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This week on the WineGuyMike™ Radio Show© I’m talking with a man who I truly admire. From the very moment I began reading about John Komes I knew there was a great story that would ensue. Today I’m going to share that story with you; this is a story about entrepreneurial Americana that resonates very deeply with me. As we say in my Italian family the Komes clan is all about La Famiglia.
Let’s turn back the clock nearly seven decades and talk a little bit about how this incredible wine story even came to be. John Komes’s Father Jerry was the President of the Bechtel Corporation. The Bechtel Corporation who is a giant in the construction industry is headquartered in the San Francisco Bay area. John’s Mother Flora was born in Hawaii and moved to the San Francisco Bay area after finishing high school in order to attend nursing school. It was here that Jerry and Flora first met when they were set up on a blind date. This is where it all began but Flora insisted on getting her nursing degree and securing gainful employment before she would consent to marriage even though Jerry knew that she was “the one”.
Jerry and Flora accomplished great things together as a team including a family of three children, eight grandchildren, and fifteen great-grandchildren. In the mid-seventies Jerry retired from the Bechtel Corporation to the Napa Valley. A few of Jerry’s friends had bought places there so Jerry and Flora found a property there that was an old abandoned winery or as it is referred to as a “Ghost Winery”.
The winery originally dates back to the 19thCentury. This amazing wine property has natural springs that have never ceased to flow. Flora Komes turns 100 in November and it just makes me wonder if she found the “Fountain of Youth” in the Napa Valley at the Flora Springs Estate??? Why is that wine so good, could it be the water? Flora attributes her health and longevity to the Merlot though. Jerry passed at the age of 89 after 67 years of team work and marriage to Flora. This couple really set a great example of love, respect, and hard work.
John Komes following in his Father’s footsteps built a very successful construction business in the East Bay area of San Francisco. John like his Father has a thirst for life and knowledge so anything he is interested you know he is going to learn it, own it, and execute it. Yeah that’s what we call an entrepreneur in America, and that’s exactly what John Komes is.
Flora Springs Winery was founded in 1978. It is located in the Rutherford Appellation right in the heart of the Napa Valley. In the early 1970’s John’s wife Carrie sent him to a wine appreciation class as a gift. John who really didn’t know much about wine at this point in his life was soon making wine at home. Once John develops an interest in something he latches on to it, learns as much as he can about it by studying, listening, and then doing. That’s right John took one look at the property Jerry and Flora purchased in 1977 and the light bulb lit up. Can you say winery? John can and with his wife, parents, sister and brother-in-law Flora Springs Winery was founded.
John moved his successful construction business to the Napa Valley where he specialized in construction and restoration of wine properties. The business demands of Flora Springs soon required his full attention so John focused 100% on the winery. He rebuilt, restored, and constructed all of the estate buildings and turned two abandoned cellars into wine facilities. He also built wine caves to age the Flora Springs wines. John oversees all aspects of the winery from wine production, to sales, and marketing. But John did not do this alone which is the other piece of this wine story that I find so intriguing.
Meet Julie Komes Garvey and Pat Garvey, John’s sister and brother-in-law. One person didn’t build Rome and John being the entrepreneur and visionary that he is realized good help when he seen it. Knowing all about family business I’m guessing the price for that help at the time was right too, ah start-up companies, sweat equity, well you get my point.
Julie Komes Garvey is also an original Founder and Owner of Flora Springs Winery. She worked side by side with her brother John and her husband Pat Garvey in the vineyards to create the first vintages of Flora Springs wines. As the success of Flora Springs grew, Julie’s efforts extended outside of the winery. Soon after the inaugural release of the Flora Springs’ signature Bordeaux blend, Trilogy, Julie and a group of vintners founded the Meritage Association in 1988. Their goal was to promote the elegance of American wine blends made with Bordeaux varietals as well as to create a category that would allow winemakers to make and market their blended wines. In 2002 Julie left her position of Communications Director to pursue her love of education and divinity. Currently, she works as a spiritual director and teacher, dividing her time between counseling, teaching and leading retreats. Julie is the proud mother of two sons. Her youngest son, Joe Garvey, lives and works in Seoul, Korea and shares her same enthusiasm for teaching. Her oldest son, Sean, is now following in her footsteps as Communications and Production Director of Flora Springs. Julie’s brother and Flora Springs President John Komes jokes, “She may have left the winery, but she’s still in the spirits business!”
Let’s meet Pat Garvey, Founder, Owner, and Vineyard Director. In 1978 Pat traded his Master’s Degree in Psychology and Counseling from the University of Santa Clara for a tractor – and the opportunity to launch a world-class Napa Valley winery with his wife, Julie Garvey, and his brother-in-law John Komes. While Flora Springs started as a fledgling family business nearly three decades ago, today the Komes and Garvey families own and manage more vineyard acres , 650 in all, than most family-owned and managed vineyard holders in the Napa Valley. As Vineyard Director for all of Flora Springs’ vineyards since its inception, Pat has not only taken the responsibility to remain an innovator with meticulous farming practices to create world-class wines; he has done so with the overarching premise of stewardship and family values: all of Flora Springs’ vineyards are 100% sustainable.
Under Pat’s watch Flora Springs’ vineyards has received organic certification in 2008 from the California Certified Organic Farmers for 20% (120 acres) of Flora Springs’ vineyards. An additional 240 acres were certified in 2010. Sustainable practices include using manures from local chicken and turkey ranches, seasoned in the weather and then incorporated into the vineyards; planting cover crops that enrich the soil and provide habitat for beneficial bugs rather than spraying to eradicate troublesome bugs; and controlling water absorption by planting competing crops to absorb excess water in wetter soils. Pat was also instrumental in getting Oakville and Rutherford recognized as sub-appellations in the Napa Valley.
The Komes and Garvey families are true caregivers of the land they farm. Terrior is extremely important to this family and every wine they produce is crafted to express the beauty, the unique soils, and the microclimate of their respective vineyard sites.
Flora Springs’ now owns 650 acres of vineyards throughout the Napa Valley, including some of the region’s most coveted sub-appellations. These include Rutherford, St. Helena, Oakville and Carneros. Since the very beginning Flora Springs has incorporated sustainable farming practices in their vineyards. 360 acres of their vineyards are now certified-organic, that’s close to 40% of our estate vineyards, and accounts for nearly all of the grapes that go into their red wines.
Today the historical estate blends charm with state-of-the-art winery production techniques and environmentally conscious technology. Inside the stone walls of our century old winery you will find specifically tailored stainless steel and concrete fermenters sized to match the blocks on each of their estate vineyards. Beyond the stone archway of the cellar lays 1,000 linear feet of caves. Carved in to the hillside, they provide an ideal and energy efficient environment for aging the Flora Springs wines. The winery has installed 6,500 square feet of solar panels their most ambitious globally conscious upgrade yet.
Paul Steinauer, senior winemaker, and co-proprietor and vineyard director Pat Garvey, are committed to growing and hand crafting artisan wines that can be enjoyed young and vibrant or cellared and graceful. “The synergy they’ve created between the vineyard and winery is critical to Flora Springs wine producing success.
The next third-generation vintners Nat Komes and Sean Garvey, both of whom grew up at the winery washing barrels and sweeping floors, are now poised to take the helm. Nat serves as General Manager and his philosophy is this; “The winery has enabled us to touch a lot of lives – our purpose is about wine, but it’s also about people, relationships and the joy of what’s shared around wine,”
Sean Garvey has also followed in his Father’s footsteps as Vineyard Foreman. Sean formerly managed sales for Flora Springs on the east coast, then communications and production, now as Vineyard Foreman he works with his father in the Vineyard Department. His studies abroad in the Basque Region of Spain brought home the importance of food and wine in making connections with people.
When I spoke with John this week I learned a lot about the dedication to producing great wines that is Flora Springs Winery commitment to the wine consumer. Flora Springs has 35 years of experience in growing grapes in their vineyards and as John kiddingly said to me he has a name for every vine grown in the vineyards. All kidding aside Flora Springs now knows every corner of their land: how the light falls in late August, where the soils change, and which vineyard blocks ripen earliest. This identity of site dictates how they farm, and in turn, how they make the wine. This respect of identity allows them to craft elegant and powerful wines that reflect the place from which they originate.
The Flora Springs Signature wines, Trilogy, Sauvignon Blanc “Soliloquy Vineyard” and Barrel Fermented Chardonnay are wines people tell stories over and tell stories about. Some bottles find their way into the cellars of exclusive restaurants and private libraries while others quickly become unforgettable memories.
Signature Wine Trilogy
The 2007 exhibits the entire classic Trilogy attributes with a lovely cassis and cherry bouquet as well as huge black fruit flavors that envelope the palate. Each varietal is vital to the outcome – the Cabernet exhibits black cherry and dark cocoa character, while the Merlot carries these flavors to the back of the palate for an everlasting finish. Unrelenting with power and grace, the 2007 Trilogy, their 23rd release, beautifully marries the complexity and elegance of their earlier vintages with the sheer bravado of our favorite vintages during the late 90’s.
Signature Wine Sauvignon Blanc from the Soliloquy Vineyard in Oakville
Their Crossroads Vineyard in the heart of the Oakville appellation is a crown jewel in our collection of Napa Valley vineyards. Though Crossroads is planted mostly to Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, two blocks of the vineyard are devoted to a varietal they absolutely cherish – Sauvignon Blanc. Soliloquy Vineyard in Oakville is the fruit source for their very unique Sauvignon Blanc. From two different clones – one certified by UC Davis as the “Soliloquy” Sauvignon Blanc clone, and the other the Sauvignon Musqué clone – they have created one wine of singular distinction.
Signature Wine Barrel Fermented Chardonnay
Flora Springs Barrel Fermented Chardonnay is Napa Valley history in a bottle. In 1980, at a time when Chardonnay was the true ambassador for wines from the New World, Flora Springs began its reign as one of the great Chardonnay producers from Napa Valley. Disregarding trends, Flora Springs continues to craft its Barrel Fermented Chardonnay in a style that has inspired white wine producers and created loyal Chardonnay connoisseurs for the last 30 years. The 2009 vintage offers rich flavors of peach and pear with a hint of pineapple on the palate. In each vintage, they strive to find a balance between the rich flavors of our St. Helena and Oakville Chardonnay and the acidity and minerality of our Carneros fruit. For 2009 they have further enhanced the wine by allowing 21% of the blend to go through malolactic fermentation. You wouldn’t believe the excitement in the cellar when the final blend was passed around the table—tropical fruit, richness, complexity, spandex?—it’s 1980 all over again!
The Flora Springs name has become synonymous with perfectly balanced wines. Look no further than their Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for great examples of hand crafted artisan wines that express both subtle nuances and bold Napa Valley fruit.
Flora Springs Napa Valley Cabernet
This classic Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is ripe with flavors of black cherry and cocoa envelop the front of the mouth and move across the palate into a soft lingering finish. Each vintage they look to reveal the true character of our estate vineyards while using oak as an undertone, highlighting the inherent flavors.
Flora Springs Napa Valley Merlot
The Napa Valley Merlot is a favorite among seekers of soft, supple red wines ready to drink from the get go. To celebrate the “born ready” exuberance of our Merlot, they’ve bottled it with a Stelvin closure. The 2008 vintage shows full fruit characteristics of strawberry and cherry, with a hint of raspberry and spice.
It is so impressive in talking with John Komes and the inspiration from Flora Komes and the upcoming celebration in November of her 100 years of life. Like any family business I’m sure there are trying times but on the whole these families from generation to generation have mentored one another with obvious love and respect. The result is what happens in the bottle because they are caregivers of the land, servants of their community, a family and team that love what they do. They make amazing wine that they share with you and I.
By the way I would be remiss in not mentioning that John Komes would like you and I to take a moment to send a card and note to Flora on her 100th Birthday on November 7th.
John thank you for taking time to be a guest on my show. I have tremendous respect for all that you have created and your visionary approach, style, and leadership. Cheers to you my friend!
Please find a Flora Springs wine in your market. These wines are fantastic and I recommend them for you. The Flora Springs wines in this flight receive The WineGuyMike™ Seal of Approval©