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wine or grapes for home winemaking, the industry had withered to about three dozen by the time Prohibition was repealed.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 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.
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!
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.”
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!
The cool and rainy spring slowed the start of the growing season at all of the Flora Springs ranches. Bud break started several weeks later than the past several harvests, however, this additional span provided more time for the vineyard crew to conduct other activities. One of which was to apply a compost tea to all of the ranches to stimulate soil microbial populations. Discing has recently been conducted at all the ranches as well. Jenny Rohrs, our Viticulturist, is examining the vines block by block to prioritize which ones will be suckered and leafed first.
In the winery, we are just finishing up our annual “Musical Barrel” routine – whereby, we move all the past years vintage into the cave, and move the previous year’s vintage (2016 in this case) into our barrel room. As noted previously, this enables us to draw from these barrels more efficiently when making blends prior to bottling. We continue to top the barrels in both the cave and barrel buildings. The wine experiences a certain amount of natural evaporation – roughly 5% or more over the barrel aging process. To ensure the barrel does not have any headspace, which would result in oxidation over time, we top them up every 3 weeks throughout the entire aging period. We are also getting into the start of the bottling season. We have bottled the Pinot Grigio and Rosé, and will be bottling the Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnays over the next several weeks.
Matriarch Flora Komes was born in Hawaii and Flora Springs has always had a natural affinity for all things Hawaiian. Yesterday, Flora Springs hosted the Preferred Palates Wine Club Pick Up party on a warm sunny afternoon at The Estate with a traditional luau theme. Guests got the chance to make their own leis while enjoying the sounds of the islands with the “chuck-a-chuck” acoustics and whispery nylon strings of the traditional luau-style ukulele music.Tastings of the current Wild Boar barrel sample, as well as Wild Boar library vintages were enjoyed with the festive pairing of a whole roast pig.Learn more about our Wine Clubs and the benefits of each.
Flora Springs will celebrate National Library Week by pouring select library wines at both The Estate and The Room next week, April 8-15. Featured wines will include rare, cellared vintages of Flora Springs’ flagship red wine blend, Trilogy. Library wines will also be available.
Nat Komes, third-generation family member and Flora Springs General Manager, has a particular affinity for libraries, as his mother worked as a librarian when he was growing up. He said he developed a great love of reading which he shares with his own children. In fact, while spending time at the library reading to them, Komes said he has found inspiration for several of his wine projects.
“We’re excited to celebrate National Library Week by opening our wine library throughout the week,” said Komes. “Library wines are older, unique, and rare wines that have been purposefully stored to age. Just as libraries transform minds, the aging process transforms wine, often in unexpected and delightful ways.”
Flora Springs’ limited-time “Libraries Transform” tasting experience will be held at both The Room (677 South St. Helena Highway, St. Helena) and The Estate (1978 West Zinfandel Lane, St. Helena), open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week. Reservations are required to visit The Estate. Additional tasting fees for the library wines may apply. For more information visit florasprings.com or call (866) 967-8032 or 967-6723.
The simple practice of meditation can bring immense peace with profound results.
Nature has a lot to do with reconnecting with our souls, and in today’s day and age – with all the hustle and bustle, it is more important than ever that we take care of ourselves. You deserve to feel at peace, balanced and centered.
So today, take a moment for yourself and listen to the healing sound of flowing water from our natural springs and appreciate the beauty and renewal that springtime promises. Do something good for your soul. Tonight, light some candles with your loved one, share a bottle of wine and toast to all that we should be grateful for.