Flora Springs Soliloquy is named for our proprietary Sauvignon Blanc clone, an outstanding and singular clone which is entirely unique to Flora Springs. Planted in our Crossroads Vineyard in the Oakville AVA, the clone was certified in the late 1980s by UC Davis as distinct from more common Sauvignon Blanc clones in Napa Valley. The clone nearly went extinct when our vines became diseased and had to be pulled. It took eight long years – three in a lab, two in a nursery and three in the ground – but our family was able to protect and preserve this precious clone. After that, General Manager Nat Komes took Soliloquy on as a personal project, conducting numerous blending trials over a three-year period to re-create the Soliloquy wine he and his family remember so fondly. Today, Soliloquy represents our quest to create the finest white wine we have ever made, a worthy companion to our proprietary red wine, Trilogy.Learn more about this wine.
Our 2019 Trilogy marks the 35th vintage of our flagship red wine, a bottling that dates back to 1984 when our family decided to make the finest wine possible by selecting fruit from the highest quality blocks from our estate vineyards in Napa Valley. Back then it was one of Napa Valley’s first proprietary red wines, and we named it for the three Bordeaux varietals which made up the blend. Ever since, Trilogy has consistently earned more than 90 points from wine critics and is admired by fans both for its approachability and ability to age. Learn more about this wine.
Flora Springs Soliloquy is named for our proprietary Sauvignon Blanc clone, an outstanding and singular clone which is entirely unique to Flora Springs. Planted in our Crossroads Vineyard in the Oakville AVA, the clone was certified in the late 1980s by UC Davis as distinct from more common Sauvignon Blanc clones in Napa Valley. The clone nearly went extinct when our vines became diseased and had to be pulled. It took eight long years – three in a lab, two in a nursery and three in the ground – but our family was able to protect and preserve this precious clone. After that, General Manager Nat Komes took Soliloquy on as a personal project, conducting numerous blending trials over a three-year period to re-create the Soliloquy wine he and his family remember so fondly. Today, Soliloquy represents our quest to create the finest white wine we have ever made, a worthy companion to our proprietary red wine, Trilogy.
Our Sauvignon Blanc-based 2020 Soliloquy is a complex, multi-layered blend of white varietals offering evocative notes of pomelo, lime blossom, apple, hazelnut and stone fruit. Sauvignon Blanc anchors the wine with bold flavor, zesty acidity and serious weight, while the Chardonnay rounds out the blend with a creamy leesy quality. The Malvasia brings alluring citrus and floral notes. Soliloquy is an impressive, crowd pleasing wine, ideal for Saturday night dinner parties with friends. Learn more about this wine.
2020 Napa Valley Vintage
The 2020 Napa Valley growing season began with a warm, dry winter, with no appreciable rain until the end of March. A mild spring season gave the vines a healthy start, and summer brought very cool mornings and warm days. What looked like an ideal harvest turned into one of Napa Valley’s most challenging due to wildfires in the region. At Flora Springs, we were not able to harvest the majority of our red grapes, but we were able to safely harvest pristine, delicious grapes for our Soliloquy white wine in early September. As a family and team, we have pledged to over deliver on wine quality for more than forty years, even during challenging vintages. Our 2020 Soliloquy is a testament to this dedication.
“…decadent and lush, this is really a hedonistic Cabernet Sauvignon, really terroir driven as well, good acid and absolutely brilliant finish. I want to pair this with grilled meat – of any sort…I just want to keep savoring this wine…”
There may have been a few raindrops but they sure didn’t dampen the spirits of the folks attending our 2016 Trilogy Release Party on February 2nd!
Setting the upbeat tone were the ramp rippin’ skateboarders from OC Ramps, jumping, flipping and generally shredding to the crowd of pumped up onlookers. The lion dancers, decked out in rain-defying, bright yellow costumes, shimmied, shook and celebrated the Chinese New Year (and our new Year of the Pig Cabernet) with their traditional dance of good fortune.
Doing a little shimmying of his own was Nat Komes, Flora Springs’ third generation general manager, host extraordinaire, wearer of the Trilogy fez and mastermind behind the annual Trilogy Release Party. “One of the best parts of planning this party is deciding what special surprises we’ll offer our guests. It’s always about how can we make this event something people will remember forever…what will really set it apart?”
Nat and the extended Flora Springs family outdid themselves with stilt walkers, living statues, a cheese carver, a glass artist and a live performance by the up and coming rock and alt-country David Luning Band. The party was anchored by numerous wine stations pouring the new 2016 Trilogy and an amazing selection of Flora Springs wines – including library and current releases as well as our highly limited Flora’s Legacy Cabernet Sauvignon.
And as always, Flora Springs brought together top local restaurants to present delicious and inventive dishes, our way of sharing the celebration of our world class wine, Trilogy, with the community. We heard a lot of great comments from our guests throughout the party, but the one that’ll keep us motivated as we plan for next year’s release? “Best Trilogy Party Ever!”
See the OC Ramps team in action:
Save the date – February 1, 2020 – for the 2017 Trilogy Release Party. Learn more and mark your calendar!
Note: The following article was originally written by Kim Marcus and published in the Wine Spectator on November 30, 2018 and can be found here.
Peaks & Valleys California Merlot is at its best in Napa, where vineyards at diverse elevations deliver distinctive styles
Though Merlot is grown throughout California, Napa Valley is by far the variety’s powerhouse appellation. Yet the region’s wines are not all cut from the same cloth. There’s a marked contrast in style between wines grown on the valley floor and those sourced from mountain sites. The driving force in both types is texture, but the valley wines tend to be fleshy and richer, while higher altitudes provide more structure and purity of flavor. The two top bottlings in this report-one from a high-elevation site and one from valley vineyards—help bring those styles into focus, and their differences can be instructive when it comes to making buying decisions with this versatile grape.
In the past year, I’ve tasted 135 Merlots and Merlot-based blends, with an impressive 43 scoring an outstanding 90 points or higher on the Wine Spectator 100-point scale. (A free alphabetical guide to all wines tasted for this report is available.) The flagship mountain bottling is the La Jota Howell Mountain 2015 (93 points, $85), which offers intense and pure red fruit flavors. La Jota is in the stable of the Jackson Family group of wineries, as is another outstanding mountain Merlot, the Mt. Brave Mount Veeder 2015 (91 $80), with robust and well-knit dried berry and black fruit flavors. The wines are firmly tannic and fresh-tasting, hallmarks of the higher altitudes where they were grown—both at about 1,800 feet, though on opposite sides of the valley.
Skilled Jackson Family veteran Chris Carpenter made both La Jota and Mt. Brave. “There’s a structure to mountain Merlot that is incredibly compelling. And a lot of how I think about Bordeaux varieties in the mountains is tannin development,” he says. “How are the tannins in sync with the sugars, phenols, acid and other compounds? Ultimately, I’d like to have them all in their respective sweet spots, but they all act independently of each other.”
Tannins are usually bigger in mountain-grown grapes, which are typically smaller in size than valley fruit and have a higher skin-to-pulp ratio (skins are tannin-rich). The small berry size is mostly due to the poorer soils and cooler conditions found in the mountains. “The vines are struggling here more than on the valley floor, because there’s very little clay in the soils that retains water and [the soils] are low in nutrients,” Carpenter adds. “Tannins are protective and are there to allow the fruit to ripen.”
To help wrangle those tannins, Carpenter employs a variety of techniques. He is careful to optimally sequence the harvest down to the individual row or plot, which is complicated by the many vineyard exposures, including the shadows cast by tall mountain forests. That’s more of an issue on Mount Brave, where the slopes are steep compared to the relatively level terrain found at the top of Howell Mountain. In the cellar, Carpenter encourages modest exposure to the softening effects of oxygen through aerative pump-overs along with gentle racking into barrels.
The top representative from the valley floor this year is the Venge Oakville Oakville Estate Vineyard 2015 (93, $70), big and rich, with luscious dark fruit flavors. Grab this one while you can, because its vines were pulled for replanting after the vintage. It was made by Kirk Venge, of the family-owned estate in Calistoga, who is now hoping replicate its quality in future vintages with fruit from the nearby Kenefick Ranch vineyard, among other sources.
“I love the approachability of Merlot. The flavor profile has a softer body to it. It’s fun to see its personality and, compared to Cabernet, it shows the terroir better,” Venge says. “We’ve always stuck by Merlot and never abandoned it, even with Sideways,” he adds, referring to the 2004 hit movie in which Merlot was disparaged and that many believe led to the sizeable drop in demand for the wines in the ensuing years. “It’s wonderful in a blend and great by itself, but it is hard to grow because it is prone to poor fruit set and overcropping. It can give you some attitude.”
Venge points outs that he considers Kenefick, which features a very gentle slope at the base of the Palisades cliffs just south of the town of Calistoga, to be more a benchland site than a pure valley vineyard. It also one of the warmest areas in Napa, and Venge is careful with canopy management to protect against the strong rays of the sun. The soils here are gravelly and well-drained, traits the site shares with the vineyard that produced last year’s top-scoring Merlot, the Duckhorn Three Palms Vineyard Napa Valley 2014, which also took Wine of the Year honors.
“We do ripen earlier here but it’s a good location. It gets sun, that’s for sure, but a little later [in the day] because of the Palisades and the narrowness of the valley here,” Venge explains. A tasting of the yet-to-be-released 2016 Kenefick Ranch Merlot revealed richness to the sanguine and spice box flavors. Venge added 5 percent Petit Verdot to the cuvée to build structure and boost depth of flavor; Carpenter added 3 percent Petit Verdot and 2 percent Tannat to his 2016 La Jota for the same reason.
In the list of recommended wines that accompanies this report, you will find additional examples of both mountain and valley styles. From the mountains, besides La Jota and Mt. Brave, top wines were made by Luna, Pride and Beringer. Due to their powerful structures, most would benefit from short-term cellaring and should be good matches for roasted meats and other savory dishes. The leading Merlots of the valley style include those from Flora Springs, Darioush, Stewart and St. Francis (in Sonoma). These are fine for sipping on their own or paired with pasta or grilled steak.
On the values front, you have to be choosy. High-yielding Merlot can taste thin and herbal, and it requires committed winemaking to make high quality affordable versions. Planting it in the right terrain is key as well—with rich soils, the grapes can overproduce and turn weedy; in poorer soils, the tannins can turn tough.
“Like Cabernet does on thinner soils, Merlot can become a raisin even more quickly due to the size of the berry. Or at least head in that direction. Therefore I look for more glacial soils, loam soils, and if they have some clay, even better,” says Nick Goldschmidt, whose Goldschmidt Dry Creek Valley Chelsea Goldschmidt Salmon’s Leap 2015 (90, $20) is one the top values in this report. Other key factors for Goldschmidt include selecting rootstocks in the vineyard that can produce ripe fruit in California’s bone-dry summers without dehydrating. In the cellar, keeping quality high means long fermentations to extract as much flavor as possible.
An exceptionally priced wine for the quality is the Flora Springs Merlot Napa Valley 2014 (92, $30), with silky tannins behind the spicy red fruit flavors. Outside of Napa and Sonoma, the choices are more limited, though it’s worth the search to experience the varying expressions of this versatile grape. Paso Robles is a reliable alternative, with the likes of the San Simeon Estate Reserve 2014 (90, $22), a big and rich red with loamy accents to the dark fruit flavors, and the Maddalena 2014 (88, $18), with red fruit flavors and minerally overtones.
“The most expensive wine in the world is a Merlot [Petrús in Pomerol] and we should have a Merlot that garners that kind of respect,” though not at such a high price, says Jackson Family’s Carpenter. “We have the terroir for it.”
Ambitions still run high in California for Merlot, both on the mountains and in the valleys. And with the best versions generally rich in dark fruit flavors and appealing spice and savory herbal notes, and a bit softer and more open-textured overall than Cabernet, Merlot remains an enticing big red from the Golden State.
Senior editor Kim Marcus is Wine Spectator’s lead taster on California Merlot.