proprietor of Flora Springs Vineyards and Winery
Years in Business: 41
Family: Married to Carrie Komes. Son is Nat Komes. Sister and brother-in-law are Julie Komes Garvey and Pat Garvey.
Today we raise a glass to you. For those of you that are part of our digital community that emailed, signed, tweeted, messaged, liked or shared our plea for a white wine emoji, we are so grateful. If you proudly wear our white wine emoji button, if you always comment, tag, and like our content then we owe you our gratitude. Our efforts are paying off, as the campaign we launched last year calling for a new wine emoji is gaining traction and has been embraced by the global wine community, including several large wineries in California.
It’s not everyday we are featured in major publications such as: Forbes, Today, Decanter, and Wine Spectator. So you can imagine the happy dance we were doing in the cellar today, when we were given credit as the first winery to launch a campaign around the white wine emoji!
“It’s gratifying to see other wine companies follow our example of making wine fun and relevant with their own petitions and campaigns to establish a White Wine Emoji,” said Nat Komes, General Manager of Flora Springs. “The Unicode Emoji Subcommittee encouraged us to work as a global community on the project, and these additional efforts of wine companies and of course white wine lovers around the world will help us reach the goal Flora Springs sought when we started this movement.”
It’s because of our dedicated community on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest that we feel so passionate about the white wine emoji. People from all over the world post messages to us, and we always have to respond with the red wine version of the wine glass emoji, even if we know they are in our white wine only wine club! As a family that has led the way in white wine since our founding over 40 years ago, we’re proud you trust us with this initiative.
Join us in celebrating each and every white wine by calling for the establishment of a White Wine Emoji, by using hashtag #WhiteWineEmoji and tag us @florasprings. Make your voice heard and sign the #WhiteWineEmoji petition now. Learn more about our White Wine Emoji campaign.
Since the founding of Flora Springs Winery in 1978, it’s been our family’s goal is to over-deliver on every aspect of our business, particularly when it comes to the quality and consistency of our wines.
It means the world to us when our customers recognize these efforts by celebrating life’s big moments, and simple daily joys, with our wines.
With every delighted Wine Club Member and every customer compliment, we know we are still on the right path.
It’s also rewarding when the wine writers, reviewers, and bloggers notice our wines. And they sure are noticing the 2015 vintage of Trilogy – with four fabulous 93 point awards from top publications. While we’ll always believe that everyone should decide on their own whether they like a wine or not, great scores, awards, and reviews are always appreciated – thank you.
93 points, The Wine Advocate “A blend of 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec and 8% Petit Verdot, the deep garnet-purple 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Trilogy offers up aromas of cassis, blackberries and black cherries with hints of vanilla, chocolate and baking spices. Full-bodied, concentrated, expressive and open for business, it’s spicy and velvety in the mouth with a long finish.”
—Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW, October 2017
93 points, James Suckling “Hot stones, oyster shell, ripe stems, pressed violets and nutmeg. Full-bodied with round, ripe tannins that are structured and dense, fine acidity and a fruit-forward finish. A blend of 82% cabernet sauvignon, 10% malbec and 8% petit verdot. Drink in 2020.”
—James Sucking, December 2017
93 points, Blue Lifestyle “Lush and rich with smooth texture and lush plum and berry fruit; dense and rich, deep and showing promise for aging.”
—Anthony Dias Blue, January 2018
93 points, The Tasting Panel Magazine, April 2018
91 points & Best of Class, California State Fair, April 2018
90 points, Wine Enthusiast, April 2018
90 points, San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge, April 2018
90 points, Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine “On the basis of its ripe and fairly juicy, oak-sweetened aromas, it is easy enough to anticipate that this one will be rounded, ready-to-drink wine, but, if its initially up-front flavors are in fact fruity and very inviting in a way that distantly recalls good Merlot, it is all Cabernet Sauvignon in terms of its youthful tannins and obvious tactile grip. It is not ominously astringent, but it is firmly built and will take some time to make good on the promise of polish at which it now hints, and, while it warrants no less than three or four years of patience, we see it evolving favorably for seven to ten.” April 2018
90 points, International Wine Report “The 2015 Trilogy is an immense, ultra-modern Napa Valley red, composed of 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec and 8% Petite Verdot which spent 18 months in 85% French oak and 15% American oak. It opens to profound aromatics of blackberry cobbler, crème de cassis, mocha, sweet spices, vanilla, sweet toasted oak and a touch of dusty notes all taking shape. Full-bodied, layered and intense on the palate, with profound depth and concentration. Ripe dark fruits and mocha flavors continue to resonate from its core, as it leads up to the long, mouth coating finish. Overall, this is a massive red, which should have at least a decade of evolution ahead…”Read more.
—J. D’Angelo, June 2018
Suggestions for rack restocking The Tennessean “Trilogy Red Wine, 2015, from Flora Springs was one of Napa’s first Bordeaux-style red blends—now it’s a classic. Trilogy is like purple in the glass (even the winemaker calls it decadent).”
—Steve Prati, May 30, 2018
25 Wines to Drink Now or Lay Down for the Future The Daily Meal “You always want to have a few bottles of wine on hand that you can drink whenever the occasion arises, whether for tonight’s dinner, when friends drop by, or for an impromptu party. On the other hand, it’s also nice to have a few bottles put away to drink in future years on special occasions…
A rich and delicious blend of mainly cabernet sauvignon with a little malbec and petit verdot, offering velvety flavors of blackberry and mulberry and a light oak accent.”Read more.
—Roger Morris, March 21, 2018
Samples that Inspire a Rallying Cry Moment DallasWineChick.com “This was an unctuous wine that was packed with fruit – blackberry, cassis, black cherry, plum, chocolate, mocha, cedar and vanilla. It was nuanced and had depth. I kept discovering new flavors as we sipped. It was absolutely delicious.”Read more. March 18, 2018
Use of oak affects fruit character of cabernet sauvignon Capital Gazette “Flora Springs was a pioneer in making a Bordeaux blend — its first was in 1984. It’s no surprise, then, that experience and good fruit sources makes them a leader in hedonistic blends. Extracted dark fruit flavors with hints of pepper, chocolate and vanilla. Round tannins suggest good things to come.”Read more.
—Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr, February 21, 2018
There is 3x decadence in ‘Trilogy’ JuliatheWineExaminer.com “Flora Springs has created a red Bordeaux blend that celebrates the incredible fusion of three varietals that define elegance. Your time swirling and sipping this incredible selection is long past due. This is bliss in a bottle…Open this seductive wine about 20 minutes before serving to allow aromas of Bing cherries, sweet cassis and blackberry to start the show. Then swirl and sip dark licorice, cola and cardamom flavors that explode on the palate and exit in a long, luxurious finish. Pour this “big” wine with “big” foods such as prime rib, bold burgers and meat laden pastas. Winemakers say this enticing, robust red wine can be enjoyed through the next decade; but why wait?”Read more. January 18, 2018
91+ points, Millennial Drinkers “Deep and dark purplish ruby red. Layered nose with notes of vanilla bean, anise, cinnamon, cassis, blackberries and more baking spices. A little dark cocoa with some air. Medium plus tannins (6.5/10) and full body potential. A little spicy on the palate with lots of red and black fruits. Notes of cinnamon and sweet spices too. Long and lingering finish. Still just a baby that will improve with a few months, even years in the bottle. Drink Dates: 2018 till 2030.”Read more. January 25, 2018
Rated: A, Drinkhacker “This year’s Trilogy is a blend of 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec, and 8% Petit Verdot. For 2015, Trilogy cuts a soulful, silky, and seductive profile, bursting at the seams with fruit both fresh and dried — plump currants, fresh plums, and dense blackberry notes. The fruit is so powerful the wine comes across as slightly sweet at times, and it cuts easily through any sense of tannin that might otherwise cling to the palate. As the finish evolves, bramble notes emerge alongside some gentle leather and tobacco, with an herbal, clove-heavy note percolating on the finish. Lots going on here, but at the same time, the wine is so easy to drink that it is, at times, hard to put down.”Read more. January 31, 2018
2015 Trilogy Review
Wine Weirdos, featuring Allison Levine of Please the Palate and the Napa Valley Register:
This wine had depth and layers. I kept discovering new things in the glass as I tasted. There was grapefruit, pear, nectarine, honeydew melon, tropical fruit, floral notes, brown sugar and it brought me back to remembering what I loved about the Orange Julius drink of my childhood. Flora Springs is also on a mission of creating a white wine emoji and has launched a “Where is the #WhiteWineEmoji” campaign. Because that should be a given! Why should red wine have all the fun?
Today, we’re headed to Napa for a red wine from one of my favorite producers:
2015 Napa Valley Merlot produced & bottled by Flora Springs (St. Helena, California).
This wine is 100% merlot from the Napa Valley. Following fermentation, the wine was aged for 19 months in a combination of new and used oak barrels. It comes in at 14.2% ABV.
Here it is in the glass:
The wine showed a dark ruby color. Blackberry, cassis, mocha, vanilla, plum and oak all arrived on the deep and alluring nose. Blackberry, black cherry, cassis, vanilla, plum and oak followed on the palate. The wine exhibited great structure and length, along with soft tannins. This wine would pair well with a grilled hanger steak.
We’re excited to release our first wine from the 2017 vintage, our 2017 Napa Valley Pinot Grigio. 2017 was a momentous year in Napa Valley, and we know there will be a lot of curiosity about the vintage. Following is our take on the growing season and vintage, including the wildfires that affected so many in our community. Despite many challenges, we think that 2017 will go down in history not only for the wildfires but for the high quality of the 2017 vintage and wines.
2017 began with winter rain, and lots of it, enough to fill reservoirs, replenish groundwater and bring a five year drought in California to an end. Our spring weather was mild, and due to the abundance of water the vines experienced vigorous growth. We were vigilant about canopy management, going through our vineyards and removing excess leaves to ensure the developing grapes had adequate sunlight and air flow. With just a few summer heat spikes, it first appeared that harvest would proceed at a normal pace, but a heat wave over Labor Day weekend hastened picking during the first two weeks of September. Cooler temperatures arrived in mid-September, giving our red fruit extra time on the vine. Overall though, harvest was early in 2017; the last of Flora Springs’ grapes were harvested on Saturday, October 7.
Of course it’s impossible to look back at the 2017 harvest without remarking on the tragic wildfires that affected Napa Valley and neighboring growing regions. At Flora Springs we are enormously grateful to the first responders, law enforcement, community leaders, organizations and volunteers who worked tirelessly to keep our communities safe. We are also incredibly blessed, or perhaps lucky, that our grapes had all been picked prior to the start of the fires on October 8. We were not alone in this good fortune. Damage to Napa Valley wineries and vineyards was not widespread, as the fires burned predominantly in the forested hillsides. The Napa Valley floor between Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail – where our estate winery and vineyards are located – saw little to no impact. In fact, less than 10 percent of Napa Valley’s wineries and less than 8 percent of vineyards experienced direct damage from the fires, and it’s estimated that 90 percent of the total grape tonnage was picked before the fires started.
Still, we know that wine enthusiasts will have lingering questions about the effect of the fires on the grape harvest, and particularly about what is known as smoke taint. A brief explanation: a wine with smoke taint will have a distinct, unpleasant taste that is often compared to a campfire or ashtray. Unlike “smoky aromatics” that might arise from a wine’s contact with an oak barrel, smoke taint is strong and acrid, dominating the sensory characteristics of the wine. Smoke taint can occur when un-picked grapes come into contact with wildfire smoke; the smoke penetrates the grape skins and its compounds can be activated upon fermentation. In this way, even grapes that do not smell or taste smoky can yield a smoke-tainted wine. Rest assured that the few Napa Valley vintners who harvested fruit after the fires were hyper-aware of the possibility of smoke taint and have done everything possible to ensure only the highest quality 2017 wines go to market.
Now back to the quality of the 2017 vintage: for the vast majority of vintners who harvested their grapes prior to the fires there’s a shared sense of excitement about the wines from 2017, most of which are still in barrel. Says Winemaker Paul Steinauer, “Although our yields were somewhat smaller, the 2017 wines are already showing concentration and richness. The whites have bright, fresh flavors and the reds are saturated in color with powerful fruit flavors. There’s no reason to believe this vintage will not rank among the finest of the decade.”
Looking back, the 2017 wildfires challenged our community in innumerable ways, but also demonstrated our shared spirit of strength and resilience. At Flora Springs, in addition to being humbled by our good fortune and the outpouring of generosity from our friends around the world, we’re excited to open the chapter on the 2017 vintage.