Wildfire boundaries in relation to Flora Springs vineyard locations.
How did you hear about the fire and where were you? We were at home, and up at 2:00 am, as Robin had to get ready for an early flight to NY. I noticed the power was off, and it smelled of smoke. We looked out the bedroom window, and there was an inferno against the black sky to the Southwest. (Of course, I’m sure it was further than it looked, but it looked darn close.)
What has your experience been during the last week and a half? Controlled chaos perhaps? At the onset, it was unpredictable with the high winds so we called all our family first thing. I headed to the winery once I knew everyone was safe and I could see the fire was coming over the ridges between Oakville and Rutherford just south of winery. It burned for days in and around that area, as well as directly behind the winery, so we monitored it closely while getting to work. Fortunately, Flora Springs has a backup generator that can run the entire winery which enabled us to continue working even when the power grid went down.
We were cognoscente of the dangerous situation. Calistoga was closed so the northern route was shut off, Silverado Trail was closed and the eastern route was shut off and that left only one way in and one way out, south on Hwy 29. It was not a great feeling knowing that the fire could certainly move east and block the only road out. If the worst-case scenario happened, we had a backup plan. Fortunately for us, Flora Springs has an extensive cave system. If the fire came over the ridge from Sugar Loaf it would most likely mean that it is an eastern wind. The only material to burn at the winery would be the roof. If we opened the front doors to the main cellar and sought refuge in the back of the cave we would be safe. It would probably pass in less than an hour anyway. I located a 36V power inverter that quickly connects to our electric forklift so if the power went out, and the generator failed, we could still run two 4-foot box fans at the cave entrance to push any smoke out, and away from cave portal just as a safety precaution.
When you first arrived on property what were your first concerns? Evaluating exact location of the fire, and ensuring our people, winery and houses were safe. Since the power was out, we had to ensure there was a sufficient amount of diesel in the generator tank. We converted a plastic 300-gallon lees tank into a diesel tank, shuttled diesel from our filling station to the generator, and siphoned enough diesel to fill the generator with 400 gallons, with another 300 gallons on standby. Since we had 30 or so fermentations going at that time, it was most critical to keep our refrigeration system up and running to manage the fermentation temperatures.
Do you think the vineyards served beneficially as a fire break? Thankfully none of Flora Springs’ vineyards have been damaged. Unlike how the vineyards were portrayed in the movie, “A Walk in Clouds,” they don’t really ignite like that. They do make a decent fire break especially if they are tilled between the rows versus cover between rows. As far as winery protection on the south side, if West Zinfandel Lane continued west, you would run into our Cabernet Franc vineyard in block K. If you drew a straight-line west from Inglewood Lane on the North side of the property, you would run into our cabernet vineyard block N, and Merlot vineyard block L. Block J (Hillside Reserve) vineyard runs in-between those blocks connecting the entire length with contiguous vineyard. In addition, the winery has 4 reservoirs as well.
All the fruit was in before any fire started…will you speak to your perception of anticipated vintage quality? We are very happy with how color, aromatics as well as the flavor profiles have developed in the fermenters. We picked most of our fruit a bit earlier this year, primarily due to the heatwaves we experienced in September. The fruit held up well, but often the skins require additional hang time to resolve and soften the tannins. As a result, we managed the fermentations in such a way as to press the wine off its skins at, or before dryness to avoid any additional skin contact and risk any astringent tannin characteristics.
Will Flora Springs be doing anything differently in the vineyards or on the property to protect against future fire threat? I think we have a pretty good grasp of the property and risks thereof. We keep our grasses low, have vineyards surrounding the winery with reservoirs with pump stations. Dedicated water tanks for fire only, as well as 2 other tanks that can be utilized as fire hydrants or sprinkler systems etc.
The wine country fires had been quite an experience over the past week and a half! Through all the evacuations, flames and thick smoke our dedicated winemaking team continued to show up to work and safeguard our 2017 vintage. Thankfully 100% of Flora Springs grapes were harvested and under the roof before a fire ever started. Here are a few images capturing our devoted team at work in the smokey conditions.
First, thank you to all of you who reached out to us in the past week and to everyone for keeping Napa Valley in your thoughts and prayers during these terrible fires. And thank you to the firefighters and first responders who are still fighting so bravely and selflessly to keep our communities intact.
We are pleased to report that our family and our staff are safe, and we are so very thankful that no one here at Flora Springs has lost their home. Our benchland and valley floor vineyards are also thankfully intact, as is the winery – including our beloved old stone Ghost Winery. Miraculously, because of the growing conditions this year, 100% of our grapes were harvested and under the roof before the fires began. And though helicopters still hover at the ridgeline above and to the west of us, we are cautiously optimistic that conditions will continue to improve in Napa Valley in the coming days.
Unfortunately, not all of our friends and neighbors are as fortunate, and I speak for everyone here at Flora Springs when I say that our hearts go out to the folks whose homes and businesses have been damaged or destroyed. Our community is one of resilience and strength, and together we will pull through. If you are interested in supporting relief efforts in Napa Valley, we encourage you to visit the Napa Valley Community Foundation Disaster Relief Fund.
Finally, we ask that you go to our Facebook page for updated information on visiting The Estate and The Room. We are open for business and welcome visitors, as fall is usually our busiest time of year. Also, please know that our fulfillment centers are not impacted by the fires; we are still able to process orders and club shipments will be delivered as planned. We encourage you to visit our website for any additional wines you’d like to purchase.
This is a challenging time for all of us, but after forty years in Napa Valley, our family and the Flora Springs team remain strong, determined and resilient. Now more than ever, thank you so much for your loyalty and support.
Mother Nature has certainly dealt us quite a hand this year! She dealt us almost two full weeks of Phoenix-like weather with 110–115F days! And just when it was supposed to taper back, and settle into the mid-80’s, she dealt us another round of 100+F degree days – crazy! Fortunately, we were very proactive with our irrigation regimen before, during and after these heatwaves, and made it through relatively unscathed. It certainly sped things up a bit. Presently it is September 27th, and we have already completed 75% of the 60 different lots that we receive. From our total estimated production, we are about 65% through the harvest at this point. Based on what we are seeing in the vineyards, we could complete harvest by the second week of October, if not sooner. It wasn’t that long ago, that we rarely, if ever finished before November!
Not wasting any time, we are already ripping out one of our Sauvignon Blanc vineyards at Crossroads Ranch in Oakville that was faltering due to disease. Fortunately, we sold these grapes to another winery, so it will not affect our Sauvignon Blanc production at all. We will be planting this block to Cabernet Sauvignon and will receive that fruit in the coming years to increase our Oakville Cabernet program.
About the Artist
Currently the official Artist in Residence at Coit Tower in San Francisco, Jeremy Fish has a degree in painting and a focus in screenprinting. His education and work experience has lead to a career as a fine artist and commercial illustrator. Finding a balance between exhibiting his work both across the US, and internationally in galleries and museums, he also maintains a presence designing skateboards, t-shirts, vinyl toys, album covers, periodical illustrations, murals, sneakers – and now, wine labels. His artwork is mainly about storytelling and communication, told through a library of characters and symbols with an emphasis on finding a balance with the imagery somewhere between all things cute and creepy. Jeremy has been based in San Francisco for the last 20 years. Learn more.
We have officially picked all of our Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc for the year. We started the Pinot Grigio on August 15th, and finished the Sauvignon Blanc on August 31st.
We then started harvesting the Lavender Hill Chardonnay in Carneros on September 6th. The very next day, we received Merlot from the Estate. This is the earliest date on record for reds.
The last week was pretty crazy…Phoenix-like temperatures in the 115 degree range! On top of that, the valley was blanketed with smoke from a fire burning in Butte County. Fortunately, both have subsided and we are back to average harvest temperatures once again…at least for the time being.
We will be bringing in additional Merlot, as well as Petit Verdot from Oakville, on Monday and Tuesday. Then we will finish up with the last of the white grapes on Wednesday.
The harvest has been pretty fast and furious thus far – keeping things exciting. We were very proactive with our irrigation regimen before and during the heatwave, so the fruit is still in excellent condition. We are extremely pleased with the quality thus far, and expect to make some fantastic wines!
Note: The following was excerpted from an article written by David Stoneberg and published in The Weekly Calistogan. The full article can be found here.
The winter, with its abundant rain and the ensuing growing season that was perfect for ripening wine grapes has many growers optimistic about the 2017 harvest. For some, workers are already harvesting their sauvignon blanc and chardonnay grapes; others, though, are waiting for the first grapes to cross the crushpad…
Oakville – Linda Neal, grower, Tierra Roja Vineyard, “Yount Mill kicked off the Oakville season on Aug. 9, harvesting for sparkling wines, with other white varietals quickly following, reports Kendall Hoxsey-Onysko. Turnbull follows with sauvignon blanc at the winery on Aug. 23. Winemaker Peter Heitz writes, “The flavors are fantastic!” Flora Springs may have started two days later, but did so with a saber flourish as winemaker Paul Steinauer christens the first load…”
Harvest is one of my favorite times of the year and there is a palpable nostalgic energy in the air. As we approach the inevitable first pick of 2017 which we surmise is about two weeks behind the 2016 harvest, we are on track for a normal year. I’m not kidding when I say that this vintage is beautiful for grape growing and one of best I’ve seen in the last decade.
The mild weather of late is giving the clusters time to moderately develop sugar content in conjunction with phenolic levels that contribute to ideal color and aroma. Perfect fruit ripeness is typically the intersection of sugar and the stage at which the phenols change from green and bitter to pleasantly astringent, soft and ripe-tasting. And this phase is just around the corner. We anticipate that our yields will be up between 15-20% over the 2016 vintage which means more wine for you and more wine for me! What could be better than that?!
Join the 8th Annual Global Celebration of Cabernet.
#CabernetDay is a global celebration of the Cabernet grape, intended to give Cabernet lovers around the world a fun opportunity to express their passion for the grape. Cabernet lovers come together in person and online to discover and share everything about Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet-based blends.
We are proud to say that after more than 37 years of winemaking and more than 30 years of crafting Trilogy – our flagship Cabernet-based red blend – Flora Springs is still breaking new ground. We credit the consistent organic and sustainable farming practices of our vineyard team as well as the focus and direction of our winemaker, Paul Steinauer.
How to participate:
Open up your favorite Flora Springs Cabernet.
Join us online August 31st. We’ll be talking about Cabernet and Cab blends all day, then the conversation really picks up at 5:30 pm Pacific time.
Enter to win: Tweet or Instagram with us on August 31st using hashtag #CabernetDay and @florasprings in your tweets/posts.
We will pick one lucky Flora Springs fan using #CabernetDay and tagging us in their tweet or Instagram post! You could win a Flora Springs prize pack.*
*Must be 21+ to enter. Void where prohibited. Wine will not be included in prize pack. Chance of winning depends on number of entries.