In Napa Valley this time of year, you’re likely to see vineyard crews scattered amongst the vines. “What are they doing,” you ask? They are Shoot Thinning and Leaf Pulling.
Shoot thinning and leaf pulling are part of overall vineyard canopy management, as seen here in Sauvignon Blanc vines at our Soliloquy Vineyard. Learn how our Soliloquy Vineyard is entirely unique to Flora Springs and distinct from more common Sauvignon Blanc vineyards in Napa Valley.
Shoot thinning is a process in which any unnecessary shoots are removed—typically those in the lower regions of the vine. Removing select shoots allows the vines’ energy to be directed towards the primary shoots, which will ultimately bear fruit.
Leaf thinning is conducted for a variety of reasons, particularly in wet years like this one when the canopy tends to be vigorous. Too much vigor can lead to vegetative characteristics—which we don’t want! Removing the leaves curtails this issue. Leaf thinning also opens up the canopy, allowing increased air flow and quicker drying in the event of morning dew or rain, and to prevent mildew in humid conditions. This opening of the canopy also increases light penetration—which is needed for photosynthesis. Sunlight exposure improves grape quality, protects the berry, and also elevates the phenols and polyphenols that are responsible for the color, taste, and flavor of the wine.
While this work is being done, the crews are also positioning the shoots. The shoots may be 24”–36” at this point. If we are working in a vineyard that has a vertical trellis system, there will be a series of horizontal wires running from one end of the row to the other. As the vine grows, the shoots will be tucked into the wire trellis to allow for what is commonly referred to as VSP, or vertical shoot positioning. This allows further opening of the canopy. There are other types of trellises, but VSP is the primary system implemented in most Flora Springs vineyard blocks.
After the initial thinning pass, each block will be monitored in the weeks to come to determine when/if additional passes are to be made.
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!
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 Komes-Garvey family has spent thirty years nurturing our Crossroads Vineyard in Oakville where our proprietary Soliloquy clone of Sauvignon Blanc is planted.
The Soliloquy clone is unique to Flora Springs, certified by UC Davis as distinctive and unlike more common Sauvignon Blanc clones in Napa Valley.
Flora Springs admires the clone for its purity of flavor, and has preserved it in a block that is easily the finest in the Crossroads Vineyard.
Our 2017 Soliloquy is an evolution of this wine, the upshot of vineyard experience and winemaking innovation.
The wine is the result of five years of winemaking trials as we experimented with a variety of blending, fermentation and aging techniques to create the best possible Soliloquy.
The 2017 is unlike anything we have made before: a wine with our Soliloquy Sauvignon Blanc at its core, blended with portions of Chardonnay and Malvasia for an intriguing and thoroughly modern white wine.
With a nod to our history of innovation, Soliloquy is a wine worthy of its portfolio companion, our flagship red wine blend, Trilogy.
In 2017, we used two kinds of yeast, fermenting and aging the Soliloquy Sauvignon Blanc in large wood oval casks to minimize exposure to oak and preserve the wine’s fresh fruit flavors and bright acidity.
The Chardonnay comes to us from a new vineyard in the south Napa Oak Knoll district. We fermented these small lots in French oak barrels, stirring the lees every two weeks to lend a creamy texture to the wine.
We sourced Malvasia – an aromatic varietal rarely grown in California – from a small vineyard in Russian River Valley. We fermented this lot in stainless steel and aged it in seasoned French oak.
Only 300 cases were made
Our 2017 Soliloquy is a complex, multi-layered white wine blend offering bright flavors of grapefruit, lime, fresh apricot, and yellow peach along with distinctive floral notes of jasmine, honeysuckle and white gardenia. The Chardonnay anchors the wine with a soft, round mouthfeel, but this richness is balanced with the crisp acidity, bright flavors and minerality of the Sauvignon Blanc and the uplifting, aromatic tones of the Malvasia. A worthy companion to Trilogy, this is a mouthfilling, rich and layered wine with vivid, forward fruit, a pleasant creamy mid-palate and a long, smooth floral/spicy finish. Learn more about this unique wine.
Note: The infamous wildfires that swept through Napa Valley started on October 8, 2017, just one day after Flora Springs had completed its harvest. Grapes for our 2017 Soliloquy had already been picked and fermented by this date. Read more about the 2017 harvest and fires.
Well it’s that time of year again when we start thinking about the upcoming harvest. In the winery we are just finishing up the last of the bottling season. We have a couple more Single Vineyards to go, and Trilogy, and that’s about it.
Preparations are being made in the cellar for the upcoming harvest – equipment maintenance, bin cleaning, sorting table set-up, etc. We’re starting to feel the buzz!
In the vineyard, as you will see from the photos, we are fully underway with veraison. About 80-90% of the grapes at the Komes Ranch (our Estate Vineyard) are through, except for the Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, which are only at about 10%. Most of the Cabernet blocks started veraison around July 24th. They progressed slowly during the last week of July, but colored quickly the first week of August. Our Crossroads Ranch is similar in veraison percentage, although our Sauvignon Blanc is through 100%.
While we have had high afternoon temperatures, most mornings have been relatively cool and/or foggy, and we haven’t experienced the intense heat we had at this time last year. Current vineyard activities include cluster counting (to get accurate crop estimates), fruit thinning (for a more balanced vine that leads to greater fruit quality), leaf thinning (to open up the canopy to allow more exposure and better air flow), measuring vine water status, and scouting for canopy or fruit problems. We also do leaf blade sampling – taking samples of the leaf tissue to determine if there are any nutrient deficiencies. Finally, we’re putting up shade cloths on specific vineyard blocks that are more vulnerable to direct sunlight to protect clusters from sunburn.
We’re seeing a somewhat heavier than normal crop load this year, which is probably more like an average crop load in that we’ve had many years of below average yields due to the drought. So far everything is looking terrific, and we look forward to another great harvest!
Note: The following article about John Komes 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.
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.
Bud swell began in the vineyards on March 12th, and by the time you read this we should be well into bud break in many our blocks, which means the growing season has begun! It also means we’re in full frost protection mode. Even a short period of below-freezing temperatures can damage young buds, shoots, leaves and clusters, so it’s our priority to protect them. We have weather stations in each vineyard that alert us when temperatures start to dip down to 32° F or lower. When that happens, our crew heads out to turn on the wind machines or sprinkler systems we have in place; even warming the air around the vines a degree or two can make a difference. Besides frost protection, we’re really hoping for more rain. The best way to start the growing season is with a full soil profile. It helps the vines push those new shoots and build up a healthy canopy.
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 Vintage Report
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.
“Everyone who knows me knows I have an affinity for wild boars. That’s why we named one of our Single Vineyard Cabernets Wild Boar. My first encounter with this animal happened back in the mid-1970s, when my dad retired from Bechtel. He was looking for land to invest his money in. At the time, land in Napa Valley cost $25,000 an acre, and Dad wasn’t ready to pay that much. But in Pope Valley land was ‘cheap’ – only $1,000 an acre. He found 100 acres that had a lake, walnut trees, etc. The owner said he’d sell it, and my Dad thought he had a deal. Then he read somewhere that Louis Martini had bought it. Apparently the owner wanted to sell to a ‘local.’
So, my dad bought a place next door, 500 acres, 60 of them planted. There was an old house on the property with nine bedrooms and eight bathrooms but no living room. (One can only surmise what that house was used for!) My dad asked me if I could build him a living room – I was still a contractor at the time.
So I hired some guys, and one of them was up on a scaffold doing some plastering and he saw a wild boar grazing nearby. He called me and said ‘John, there’s a wild boar on your property. Can I shoot him?’ I said ‘Why don’t you call the game warden?’ He said ‘John, a wild boar is a varmint; all I need is your permission.’ I said ‘Ok, as long as you give me the hind quarter.’ So he got his gun, and he shot it. A few minutes later I get a call from my dad: ‘John, John! One of your guys just shot the neighbor’s pig!’”
Addendum: “I did finish that house, and we put it up for sale, along with 20 acres. A woman who was the ex-mayor of Coronado wanted to buy it, said she wanted to live in the country. But she didn’t know if she could manage 20 acres…could we make it 10 for the same price? Done!”