A ‘Ghost Winery’ is a term used to describe those that were built between 1860 and 1900, that fell into disrepair in the early 20th century due to the triple threat of the vine disease phylloxera, the Great Depression, and of course Prohibition. Before 1919 when Prohibition began, there was an estimated 713 winery business in California, however following the repeal of Prohibition 14 years later, there were only 40 wineries left! This created a wave of abandoned wineries throughout the time of the Great Depression with some that disappeared forever.
The legacy of the Flora Springs estate began when brothers James and William Rennie immigrated to California from Scotland, settling in Napa Valley to establish a winery. The brothers planted 60 acres of grapes, and in 1885 began construction on a stone wine cellar at the end of West Zinfandel Lane in St. Helena. The Rennie Brothers Winery was completed in 1900 and was notable as the first California winery to use a gasoline-powered engine to hydraulically crush the grapes. Soon the brothers had a reputation for yielding the largest amount of juice per ton of grapes, but their success was short-lived when a fire broke out in the wine cellar in November 1900. Thought to be started by a candle, the fire destroyed the wine press and all the cooperage. At the same time, the deadly vine pest phylloxera was taking its toll on Napa Valley vineyards, and the brothers soon found themselves out of business.
The property changed hands three times following the Rennie Brothers, but when Prohibition became the law of the land in 1920, no wine was made. The old stone winery fell into disrepair during this period, its fate sealed as one of Napa Valley’s famed ‘Ghost’ wineries.
In 1977 a new era begins when Jerry and Flora Komes purchase the old Rennie property including 325 acres of land, 60 of which are planted to vineyard. The couple, particularly Flora, was drawn to the abandoned property despite the dilapidated state of the buildings and winery, which had a dirt floor and visible char marks from the 1900 fire.