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.
We started the harvest on Aug 16th picking Pinot Grigio in the Oak Knoll appellation, and we just finished on Tuesday, Oct 11th with Cabernet Sauvignon from Oakville appellation – so just about a 2 month harvest.
All in all, it was a terrific harvest! We experienced a very light amount of rain that did not affect the grapes at all. We only had a few days with any unusual heat spikes. We are however, very glad to be finished, in that there is a significant amount of rain in the forecast from Friday through Monday. There are many wineries that are forced to leave their fruit out through the rains, and again, a relief to not be one of them.”
—Winemaker Paul Steinauer
“We started our first day of harvest on Aug 16, 2016 with our Pinot Grigio, then segued into our Sauvignon Blanc on Aug 19, and completed our last Sauvignon Blanc harvest on Aug 26. We will now have roughly a 2-week window between our next picks, particularly with the cooler weather we are experiencing.
We have a new planting of Chardonnay at our Lavender Hill vineyard that is about 2 weeks away. Also, we have Merlot at the Komes Ranch at the Flora Springs Estate that is approximately 2 weeks away as well.
The Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc are fermenting at the moment. In the first photo, you will see a Sauvignon Blanc fermentation taking place in a temperature controlled stainless steel tank – These grapes were picked at 23.4 brix, and is currently at 5 brix. As the yeast consumes the sugars, you get approximately .6% alc per brix, so the current alcohol is about 10.4%, and once the yeast has consumed all the sugars, the final alcohol will be roughly 13.9%. We ferment at 55 degrees F, and the process takes roughly 3 weeks or so. We raise the temperature towards the end of fermentation as to prevent yeast stress and ensure the fermentation will reach completion.
In the second photo you will see some 60 gallon oak barrels, as well as some 135 gallon oak puncheons that are being used to ferment Sauvignon Blanc as well. You will notice a series of stainless tubing connected by glycol hoses. We have this manifold system connected to a thermostat where we are able to control the temperature of the fermentation just like in the tank. The plastic bag you see on top, just seal the bung holes, will allow CO2 from the fermentation to escape.”
“We harvested our first grapes today – Pinot Grigio. Pinot Grigio from a distance looks more like a red grape than a white grape, but they actually have more of a brown skin color to them when harvested. The grapes were picked early morning to take advantage of the cool weather. They are all handpicked and gently poured into 1/2 ton bins.”
The creation of Trilogy goes back to 1984 when our family set out to make the best wine possible by selecting the highest quality lots from our estate vineyards. More than 30 years later, we are proud to present the 2012 Trilogy, a wine Robert Parker calls one of our “most iconic red wines.”
Here our winemaker, Paul Steinhauer, tells us what goes into blending our flagship wine.
Q: Do you know ahead of time which vineyard lots will make it into Trilogy?
Paul: Having worked with these vineyards for over three decades we definitely have a sense which lots will make the cut. Over time Trilogy has evolved into a true “winery estate” wine, and what’s interesting is that our estate actually spans two appellations, Rutherford and St. Helena. The majority of the Cabernet Sauvignon as well as the Malbec, Petite Verdot, Merlot and Cabernet Franc come from vineyards that surround the winery. We also use grapes from our Crossroads Vineyard in Oakville, as well as our Windfall Vineyard in the southern part of Rutherford.
Q: When do you compose the Trilogy blend?
Paul: We begin in the spring after the harvest year as we start to get a sense of how the wines are evolving. We make two blends of each variety: two Cabernet Sauvignons, two Merlots, two Malbecs, etc. These blends might be assembled from 30 or more wine lots. At this point, even though we’re creating individual varietal blends, we’re envisioning how each varietal will react with the other varietals down the road.
The next stage is approximately 16 months later when we determine the final varietal makeup. Not all of our original components will be used. For instance, in some vintages Cabernet Franc brings something to the table, in other vintages it doesn’t. We know the foundation of the blend is Cabernet Sauvignon, and we integrate the other varietals to create a wine that has great aromatics, is fruit forward and rich on the palate, and finishes with a soft silkiness. If the wine has these attributes, drinks well on its own and can accompany a variety of foods, then we’ve achieved our goal.
Q: Who is involved in the blending process?
Paul: In addition to the winemaking team the Komes and Garvey family is very much a part of the blending decision. We also often invite a wine industry person outside of Flora Springs to join for some of the tastings. It’s always nice to get another perspective from an industry professional, whether a winemaker or perhaps a sommelier. It makes for healthy discussions!
Q: How does the 2012 Trilogy compare to past vintages?
Paul: Over the past three decades, there have been some legendary vintages of Trilogy. However, the 2012 vintage may prove to be the best of all. The planets aligned at harvest to create the absolute ideal growing conditions. With these perfectly ripe grapes, we were able to craft a wine that possesses all the traits we strive for – inviting aromatics, silky, rich fruit across the palate, and a finish that begs for another sip.