“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said John Komes, speaking about the 2022 harvest.
He should know, he’s been through 44 of them! That’s right, this year marked John’s 44th harvest at Flora Springs.
Here’s how he described it: “It was a unique year to say the least. In May a freak hailstorm passed through Napa Valley, part of a system that also brought lightning and even snow to regions to the north of us. A relatively cool summer was followed by an extended heat wave starting Labor Day weekend that dashed any hopes of a leisurely harvest. We brought in our white grapes as fast as we could. And then, following all that heat we had a day of rain, heavy at times but really just enough to knock the dust off the vines. By mid-September, thankfully, the weather was absolutely beautiful…foggy mornings, sunny days and cool nights. We were able to bring in our Cabernet at a nice even pace and the fruit looked fantastic. Good color, great flavors, and even with higher sugar levels, the natural acidity held the grapes’ structure intact. Mother Nature sure had a mixed bag of tricks for us this year, but I’m optimistic about the quality of our 2022 vintage.”
As our vineyard holdings grew, we hired a full-time vineyard crew to help with harvest, though we still reserved a few rows for our family. In the early 1980s, everyone in Napa Valley picked during daylight, starting after sunrise and finishing up in the afternoon.
But our family came up with a better idea: why not pick the grapes at night when it’s nice and cool, and deliver them to the winery first thing in the morning for processing? It would be more comfortable for the harvest crew, and the fruit would better retain its acid and structure.
We jerry-rigged some lighting on a tractor and gave it a try, and quickly concluded it was a better way to go. Today, of course, nearly every winery in Napa Valley harvests at night; it results in superior fruit and happier vineyard crews.
This year we’re celebrating the fact that Flora Springs was among the first to implement night picking with a one-of-a-kind label created for our 2020 All Hallows’ Eve Cabernet Franc label. I worked with comic book illustrator, graphic novelist and digital comics pioneer, Steve Ellis, who developed one of my favorite labels to date. Against the backdrop of a full harvest moon, a menacing bat hovers above the Flora Springs vineyard where the crew brings in the Cabernet Franc for this wine. As I mentioned, harvesting at night keeps the grapes and pickers cool, but it may also attract the attention of these fierce creatures of the night!
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!
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…”
“Well, Mother Nature once again threw us a bit of a curve ball – We experienced 3 days around 100F, then it cooled off and actually had some showers on Sunday & Monday this week. The good news is that none of that has effected the grapes to any degree at all. We have harvested approximately 80% of our fruit thus far and the remaining grapes will be brought in by the end of next week. We have a handful of blocks on the Komes Ranch in the Rutherford Appellation – Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Verdot and Cabernet Franc. We also have a few blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon at our Crossroads Ranch in the Oakville Appellation as well. We are just waiting for these blocks to garner a more complex flavor profile before we pick them.”
—Winemaker Paul Steinauer