Then, as now, it was challenging to succeed in the wine business without a fortune from another source. Wealthy merchants, shipping magnates, speculators and Lillie Langtry — the British stage star and mistress of Edward VII — all bought property and established wineries in the mid- to late- 1800s. Approximately 150 commercial wineries were operating in Napa and Sonoma before 1900.
But things began going amiss for these early wine entrepreneurs, long before Prohibition.
The economy was characterized by a series of panics, recessions, depressions and economic downturns. Many wine producers of the era were overleveraged. They grew tons of grapes and made hundreds of gallons of wine for which there was no market.
Phylloxera, a vine disease caused by an invisible root louse that decimated European vines, also reared its head, adding insult to injury.
Producers sold vineyard land for a fraction of its value. Others saw bank foreclosures. Many converted prized lands to pastures and nut and fruit orchards. Native stone winemaking facilities were abandoned and fell into ruin, becoming ghost wineries.
Today, many of these ghost wineries have been resurrected.
One of them is Flora Springs, a family-owned, third-generation-operated winery founded in 1978 by Jerry and Flora Komes. Jerry, a self-educated construction worker and self-taught engineer, became a top executive with Bechtel Corporation, one of the largest construction and engineering companies in the United States.
Jerry and Flora traveled the world with his work, but Jerry retired in 1976 and they left San Francisco for rural Napa, purchasing land where Flora Springs is now situated.
Flora chose the site because of the views and the property’s natural springs. Mostly, she loved the property for what she envisioned would grow there.
Now approaching her 101st birthday, this avid gardener is still actively involved in her family’s business. The nymph-like lady, rising out of the water with grape cluster in hand, on the Flora Springs label is an homage to matriarch Flora and the property’s springs.
Jerry and Flora first grew grapes to sell them to other wineries, but soon found themselves updating and renovating the old ghost winery to make wine under their own label.
Call it kismet or intuitiveness, Flora selected a parcel of land situated in one of the best cabernet growing regions of the world, the Rutherford American Viticultural Area. Rutherford cabernets are said to taste of “Rutherford dust.” Though not a dust disciple, I am a Rutherford cabernet disciple. I like the boldness of cabernets from this region tempered by their finesse and graceful aging.
If visiting Napa, there are several options for tasting Flora Springs wines. The estate offers a series of tasting options available by reservation only. The tasting room, located on Highway 29 — the main artery through Napa Valley — also offers an array of tastings. Some do not require appointments. Check the winery’s website for further information.
Flora Springs produces an array of wines from 650 acres of organically and sustainably farmed vineyards. Their cabernets are expensive and outstanding.
Especially delightful were the following:
2009 Flora Springs Wild Boar Vineyard Cabernet. $85. Beautiful nose. Unctuous fruit-filled red wine. Slight sweetness on the approach with a smooth finish. Great structure and aging potential.
2008 Trilogy Cabernet Blend. $75. A proprietary blend. Predominately cabernet with lesser amounts of merlot, petite verdot and malbec. Beautifully integrated, fruit-forward wine.
2009 Flora Springs Cabernet Franc. $48. I usually do not appreciate 100 percent cabernet franc wines, but this limited release, off-sweet, fruity, feminine wine was quite pleasing. But it might not be a show stopper for cab franc purists.
I did not find these wines in our area, but it is legally possible to have them shipped to Alabama. For shipping instructions, contact email@example.com.