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!
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…”
It’s that time of year when the bottling season is upon us.
We have completed bottling all of our 2016 white wines, and are now bottling the 2015 red wines. Seen here, we are currently bottling our 2015 Petit Verdot.
The bottles are first sparged with nitrogen on a sparging wheel. This serves two purposes – to displace any packaging cardboard dust, as well as to remove oxygen from the bottle.
Then the wine flows into the bottle from the upstairs tank via the 16-spout filler seen here.
The bottle then continues on the conveyor belt to the corker. The corker pulls a vacuum in the headspace of the bottle to displace the air, allowing the cork to enter the neck of the bottle without pressure.
As it enters the foiler, a foil is placed on the bottle and crimped tightly to the neck of the bottle.
The bottle then continues on to the labeler, where both a front and back pressure-sensitive label is applied.
Finally, each bottle will be checked for fill level height, any glass, label or foil imperfections, and then placed in a 12-bottle case box.
We bottle approximately 1,000 – 1,200 cases per day, or 12,000 – 14,400 bottles depending on the bottle shape, and stack the cases on a pallet of 56 cases per pallet. The wine then gets delivered to our cellar where it will age until the release date. At which point, it may find its way to your very own glass…
As a vintner, one of the questions I’m asked most often is: “Is this going to be a good year?” The reviewer, of course, is referring to the condition of the grapes. My response is that growing grapes is kind of like a football game. They both have four quarters.
The first quarter – or season – is winter. In football, the first quarter involves deciding what game plan to use after seeing your opponent on the field. Winter for the grape farmer is much the same, analyzing the rainfall and pruning the vines to get the desired outcome. The way you prune – and the number of spurs you leave on the vine – determines the amount and quality of the fruit you’ll get. In football, similarly, the first quarter determines what formation best suits the situation.
The second quarter is spring. Now the game gets interesting. The farmer must play defense, protecting the vines from frost and wind. Either condition can change the whole offensive game plan, causing damage or loss of the tender young buds and flowers that eventually turn into fruit. Either of these would be akin to losing your star running back, something to avoid as much as humanly possible.
At half time the farmer pauses to consider the crop load and canopy management techniques. At this point, with the end game in site, efforts should be directed at the highest possible quality of fruit, not necessarily the greatest quantity.
The third quarter is summer. Things happen quickly during this phase. The clusters take shape and the grapes go through verasion (when they soften and, with red grapes, change color). The farmer prays for warm days, cool nights and low humidity. He or she must determine when to water and how best to prune the vine canopies so that the grapes get enough sunlight to ripen but not burn. The third quarter of the football game is also a show of force, a time to determine the strength of your team and the weakness of your opponent and let them play to their capabilities.
Then there’s the fourth quarter. At the end of the third quarter of Super Bowl 2017, if you were to ask the Atlanta Falcons coach if this was going to be “a good year,” he would have had a positive reply. The fourth quarter is crucial. You either have a maintenance strategy or a go-for-broke strategy. In grape farming, if the weather is favorable and the fruit looks good, it’s a matter of maintaining your position with a little crop management, dropping a little under-ripe fruit to encourage uniform ripening. But if the weather changes and rains are on the horizon, you might try to hasten ripening by dropping lots of fruit, hoping that a smaller crop will ripen more quickly. If it does rain, you can try to keep the berries dry, but if the berries break down before picking, you know how the Atlanta Falcons felt after Super Bowl 2017.
So you see, farmers never know how a vintage will turn out until the fruit is picked and the game is over. I hope you enjoy your next bottle of wine, and next year’s Super Bowl!
“To ensure we are obtaining only the most premium fruit, we have had to make the difficult decision to replant vineyards when the quality starts to deteriorate due to various forms of vine disease. Two of our Cabernet blocks in our Oakville Crossroads vineyards have recently been pulled out. This vineyard site in Oakville at our Crossroads vineyard had previously been planted to Chardonnay, and has now been re-developed and will be planted to Cabernet very soon.
This is a newly-planted vineyard, also at our Oakville Crossroads vineyards. This was formerly Pinot Grigio, and has also now been planted to Cabernet.
Crews are currently going through all of our vineyard blocks and suckering. Buds, or nodes at the base of the leaves, produce shoots called laterals or suckers. By doing this, more energy is focused on the vine – which increases grape quality. It also keeps the vine off the ground, and helps prevent unwanted molds and various insects.
The area between the nodes, the internodes, are supported with adjustable ties which are attached to guide wires. As the vines mature during the growing season, the guide wires – and thereby the vines – will be raised on the trellis system. The vines will be trained in such a way as to evenly distribute the clusters of fruit, and the canopy of leaves will protect the fruit from direct sunlight in order to prevent burn. The canopy will be open just enough to allow filtered light, as well as sufficient airflow throughout the vineyard.
Finally, we have the start of bloom in our Hillside Reserve Cabernet Vineyard.”
KG3 is the brainchild of Nat Komes and Sean Garvey, cousins and third-generation vintners who’ve spent their lives in the wine environs of Napa Valley. Their parents and grandparents founded Flora Springs Winery in 1978; at the time, it was one of the few bonded wineries in Napa Valley.
The 2016 KG3 Rosé is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Syrah sourced from several Napa Valley vineyards. We made the wine using a classic technique known as Saignée – or Bleeding – in which the grape skins remain in contact with the juice for a very short period of time so as not to impart too much color. After hand picking, the red grapes are crushed and separated from the stems and placed in a stainless steel tank. As the skins separate from the juice they rise to the top, forming a cap. Shortly thereafter, we open a valve at the bottom of the tank and a portion of the pink juice is pumped into another tank for fermentation and aging.
This youthful and beautifully-hued wine shows a penetrating nose of raspberry and dried cranberry with fragrant nuances of orange blossom and rosé petal. In the mouth the wine is fresh, bright and juicy, with a dense core of red cherry and tinges of minerality.