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 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.
One of the interesting facets of Trilogy is that at any one time we are working with two to three vintages…sometimes more. For instance, our 2015 Trilogy is the current release. While the winemaking for that vintage is complete, we are still shipping that wine out to customers on a daily basis.
Meanwhile the 2016 Trilogy is just about to be bottled. We’ve moved it out of our caves where it’s been resting for the past 12 months, and while our winemaking team puts the final tweaks on the blend, our cellar crew is moving the wine from barrel to tank to ready it for bottling. After that the cases will move to our warehouse where they’ll wait for the February 2019 release.
That leaves our 2017, the Trilogy that is still making its way through the winemaking process. It’s had a busy few months! We picked the grapes for that wine in late September and early October. After primary fermentation in our tank room, the wine was moved to another building where it underwent malolactic fermentation, a process that every red wine (and some white wines) undergo. From there, the 2017 wines were racked (moved) into barrels and placed in our barrel warehouse. Most recently, now that the 2016 vintage has been moved from the caves, the 2017 was given one more racking and then took its place as the current Trilogy in our aging caves. It will rest there until we blend and bottle it next summer.
One thing to note is that during all this time all the varietals and vineyard lots for Trilogy are kept separate, so the 2017 “Trilogy” is now simply a series of components in barrel: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot. We still don’t know which varietals or vineyard components will make it into the final blend, although our winemaking team is starting to form some ideas. One thing we do know is that Winemaker Paul Steinauer is really excited about the 2017 vintage. “All of the red components are showing beautifully right now, with deep color, great aroma and rich, concentrated flavour. We have a lot to work with here.” The team will get serious about blending decisions for the 2017 vintage later this year, after they’ve finished the 2018 harvest and brought in the grapes for our 2018 Trilogy!
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.
Trick or Treat with a ghostly blend of wine with Flora Springs All Hallows’ Eve Cabernet Franc, 2015 Ghost Winery Malbec, 2013 Harvest Witch Cabernet Sauvignon, and more.
These devilishly delicious wine picks will satisfy the most bloodthirsty vampire in your group, as well as the white wine-loving witch. Watch out for wicked cool labels created by Jeremy Fish of San Francisco and official Artist in Residence at Coit Tower. 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.
These spooky labels complement the fact that Flora Spring’s has been designated as one of the original “ghost wineries” in Napa Valley. All the wineries built between 1860 and 1900 were abandoned in the early 20th century due to vine disease, the Great Depression, and Prohibition.
These limited production wines sell out fast, but you can keep them in mind for the next dark, dark night, I highly recommend the following Spooky AND delicious selection.
2015 Flora Springs “Ghost Winery” Malbec $55
“Ghost Winery” is the third in the Flora Springs Halloween Trilogy wine and can be purchased as a 6 pack for your spooky celebration.
2013 Harvest Witch Cabernet Sauvignon $50
For the 2013 Harvest Witch, Flora Springs winemaker conjured up a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon from two distinct Napa Valley regions: Rutherford and Pope Valley. The Rutherford component, from the Komes Ranch, brings rich, juicy black and blue fruit and smooth tannins to the blend, while the Pope Valley element features bolder tannins and wild blackberry and spice notes. The wine was aged in a combination of new and seasoned barrels, adding notes of both vanilla and mocha along with subtle hints of fresh-baked bread. With bold fruit, excellent structure and seductive tannins, this is a wicked good wine that will make you cackle like a witch and howl at the moon.
2014 Drink in Peace Merlot Box Set $115
New this year, Flora Springs pays tribute to traditional Day of the Dead artwork with Drink in Peace Merlot – packaged with the wineries infamous Coffin Box. This darkly saturated plum-colored Merlot from Rutherford offers a blackcurrant and raspberry-scented nose and a palate dominated by rich black cherry fruit, spicy oak, toasty vanilla and cedary smoke.
There’s nothing to fear for this year’s Halloween party, because at least if the ghouls, goblins, zombies, and witches are afoot, you can offer them some scary-good wine from Flora Springs.
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!