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.
This year Flora Springs, in conjunction with Arts Council Napa Valley, celebrates the 8th annual Arts in April event at The Room. Contemporary artists have been busy all month long with demonstrations, installations, and musical performances that showcase the creative genius of artists at work paired with wine flights featuring the winery’s artist series labels. We invite you to join in on the fun for the final weekend of this series.
This Saturday, April 28th will feature the awe-inspiring Dominic Fontana of tapedmetalcanvas.com. Tape and metal artist Dominic uses various methods and materials to carve, weave, and layer colorful metallic tape. He often transforms each piece into a balanced, symmetrical, and often abstract piece of artwork. Dominic has also had his work featured throughout the month at The Room and you can have some fun with his pieces and the flash on your iPhone.
Also, featured will be the sounds of Lauren Hulbert is a folk-rock singer-songwriter. She has a sultry, warm voice and a wide variety of raw and authentic songs. For more information about this event click here.
Below are a few snapshots of other artists that have been featured earlier this month for Arts in April.Brett Crawford of startvault.com is a painter, metal sculptor, printmaker, illustrator and street artist are a few of the titles California native Brett Crawford holds. His work can be found in galleries and on walls all over Los Angeles. His preferred medium for large works is spray paint, but he is versatile and not limited to one material.Amandalynn is a muralist inspired by the female form and spirit, Amandalynn depicts strong, seductive women and illustrates their strength through line work and decorative patterning.Katie Colver is a singer-songwriter and guitar player. Her voice is earthy and powerful, and her music is most influenced by folk and rock music of the 70s.
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.
One our fun and favorite events of the year is the Purple Teeth Barrel Tasting and Great Tastes Members’ Pick Up Party that was held on Sunday at The Room. As usual, The Purple Teel Barrel Tasting included a barrel seminar led by Flora Springs Associate Winemaker Enrico Bertoz. It was a fun but educational exploration of the impact of using different coopers on Flora Springs wines straight from the barrel.
The event is held annually for our Great Tastes Members and since this year was on a Sunday, our theme was a relaxing ‘Sunday Brunch’.
Who wouldn’t want chicken and waffles from The Waffle Roost, the perfect fare for Sunday Brunch?
Guests were entertained with live music by provided by a collaboration between Jules Leyhe and Tapper Dan (John Devoto) and Ivy Hill Entertainment.
Thank you to all our Great Tastes Members who could join us, we appreciate you and raise our glasses to your continued support of Flora Springs!
Flora Springs will hold a benefit music festival on Sunday, October 29th at The Room in St. Helena with all proceeds going to victims of the recent Napa Valley wildfires through the Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund. The fundraiser, held from 12pm to 5pm, will feature five San Francisco Bay Area bands and musicians including Serf & James, Fellow Vessel, Sean Garvey, Mr. Kind, and Miss Moonshine. Flora Springs wines by the glass and bottle will be poured and small bites will be served. The event will also feature an auction including wines and other items. Admission to the event is complimentary and no RSVP is needed.
“We wanted to jump in quickly and support the Napa Valley community as it recovers from these devastating fires,” said Flora Springs General Manager Nat Komes. Although the fires that raged through parts of Napa Valley hovered at the ridgeline to the west of Flora Springs’ winery and vineyards in Rutherford, the estate escaped unharmed thanks to the heroic efforts of firefighters and first responders.
“We were among the lucky ones, but we know many who were not as fortunate,” said Flora Springs Co-Founder and Proprietor John Komes. “The Festival will raise monies to help fire victims, but will also serve as a way for our community to come together in a show of strength and fellowship. Everyone is welcome.” The lineup of artists includes several who were themselves affected by the fires in Napa and Sonoma Counties.
The following is the festival schedule:
12pm – 12:45pm
This Petaluma, CA band was personally affected by the fires in Sonoma Valley: one lost her house, one lost his job. On October 29th, they come together to bring the healing power of foot-stomping, folk-rock music to The Room.
1pm – 1:45pm
A successful engineer quits his job to form a band with old friends, determined to follow his life’s true passion: that’s the story behind Fellow Vessel. With a catalog of original melodic rock songs, this band inspires anyone with a dream.
2pm – 2:45pm
Brian Bergeron and Jonathan Devoto are founding members of Mr. Kind, an electroacoustic band out of Oakland, CA. Over the course of 4 EPs and local shows, they have established their own brand of Americana. They are also founding members of Ivy Hill Entertainment, a music and event production agency responsible for booking music for the Napa Valley Film Festival, and most recently, a summer piano music series at Flora Springs. They will be collaborating with Tapper Dan as part of this performance.
3pm – 3:45pm
An accomplished musician, Sean Garvey is also Flora Komes’ grandson and the winery’s vineyard manager. He witnessed the fires that swept through Napa Valley, just a few miles from the Estate and winery that has been home to his family for three generations. Sean is grateful for his family and winery’s safety, and carries a renewed perspective on the fragile nature of our livelihood.
Serf and James
4pm to 5pm
Serf and James live and work in the Napa Valley. In fact, the duo works at Flora Springs. They have played at the Napa Valley Film Festival, BottleRock, and Flora Springs Club members’ weddings and parties.
Note: The following article about Flora Springs Winery 40th Anniversary was 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.
We’ve once again commissioned Melissa and Mercedes Baker, known as The Baker Sisters, to create several seasonal art installations at The Room this year.
As a celebration of Arts in April and Earth Day, currently installed on the exterior of the tasting room is “Imagine” – a living tribute to Flora Komes, our mother, grandmother, and the woman who inspired the founding of Flora Springs Winery.
Visit any day in April to witness this tremendous artistic feat. Then, step inside for an art-centric flight of select wines and peruse a curated gallery – featuring some of the most popular visual artists in the valley. Every weekend we will feature a mix of live music, live paint sessions, a barbershop quartet, and spontaneous songs courtesy of BottleRock’s – and our own – Serf & James.
Join us after-hours for our Flora’s Social Open House on April 21st. Learn more and RSVP by April 19th.
“Love the land and it will love you back,” as Flora said, and after 40 years of winemaking over three generations, this remains at the heart of Flora Spring’s mission.
First observed in 1958, National Library Week is sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA) and libraries across the country each April. It is a time to celebrate the contributions of our nation’s libraries and librarians and to promote library use and support.
This year, National Library Week will be observed April 9-15, with the theme “Libraries Transform.”
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. Nat developed a great love of reading, which continues to this day, and which he is sharing with his own children now. In fact, after spending time at the library reading to them, Nat has found inspiration for several of his wine projects.
We will be celebrating National Library Week, as well as the 40th anniversary of the winery, by opening our wine library. Library wines are older, unique, and rare wines that have been purposefully stored to age. Like libraries transform minds, the aging process transforms wine – often in unexpected and delightful ways.
We are pleased to announce that Flora Springs – The Room has received the coveted TripAdvisor 2016 Certificate of Excellence.
Now in its sixth year, the award celebrates hospitality businesses that have earned great traveler reviews on TripAdvisor over the past year.
“With the Certificate of Excellence, TripAdvisor honors hospitality businesses that have consistently received strong praise and ratings from travelers,” said Heather Leisman, Vice President of Industry Marketing, TripAdvisor. “This recognition helps travelers identify and book properties that regularly deliver great service. TripAdvisor is proud to play this integral role in helping travelers feel more confident in their booking decisions.”
We’ve commissioned Melissa and Mercedes Baker, also known as The Baker Sisters, to create several seasonal art installations at The Room this year.
Currently installed on the exterior of the tasting room is “Ladies of Liberty.” Through July 18th, join us in a Toast to Freedom and celebrate the Fourth of July while supporting the Wounded Warrior Project.
And don’t miss Flora’s Social & Art Exhibit on Friday, July 15th from 5:30 – 8:30 pm.
Connect with friends and neighbors and spend your Friday evening at The Room. Enjoy an old-fashioned All-American BBQ, bake sale, raffle and silent auction and live music. All proceeds benefit the Wounded Warrior Project.
We will also be pouring splashes of our current release wines, and wine will also be available for purchase by the glass or bottle at special pricing.
There is no charge for this event, but we ask that you RSVP before July 13thby contacting The Room at (707) 967-8032 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watch for our Halloween Art Installation running September 2nd and our Holiday Art Installation running November 4th – December 31st.
A behind-the-scenes look at the complicated installation process: