“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!
When you live in California, you understand deep down that water is a precious resource. Periodic droughts have been a fact of life here for decades if not centuries, and even in years when winter storms are plentiful, our Mediterranean climate means we get very little – if any – rain from May through September.
That’s actually good for grape growing, since wine grapes don’t require as much water as many other crops. But grapevines do need some water, and as farmers we’re always looking for ways to irrigate as judiciously as possible. It begins by studying our soils.
One vineyard or even one block can have several types of soils; Napa Valley has more than 100 soil variations. We know that soils heavy in clay need less water than sandy soils, which drain more easily. So we adjust our irrigation regimes to match these different soil types.
For example, at the Komes Ranch, we have six irrigation zones within one 15-acre block. Once we’ve “mapped” the soils, we use several different technologies to measure vine stress during the growing season. These include aerial images (known as Normalized Dierence Vegetation Index or NDVI) that help us understand which sections of our vineyards are undergoing heat stress. We also use fancy sounding evapotranspiration sensors, sap flow meters and soil sensors that measure the water content of our soils and stress of the vines.
By using these measurements, we are able to precisely target the areas of our vineyards that need irrigation. Over the last few years these technologies have resulted in water savings of approximately 50%. What’s more, we’ve found that being more precise in our irrigation practices results in higher quality grapes, a win/win for us and the planet!
With estate properties stretching from the cool, rolling hills of Carneros to the famed sub-appellations of Oakville, Rutherford and St. Helena, Flora Springs produces varietal wines ranging from Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay to Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and other red Bordeaux varietals. Each year the family selects a small percentage of the yield for their own wines, selling the remaining fruit to neighboring Napa Valley wineries. This selection puts the focus on quality, not quantity, resulting in hand-crafted wines that meet the family’s exacting standards. Learn more about our Napa Valley vineyards.
As a family that came to the wine business as farmers first, our love of the land influences everything we do. Our environmental stewardship led us to embrace sustainable and organic farming early on. Our search for superior vineyards sites led us to acquire land in some of Napa Valley’s finest appellations, including Rutherford, Oakville, St. Helena and Carneros. Over the years, as we’ve planted and replanted this land to vines, we’ve experimented with rootstocks, clones, trellising systems and a variety of viticultural techniques, always striving to produce the best possible quality.
Looking out across the Flora Springs Estate on this warm and sunny day, one would never know that fires were ravaging through parts of the Napa Valley just a year ago. From our vantage point, all appears to be as it always has been – green, lush and beautiful as always…something we often take for granted, but something we were reminded last year, that we shouldn’t.
As noted in previous updates, we didn’t have a crystal ball but we completed harvest on October 7th last year – the day before the fires began. This year, we are currently about one-third of the way through harvest. Last year we experienced several heat waves that sped things up a bit, while this year we have experienced a nice, consistent temperature range. We did see a small amount of rain last week, but fortunately it came and went without any effect on the vineyards.
In regards to harvest dates, people often ask, “Is this an average harvest?” or “Is this a “normal harvest?” However, “average” and “normal” are not necessarily synonymous. Average is a term that can be quantified. That is, if you have four decades of harvest dates, you can simply divide by 40 and find your average harvest date. But, normal depends on who you ask – and how long they have been farming grapes, and the conditions in which they have been doing it.
As you know may know, we sell a lot of our fruit to other wineries. Some of the newer wineries have only experienced harvests during the drought years, so their version of normal has been marked with early harvest dates and early completion dates. But if you ask someone who has been around for a while, you’ll hear a different definition of normal. Prior to 2008 for instance, very seldom – if ever, were grapes harvested before Labor Day, and seldom – if ever – was harvest completed before Halloween. So while we are only one-third of the way through harvest, it’s really more of the “normal” for us, if you don’t take into account the recent years of drought.
We have completed harvesting most all of our whites at this point: 100% of Pinot Grigio, 100% of Chardonnay and 96% of Sauvignon Blanc. We left a small amount of our Sauvignon Blanc on the vine to make a late harvest wine.
We will have pressed off all of the reds we have received thus far – Merlot and Sangiovese – prior to harvesting our next grapes on Monday. We will be receiving the first of our Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon starting next week.
Flavors are really starting to develop in the vineyard, and we’re looking forward to making some outstanding wines with what Mother Nature delivers!
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!