A tiki bar in downtown Napa is a welcome change of pace—a vacation spot within a vacation town. Wilfred’s, which opened last year, has a strong connection to wine. Owner Nat Komes, general manager of Flora Springs Winery, got the name Wilfred from a Hawaiian relative who used to own a bar in Honolulu. The decor is fun and tiki-chic, with floral patterns, colorful murals, tiki carvings and bamboo accents. There’s ample outdoor seating and enough pirate paraphernalia to remind one of a ride at Disneyland. The food is straightforward island fare, with Spam sliders, poke, a tender Kalua pork entrée, chicken katsu and pineapple fried rice—it’s the sort of place where macaroni salad is offered as a side (and it’s a tasty selection).
Of course, most people are drawn to the exotic cocktails and vibrant nightlife. The drinks (including nonalcoholic options) are flavorful and served in playful glassware. For example, the Waikiki Wipeout (rum, guava, orange, lime, chile and passionfruit) comes in large bowl to be shared among multiple people. Several other drinks offer the option of being served in a collectible tiki mug.
967 1st St., Napa Telephone (707) 690-9957 Websitewilfredslounge.com Open Lunch and dinner Wednesday through Sunday Cost Moderate
Note: This article, “Live It Up in Napa Valley”, written by MaryAnn Worobiec, was originally published in Wine Spectator and can be found here.
I was sitting at the bar, sipping a coconut libation, in the midst of a tropical-feeling heat wave. All of a sudden, a rainstorm erupted, thunder crashing down. Things went dark. Then, it appeared behind me: a ghost pirate, brandishing his sword, fighting for the treasure that he felt was rightfully his.
I wasn’t on a tropical island, and I wasn’t at Disneyland. I was in the middle of downtown Napa, at Napa Valley’s only tiki bar — and I. was. transfixed.
Wilfred’s Lounge describes itself as “a twist on tradition [that has] brought together Napa and Honolulu culture like you’ve never known before.”
I have to admit: I was trying hard to keep my expectations low about Wilfred’s. Being the only tiki bar in Napa Valley (and all of Napa County) meant that the place wouldn’t have to try all that hard — simply by virtue of being the only one, it could easily be called the best.
It turns out, Wilfred’s Lounge can hold its own not just in Wine Country, but it could easily have a place in San Francisco, too. And not only because the place has some original statues from an old Trader Vic’s — the general manager Daniel “Doc” Parks was beverage director at Pagan Idol and Zombie Village in SF.
The drinks are definitely tiki, and they have a serious element of mixology to them. I sat at the bar watching the bartenders crank out libation after libation: for one, they torched a sprig of rosemary for a garnish; for another, a stencil to make a W emblazoned on the top. This one comes in a conch shell that looks like mermaid’s treasure, overflowing with fresh orchids. That one has a house-made coconut banana whip and dehydrated banana spears rising from its glass.
Wilfred’s Lounge would be a great bar anywhere, but it really works in Napa. Wine Country already has a bewitching air about it, so when I walked in, fresh from a vineyard on a sunny afternoon, the transportive nature of a tropical-themed bar with islandy music and bright colors everywhere made sense to my vacation-mode brain. (And if I’m being honest, my pineapple fried rice — with optional added kalua pork as good as what I recently enjoyed on the North Shore of Oahu — was a refreshing departure from the steak-and-red-wine-heavy menus you’ll find in most Napa restaurants.)
But on another level, the architecture just works with the landscape. The building is perched on the Napa River, and there are both downstairs and upstairs patios where you can sit by the water and take in the historic 1847 city and the hills beyond. I didn’t realize it at the time, but part of why Wilfred’s Lounge blends so beautifully into the Wine Country around it is because the restaurant has generations of wine-making history behind it.
Father and son duo John and Nat Komes opened Wilfred’s Lounge in November 2021, naming it after a family member, Wilfred, who was born in Hawaii and whose own bar was a fixture of the Honolulu cocktail scene. Wilfred’s sister Flora moved to San Francisco from Hawaii in 1929, and eventually founded Flora Springs Winery with her husband Jerry. John Komes, one of their three kids, and his son Nat now run Flora Springs and the family’s other wine labels.
This new venture honors the family’s Hawaii roots and wine-making legacy. They’ve even displayed the trunk Flora brought over to California from Hawaii, and have some of her and Jerry’s furniture in the restaurant. There’s real family history in the place, which gives it some heart underneath all the bamboo.
And if the place has some elements of magic to it, there’s a reason for that, too. (See the aforementioned ghost pirate, who appears through a porthole and on a screen that alternates between an idyllic beach and his ghastly underwater realm, and the sudden change of climate indoors from a soft summer night to a sudden rainstorm.)
Wilfred’s was designed by the same man who designed (and owns) High Roller Tiki Lounge in Solvang. It’s an island-meets-Disney tiki bar in Santa Ynez Valley wine country that has elements of owner Michael Cobb’s past life running the food and beverage program at Disneyland’s exclusive Club 33. (Look closely in that place and among the Trader Sam’s-style decor, you’ll find hidden Mickeys and nods to Walt himself.)
Downstairs at Wilfred’s is what you might expect from a tiki bar: bamboo and seagrass offset by intricate wooden carvings by artist Billy Crud and hanging lanterns. Upstairs, I’m just going to be blunt: It’s a pirate ship. It’s an actual, entire interior of a pirate ship constructed inside the upper level of the building, and it is extremely cool — especially since you walk out the ship’s doors (made of sea creatures, of course) and onto a patio overlooking the river.
When you consider the ghost pirate downstairs, Wilfred’s Lounge might draw some inspiration from Pirates of the Caribbean, but there are also other Disney-ish hints inside: The upstairs displays a map of the Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island amid its rum bottles and antique pistols and ropes hanging overhead.
Soon after dinner, I hit the road — but I left Napa with some treasure of my own: a first-edition Wilfred’s tiki coconut, now proudly displayed on my bar among the bottles of wine I brought home from my trip. It feels right there. They make sense together.
Note: This article, “Wilfred’s Lounge, Napa’s only tiki bar, is designed like a pirate ship, complete with ghosts”, written by Julie Tremaine, was originally published in SFGATE and can be found here.
Once upon a foggy day, the trade winds blew a warm streak of tropical sunshine across the San Francisco Bay and dropped it right in the heart of Downtown Napa. Like wind on a sail, the spirit of Wilfred arrived among the vines with his trusty ukulele and a little Tiki spirit.
Many moons ago, Wilfred’s big sister Flora found a Spring and cultivated some very special wines in St. Helena. Wilfred was home in Honolulu, welcoming guests to his bar where the drinks were strong, the company was charming, and there was always “just one more” story to tell.
As we celebrate our legendary Uncle Wilfred and his epic hospitality, we invite you to experience a little aloha and escape to our corner of the world. We’ve taken the best parts of Napa Valley Wine Country, gave it a shake and a dash of Hawaiian culture to bring you Wilfred’s Lounge; our family’s take on a modern Tiki bar. Swing by to try something new that embraces old traditions too. You’ll find our Island-inspired menu will take you on a journey somewhere totally unexpected.
If you listen close when happy hour strikes, you might hear a few strums of Wilfred on his uke, his little akua (spirit) humming a tropical tune.
If you miss visiting Napa Valley we invite you to sit back, pour yourself a glass of Flora Springs wine, and watch our new video of Sunset over Flora Springs Vineyard. Filmed spring 2020 in our Crossroads Vineyard in Oakville, home of our Soliloquy and Holy Smoke wines, this relaxing montage will transport you to the Napa Valley you love and miss, and give you a peek at a vintage in the making.
Located off the Oakville Cross Road, the 95-acre Crossroads Ranch is home to Flora Spring’s eight-acre Soliloquy Sauvignon Blanc Vineyard. This property is the site of a previously unknown Sauvignon Blanc clone – Soliloquy – which was discovered by the Komes and Garvey family and certified by UC Davis. The soils are a mix of clay and well-drained sandy loam with a reddish hue from the traces of oxidized iron deposited by the Napa River over time. In addition to Sauvignon Blanc, this site hosts Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
With hundreds of entries along the theme of “Wine Wanderlust,” Wine Spectator recognized our work and says, “follow the Flora Springs family as they overcome great hurdles on this epic odyssey of wine and rebirth.”
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.
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.”