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.
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.”
Note: The following article on this year’s Halloween Wines, written by St. Helena Star tasting panel writer Catherine Bugue, can also be found here.
It’s almost Halloween and you know what that means. Nancy should definitely run in the halls; it may not be such an excellent day for an exorcism, and perhaps a boy’s best friends should not be his mother (or his dead mother anyway). But Halloween also means…they’re heeere. Flora Springs’ spook-inspired wines are ready for our Halloween parties and dinners.
Square Jack, the wineries’ affectionate name for the ghoulish, teeth-baring pumpkin which greets all tasters to this 2014 Cabernet Franc, is just one of three special bottlings. General Manager Nat Komes discovered Square Jack’s illustrator, John Manders, while reading his children stories at the St. Helena Library.
These Halloween wines always spice up the wine glass with big flavors of concentrated fruit and toasty oak. Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep…at least not until the bottle is finished.
Flora Springs has the distinction of being home to one of Napa Valley’s original “ghost wineries” – wineries built between 1860 and 1900 but abandoned in the early 20th century due to vine disease, the Great Depression, and Prohibition. Today, some ghost wineries still exist as ruins, but others, such as Flora Springs, have been renovated and restored to their former glory. Each year we bottle small amounts of estate-grown wines in honor of this illustrious history.
It’s that time of year again when we conjure up the ghost of spirits past with three new limited-production Halloween wines.
2014 Ghost Winery Malbec
A tribute to the winery’s illustrious history, this 100% Rutherford Malbec offers spine-tingling flavors of black cherry, currant and ripe plum and hints of mocha, tobacco and vanilla. Only 460 cases produced. Learn more about this wine.