WHAT: It seems that nothing ever gets wasted in wine country. In the case of Flora Springs, it’s an old winery that was reclaimed.
Sprinkled throughout Napa Valley are scores of pre-Prohibition buildings from wineries that never came back from Prohibition and the Depression. Many of them are now used again by existing wineries after an equipment upgrade.
That’s the case at Flora Springs, where Jerry and Flora Komes were looking for a place to retire in 1978 when they found a ghost winery in the Rutherford region of Napa Valley. Instead of retiring they decided to make wine, and the business has been a success.
This merlot is delightful. It was always one of Flora’s favorites, and this vintage is outstanding. It is smooth and supple, but with an underlying strength that keeps it from being an annoying fruit bomb.
It opens in the glass with aromas of plum and black cherry with hints of spice. The mouthfeel is rich and velvety, with flavors of plum and cocoa. Oak and vanilla add a little something extra to the mix. It has a long, mellow finish with a hint of chocolate.
The wine is 100 percent merlot from sustainably-farmed estate vineyards in Napa Valley, St. Helena and Rutherford. Blending grapes from different sub-appellations added complexity to the wine. After fermentation the wine spent 16 months in small oak barrels, a mixture of new and used.
The 2014 vintage was the third great year in a row for Napa Valley, with early rains and near-perfect summer weather. This is a great example of California merlot at its best, full of smooth texture and ripe fruit.
Merlot became famous in Bordeaux where it is blended with cabernet sauvignon, malbec, petit verdot and cabernet franc. The French versions tend to have more structure and leanness, but they still have plenty of lush, velvety flavors. Wines made on the Right Bank in Bordeaux tend to be more heavily merlot than those on the Left Bank.
You should be able to cellar this wine for another four years or so, but it is drinking so well now it will take a lot of discipline to set some aside.
WINERY: John Komes, the son of Jerry and Flora, persuaded his parents to restore the ghost winery they found in 1978. Flora already loved the old building at the foot of the Mayacamas Mountains, so it didn’t take too much convincing to spruce up the stone structure and expand caves into the hillside.
The family named the winery after Flora and the natural springs that flow through the property. The whole family got involved in running the winery, including Jerry and Flora Komes and their children, John and his wife, Carrie, and Julie Garvey and her husband, Pat.
History blends with state-of-the-art technology and environmentally conscious techniques. Stainless steel and concrete fermenters are specifically sized to match the blocks of the nine estate vineyards, which now total 650 acres, organically-farmed and sustainable. Each wine is crafted to reflect the place in which it was grown. The winery also is run primarily by solar power.
Flora Springs’ signature wine is a blockbuster Bordeaux varietal blend called Trilogy.
The Napa Valley series includes a cabernet, a merlot, a chardonnay and a sauvignon blanc. They also produce several single vineyard cabs, and a number of artisanal wines that include a barrel fermented chardonnay.
Third-generation vintners and cousins Nat Komes and Sean Garvey, both of whom grew up at the winery washing barrels and sweeping floors, are now poised to take over the operations.
GOES WITH: My wife, Teri, my son, Michael, and I had this with my version of grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. A few years ago I discovered a creamy tomato basil soup that really has some zip, so I seldom make any other kind of tomato soup.
The wine and soup was a great match, as the powerful fruit flavors of the merlot handled the complex flavors of the hearty soup.
The soup is relatively easy to make. You start by dicing and sautéing shallots. I usually sauté them in butter, but this time I added a little extra zing by sautéing the shallots in bacon fat. I cooked the bacon and set it aside to crumble into the soup later. Then I sautéd the shallots in the grease, to give the soup even more flavor. You know what they say: everything’s better with bacon.
Then I add several cans of diced tomatoes, beef broth, diced garlic, sugar and chopped basil and let it cook for 30-45 minutes. I love cooking with basil, so I harvest the leaves all summer and fall, chop them up and freeze them in ice cube trays so I have fresh basil all year.
After the soup cools, I run it through a blender in batches until it is nice and smooth. Then I add heavy cream. Stir it well, add the crumbled bacon, heat it and serve with croutons, paprika and shredded Italian cheese.
The winery also recommends serving the wine with barbecue meats and vegetarian pastas.
I also love drinking the wine by itself, while I’m cooking, or sitting on the porch, thinking deep thoughts.