My friend Jon began an internship with Flora Springs Winery in the heart of the Napa Valley and invited me in for a tour and a tasting. The plan was to buy a bottle of sauvignon blanc, grab some sandwiches at the neighboring Dean and DeLucca and picnic in a nearby vineyard before tasting their extensive palate of wines. This sounded like a nice Sunday afternoon in the Napa Valley; sunshine, a great albacore tuna salad sandwich paired with the creamy texture and mineral
finish of the 2015 Flora Springs Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley ($25). With annual production exceeding 3,600 cases, this estate wine uses two different clones including the musque clone, fermented in stainless steel and aged on its lees in oak barrels with many stirrings. Hence, we find creamy, complex flavors.
I first became aware of Flora Springs Winery in the mid-nineties through their flagship blend, “Trilogy” which has become a classic “meritage,” defining Bordeaux blends from California soil. If fact, “Trilogy” was first created over thirty years ago when successfully blending cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet blanc, malbec and petit verdot in California was a new thing. The result
of a good vintage, the 2012 Flora Springs “Trilogy” Napa Valley ($90), aged for 22 months, achieves elegance through expressive aromas and rich texture with dark cherry and berry flavors, some spice and a nice finish. My first memory of this wine was being shocked at the $40 price. Now at $90 per bottle, it is indicative of the increasing market value of Napa Valley wines.
Although Flora Springs Winery was first established in 1978, the land has an auspicious history dating back more than a century. The first vineyards were planted on sixty acres in the late 1800s by Scottish immigrants James and William Renne, the first known owners of the land. Later, a fire destroyed the wine-press and all their cooperage, leading them to sell the property to pursue other dreams.
Over the ensuing years, property ownership changed several times during which the vineyards were re-planted with phylloxera-resistant stock. Phylloxera is a microscopic insect that attacks the roots and leaves of vines and destroyed entire vineyards in California and France throughout the
late 19th and early 20th Centuries. The only known cure is grafting the vines with stock resistant to the disease. Admist dealing with pests in the vineyards, Prohibition became law in 1920 and this and many wineries were literally abandoned.
Louis Martini purchased the property in 1933, replaced the old structure with a new one and operated the winery until 1977 when it was purchased by Jerry and Flora Komes. The next year, their children, John and Carrie Komes and Julie and Pat Garvey, founded Flora Springs Winery, naming it after their mother and the natural springs on the property. The winery will
celebrate its 40th birthday in 2017.
Our afternoon tasting on the patio began with two releases, one white and one red, from their Family Estate Wines and
evolved, through the “2012 Trilogy” to a series of five premium, high-priced, single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon with tremendous ratings, a special surprise given guests of staff. With ten percent of its juice aged in concrete tanks, the medium-bodied 2014 Flora Springs Family Select Chardonnay ($35) is a beautifully balanced wine, lightly oaken, with flavors of fresh pear and subtle tropical fruit through the finish. It is a very nice Chardonnay among many great options within the $30-40 price range. The red, from local sustainably-farmed vineyards, the 2014 Flora Springs Napa
Valley Merlot ($30) was nicely balanced with notes of sweet spice like vanilla, a good value for merlot lovers.
Basking in the diffused sunlight under colorful stretched screens, our journey through these impressive single-vineyard Cabernet, priced far beyond my budget, was a special treat. It began with the 100% 2013 Flora Springs Rutherford Hillside Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($125) from a sloping, benched vineyard near the winery. Awarded 94-points by Wine Enthusiast magazine, it is most amply defined with “warm notes of blackberry pie, crème de cassis, coffee liquor and maraschino cherries that slowly evolve into a decadent core of melted bittersweet chocolate inflected with vanilla bean.” It is as good as it sounds.
The Renne Reserve Vineyard in the St. Helena appellation is one of the finest blocks within their 550 acres. After 22 months in new French oak, the 2013 Flora Springs Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena Renne
Reserve ($150) has an impressive bouquet followed by complex flavors of black currants and coffee with a rich mouthfeel. The lingering spice finish sets this Cabernet apart from the others, awarded 95-points by Wine Advocate
The next wine comes from the nearby Oakville appellation, known for limestone and granite soils. The 2103 Flora Springs Cabernet Sauvignon Holy Smoke Vineyard ($125) displays firm tannins with intense black cherry, licorice and cinnamon spice on the palate. James Suckling awarded this low production release a 94-point rating, citing nice chocolate nuances through the finish. The most balanced and finely structured wine of the day was the 2013
Flora Springs Cabernet Sauvignon Wild Boar Vineyard ($125)from the
Pope Valley, east of the Napa Valley where elevations rise to 1,200 feet. For me, the “Wild Boar” was the best that we tasted, expressing complex and robust flavors of ripened currants, plum, cherry, vanilla and caramel. The tannins are firm, but rich and plush.
Remotely located in the Stag’s Leap District along the Silverado Trail, the organically-farmed “Out Of Sight” Vineyard produces dense fruit for the 2013 Flora Springs Cabernet Sauvignon Out Of Sight Vineyard ($125), a wine with vivid aromas of wild berries and layered tastes of vanilla and spice, woven within concentrated fruit. Smooth tannins are present throughout creating a wine that they claim will be optimum for the next 12-15 years.
Flora’s Legacy Wines are remarkable, low-yield releases that honor the matriarch and namesake of the winery, Flora Komes. One wine of depth, the 2014 Flora’s Legacy Chardonnay ($70), was our last tasting of the afternoon.
Again there is very impressive competition with other chardonnay at this price. That being said, this wine, after 50% malolactic fermentation and aging sur lee with weekly stirrings, reveals rich, concentrated fruit flavors of orange marmalade, pear, jasmine and ginger. The nice mineral finish sets it in the company of many superb California chardonnay releases.
The one wine not available for tasting boasts a total production of one barrel (25 cases). Combining 50% juice from the Renne Reserve Vineyard in St. Helena and 50% from the Rutherford Hillside Vineyard in neighboring Rutherford, the sold out 2014 Flora Springs St. Rutherford
Cabernet Sauvignon ($300), aged 22 months in French oak, is their premiere wine. We were told that the Renne brings the berry and fruit flavors and the Rutherford the earthiness and spice nuances. How can my palate miss something that it hasn’t ever experienced? Maybe another time. The high demand for wines in this price-range is still amazing to me.
Clearly, Flora Springs Winery has moved beyond their first-rate flagship wine, “Trilogy,” to become one of the finest
producers in the Napa Valley. When I learned about the 40% discount made available to staff and their guests, I had to re-think purchasing a bottle. Expressing thanks to the tasting staff, I invested in my palate by purchasing a 2013 Wild Boar single-vineyard cabernet sauvignon for $75. It sits in my cellar waiting for a special occasion with special friends. We had a wonderful afternoon at Flora Springs Winery, located along Highway 29, south of the town of St. Helena, which has been named one of the “Best Napa Wineries To Visit” by Food and Wine Magazine and is great place to taste some of the best wines the valley has to offer.