Note: The following article was originally written by Chris Macias and published in the San Francisco Chronicle on October 30, 2018 and can be found here.
The Napa Ghost Wineries You Can Visit
Trek around Wine Country, near its luxury hotels and fine-dining destinations, and you’ll find the remnants of wineries that date back to a time when Napa wasn’t so flush. These are vestiges of the Dark Ages for California wine. They’re known as ghost wineries, not because they’re haunted (though that’s up for debate in some cases), but because they serve as an important link between Napa’s early years as a wine region and the bustling destination it is now.
Napa Valley had a thriving wine industry in the 19th century, with more than 140 operating wineries opened by the final decade. But starting in the late 1880s, the region was hit with a triple blow that left the local wine industry reeling for decades. First, an outbreak of the lethal grapevine virus phylloxera crippled wine production for 20 years. Then the Great Depression arrived, which dovetailed with Prohibition from 1920 to 1933.
This half-century of setbacks left many California wineries in ruins. Although a few were able to stay in business by selling sacramental wine or grapes for home winemaking, the industry had withered to about three dozen by the time Prohibition was repealed. Many of the buildings remained vacant for decades, falling into ruin. Halloween notwithstanding, Napa’s ghost wineries are worth visiting any time of year. They’re scattered throughout the valley, offering a peek into a storied history and a spirit of perseverance that defines the area.
Here are a handful of the ghosts you can visit:
Flora Springs: This former home of the 1900 Rennie Brothers Winery in St. Helena, suffered a one-two punch at the turn of the 20th century. Not only were its vineyards hit by phylloxera, but a fire in its wine cellar decimated its production capabilities. After decades of inactivity, the property was purchased in the mid 1970s and renamed Flora Springs. The ghost winery has since been renovated and serves as a production facility, which visitors can see during tours of the Flora Springs estate. Flora Springs plays up its ghost winery heritage with Halloween releases including All Hallows’ Eve Cabernet Franc and Ghost Winery Malbec…
Note: The following article was originally written by Jess Lander and published in the Napa Valley Register on October 11, 2018 and can be found here.
Creepy visitors, ghostly wines: Flora Springs gets into the spirit of Halloween
As a tribute to their 1885 ghost winery, one of the few remaining in the area, Flora Springs Winery goes all out for Halloween.
You can’t miss the trio of enormous skeletons that dance outside their Highway 29 tasting room in St. Helena. Inside, the walls are covered in cobwebs, rooms are transformed into a crematorium and morgue, and you might just find a headless horseman sitting at your table and struggling to sip his wine (for a lack of mouth). But the decorations, done by local design team, The Baker Sisters, are just the beginning. The winery’s Halloween preparation starts months in advance.
For eight years running, Flora Springs has released a collection of limited release, Halloween wines. Featuring custom labels and usually 100 percent bottlings of varieties that are traditionally used for blending, the initiative was started by Nat Komes, general manager and son of proprietors John and Carrie Komes. He has a personal fondness for the holiday and even tied the knot on Oct. 31.
Komes’ inspiration for the Halloween collection came from an unlikely place: beer. Once a year, hundreds of thirsty fans spend hours lined up outside Santa Rosa’s Russian River Brewing Company, all for a taste of their cult release, Pliny the Younger.
He wanted his own version of that, saying, “I was trying to generate some of that excitement in the wine business.”
There might not be a line outside of Flora Springs, but there’s certainly a high demand among the winery’s followers. The Halloween wines often sell out well before Halloween each year and have become collectors items in the cellars of many wine club members.
It all started with the Ghost Winery series in 2010. For the labels, Komes partnered with artist Wes Freed, best known for his eerie illustrations on Drive-By Truckers album covers. One of those albums was a favorite of Komes’ brother.
“My brother passed away from cancer right when I was starting the Ghost Winery project,” said Komes. “That’s how I got a hold of Wes Freed, because that was his favorite record at the time. I reached out to him, started telling him about my brother, how he loved the art, and he came right back to me and said, ‘Let’s get going on this.’”
Over the years, the Ghost Winery series evolved into the Halloween collection with a Ghost Winery label at its centerpiece. Always a bottling of malbec —fittingly sourced right in front of Flora Springs’ ghost winery — the label is a modern interpretation of the 1978 label. It features a sketch of the stone ghost winery building, which was severely damaged in a fire in 1900, but has since been restored.
While the Ghost Winery Malbec stays the same every year, the labels of the others change. Komes develops his vision by scouring through children’s books, album covers, comic books and even skateboards, then contacts the respective artist and commissions them to create a one-of-a-kind wine label for that year’s release.
His favorite label of 2018 is the 2016 All Hallows’ Eve Cabernet Franc, a throwback to old school Halloween imagery of a black cat and jack-o-lantern. The art was done by artist Emmenline Forrestal, a former wig maker who illustrated the children’s book “Gloppy,” a favorite of Komes’ daughter’s.
The true collectors item this year is the 2014 Drink In Peace Merlot. On it, a hand-etched, glow-in-the-dark skeleton holds a wine bottle across its chest. It even comes packaged in a coffin box.
And then there’s the 2013 Black Moon Cabernet Sauvignon. Available only in magnums, it’s already sold out and therefore as rare as an actual black moon (defined as an additional new moon that appears in a month or in a season, or the absence of a full moon or of a new moon in a month).
Skateboard artist Dennis McNett’s illustration depicts the phases of the moon surrounded by bats, which Komes said are regulars in the steeple of the ghost winery. The art is etched and hand painted on the bottle.
The new ghost tour
Those who want to taste the Halloween wines can reserve a tasting at The Room, Flora Springs’ St. Helena tasting room, but this year, the winery is taking their celebrations to a new level of creep with a ghost tour. Flora Springs has teamed up with Napa City Ghosts & Legends to lead a paranormal tour of the ghost winery and estate on Sunday, Oct. 28 at 10:30 a.m.
Komes said he was always curious if the ghost winery was haunted and that Napa City Ghosts have since identified three spirits during their recent visits. There’s Matthew, who supposedly died in a horse-related accident, a flapper who loves to party, and another man who gave off a particularly unsettling vibe.
Let’s hope he’s not in the mood for socializing that day.
For more information on Flora Springs’ Halloween tastings and ghost tour, visit www.florasprings.com/events.
It’s no secret that Halloween is one of our favorite holidays, and it’s that time of year again when we conjure up the ghosts of spirits past. October 1 – October 31, join us at The Room for a frightful good time.
Enjoy an exclusive tasting of our seasonal, winery-only Halloween wines that will send shivers down your spine, including our limited-production 2016 Ghost Winery Malbec.
Note: The following article was originally published in the Wine Spectator on September 27, 2018 and can be found here.
Paranormal Activity at ‘Ghost Winery’
“…But if you missed the chance to commune with Napa’s dead last weekend at the St. Helena Cemetery, fear not: There are plenty more spectral vintners doomed to roam the terroir for all time (it’s been said some Napa winemakers even sold their souls), and not a few so-called “ghost wineries” they’re thought to haunt. The old Rennie Brothers Winery, completed in 1900, is one—the once-thriving wine factory sat derelict through Prohibition before its rebirth as Flora Spring Estate. On Oct. 28, the winery is bringing in local paranormal investigators/Napa history fiends Ellen MacFarlane and Devin Sisk, who most recently appeared together on the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures, to lead a haunted tour and wine lunch in the old stone cellars and caves. “As one of the few remaining Napa Valley ‘ghost wineries,’ we are constantly reminded that there are phantoms and spirits who walked here before us,” noted general manager Nat Komes to Unfiltered.
As in past years, Flora Springs is also releasing a set of Halloween-themed wines…with limited-edition label art from painters and illustrators: All Hallow’s Eve Cabernet Franc, Ghost Winery Malbec, Black Moon Cabernet Sauvignon and Drink in Peace Merlot (glow-in-the-dark label; comes in coffin-shaped gift box) are a few representative treats.”
About the Artist
Currently the official Artist in Residence at Coit Tower in San Francisco, Jeremy Fish has a degree in painting and a focus in screenprinting. His education and work experience has lead to a career as a fine artist and commercial illustrator. Finding a balance between exhibiting his work both across the US, and internationally in galleries and museums, he also maintains a presence designing skateboards, t-shirts, vinyl toys, album covers, periodical illustrations, murals, sneakers – and now, wine labels. 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. Jeremy has been based in San Francisco for the last 20 years. Learn more.
It’s no secret that Halloween is one of our favorite holidays, and it’s that time of year again when we conjure up the ghosts of spirits past. September 1 – October 31, join us at The Room for a frightful good time.
Enjoy an exclusive tasting of our seasonal, winery-only Halloween wines that will send shivers down your spine, including our limited-production 2015 Ghost Winery Malbec.
Note: The following article written by Stephen Fay and published in The Ellsworth American can also be found here.
If you thought Prohibition was tough on wine drinkers, imagine what it did to wine makers.
The 13-year stretch from 1920 to 1933 just about killed the California wine industry. The Volstead Act’s ruinous disregard for a good time was especially disastrous for the Napa Valley, which had weathered the phylloxera blight of the late 19th century and the great earthquake of 1906 that flattened its warehouses only to be crushed like one of its own grapes when the “drys” prevailed.
As with any prohibition, the initial reaction was to cheat. Medicinal wines that could cure only sobriety became a hot item. But so many permits were sought for the manufacture of patent medicines that the federal authorities cracked down.
Some found religion in the Volstead Act, noting that it allowed an exclusion for sacramental wine. Religious leaders, in particular, managed to secure a steady supply with the result that attendance at Mass and temple took off. Suddenly, sacramental champagne, crème de menthe and brandy became instrumental in communing with God.
A federal judge was asked to rule on whether these alcoholic offshoots qualified for the sacramental wine exception. He ruled it was OK, saying “it is not the content of the beverage, but the purpose for which it will be used that determines whether or not it is sacramental wine.”
The Beaulieu Vineyards of Northern California sent sacramental wine to churches across the country. Wente Vineyards, Beringer and Martini also remained afloat by selling to the church. But only barely.
Because it wasn’t the same. The Napa Valley wine industry had been the finest in the nation, supplementing perfect terroir and weather with technical advice and advances from the oenological studies department at the University of California at Davis. But enforcement ramped up and production ramped down. According to an Aug. 16, 1923, story in the Napa Valley Register, the county treasury had been “enriched by $7,100 in bootleg fines from raids conducted in one day in St. Helena, Calistoga and other points in the valley.”
The result? Napa Valley wineries built between 1860 and 1900 were abandoned. Sitting empty, they were known in the valley as “ghost wineries.”
And there the story might have ended, might never have been known, were it not for the efforts of Flora Springs, arguably the source of the best reds in Northern California. A limited label — Flora Springs Ghost Winery — honors the history with an estate-grown malbec for which the adjective has not yet been invented.
It’s bull’s blood black with deep, dark fruit. The flavors of black cherry and plums join to create a single, joyous note from first sip to final swallow. This is but one of the products Prohibition sought to eradicate. And it took years before the Napa Valley recovered and restored itself to the pantheon of best wineries.
The vineyards have survived blight, earthquake, the Volstead Act and the Depression, overcoming adversity and offering a fresh take on Hemingway’s observation that “the world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong in the broken places.”