OK, so I wasn’t off gift shopping for some flowers to take to the Pope, I admit it. His continent was involved, however. A few weeks back, my sister and my mom headed off into the skies towards a three week trip in London and Paris. Freed from familial ties, my Dad and I decided that it was time for another Pops & Son Wine Trip, this time in the Summer. Previous wine trips taken during my week off from the day job during the holidays have included Glen Ellen and surrounding Sonoma wineries, Healdsburg and surrounding wineries and wineries in Napa that we had yet to visit. This time we were planning on doing a hybrid of both valleys.
Earlier this year, Jason and Kim sent me this really great wine gift package to review, from Giftybox.com. I figured that this would be a great time to use my Winery Tour & Tasting package. It’s actually quite a neat idea. You get a nicely bound book of the 60+ wineries with which they’ve partnered across the US to choose your winery, where you receive a variation of a private tour and Reserve tasting for two that includes a hand chosen free bottle of wine. It’s essentially a wonderfully conceived package geared towards that person or couple whom you always have trouble figuring out a new gift each year. California has the most wineries of course, but they also feature wineries in 8 other states. If wine isn’t your friends’ thing, than you can choose to send them any of the 7 other Giftyboxes that they sell including the Outdoor Adventure and the Spa & Well-Being for Two. After much deliberation, I chose to go to Flora Springs Winery & Vineyards with Pops, a longtime wine producer in Napa that I’d yet to visit during my wine adventures.
Flora Springs Winery & Vineyards is a third generation, family owned and operated winery that has been producing highly acclaimed, primarily Estate wines for over 30 years on their 300 acre estate just South of St. Helena. The entrance is actually at the Western end of Zinfandel Lane in the Northern part of the Valley. The estate name refers to the matriarch of the family who together with her husband Jerry Komes, purchased the original vineyards and ghost winery in the late 70’s. The property included a natural aquifer that continues to provide the main estate with all of its water needs. Since that original purchase, the winery has been upgraded with numerous improvements over the years including a huge cave system, new winemaking facilities and a large solar array that complements their sustainable, organic farming philosophy by providing all of the power that the winery requires, and then some. They are also about to reopen their tasting room on Highway 29, newly housed in a highly unique property designed by Joel Miroglio of Miroglio Architecture + Design.
As we pulled in through the gate at the head of the property, we were curious as to whom might be leading our package that day. We were very pleased to find that our guide was incredibly nice and extremely well-informed about the property and winemaking in general. Flora Springs’ Hospitality Coordinator Jason Bullock gave perhaps, the finest and most engaging and informative winery tour that I’ve yet had the great pleasure to attend during my wine adventures. We started off with some tasting in the main tasting room on the property then headed out to tour some of the Merlot vineyards (Pops’ favorite grape!) that are found next to the Bocce court in front of the main building. Jason easily answered all of my technical questions, including the reasons for planting Merlot both N-S and E-W (for historical reasons and in order to capture the differences that sunlight can drive in the taste profile of the fruit).
Following the vineyard tour, we headed into the most exciting part of the tour, a surprisingly long walk through their caves sent into the hillside and below their aquifer. At the end of the cave tour we were treated to a very unique and fascinating barrel tasting experience: 3 tastes of the sleeping 2006 Napa Estate Cab, from Hungarian, American and French oak. All were produced from the same cooperage and toasted with the same medium toast (one thing I love about Flora Springs’ wines is the restrained use of oak…no oak bombs were to be found!). I found the Hungarian oak really seemed to highlight the bright red fruit in the wine, whereas the American tended to bring out secondary characteristics like tobacco and a nice earthiness. The French oak had more traditional oak notes up front of spicy vanilla and some dill. Great stuff, regardless of the aging material and I can’t wait to taste this wine from the bottle in a few years!
We finished our day at Flora Springs with an impromptu blind tasting of the ’04 and ’05 Trilogy, which was a very cool way to see the influences of vintage and blending on a wine. The Trilogy is one of the original and most renowned meritage blends from California and these continued this wine’s legend. The 2004 was tied with their phenomenal RosÃ© of Sangiovese for the best wines of the day. At the end of the day we chose to trade the free bottle of wine for a discount on the wines that we chose to purchase and bid adieu and many thank you’s to Jason and a glorious wine experience. I highly recommend visiting Flora Springs when you are visiting Napa (call ahead for a similar tour and say Ward exhorts you ask for Jason!). The Giftybox package was a wonderful experience and highly recommended for those wine lovers in your circle of friends and family.
After a tasty lunch up the road at Taylor’s Refresher in St. Helena, we took the long way around to the other side of the Valley and headed past PUC towards Pope Valley. As we headed further Northwest, the air got smokier and smokier and by the time we stopped at our destination we could actually taste the smoke in the air from the Lake County fire (hmm, this wine is some smokey oak notes!). That coupled with the rather stifling heat made the thought of cooking our newly bought wine in the back of the car. Forunately we’ve had some experience tasting wines during the summer and Pops had brought along one of his coolers to keep our vino nice and cool.
After a hazy but enjoyable scenic drive, we arrived at one of the oldest wineries sites in Napa County, now known as Pope Valley Winery. The property where Pope Valley Winery resides has been an operating winery off and on since 1897, and much of the wonderfully historic property dates all the way back from when Ed Haus first started a winery on that ranch that he named the Burgundy Winery & Olive Factory. Two more iterations later, the latest version was started by a partnership of six longtime Pope Valley residents Jim, Sam, and Henry Eakles, Ralf Gerdes, Manny Gomes and Rodney Young in 1998. Various family members of the partners work in and around the ranch and winery, but when we got to the small, original wooden building that housed the tasting room, we couldn’t find anyone to help us. We had somehow managed to walk right by the sign at the door that instructs you to ring the bell when you arrive to get the tasting started…oops! Our tasting hostess for the day, the charismatic Shelley Byrne, was kind enough to demonstrate the proper technique later during a quick tour of the property.
The highlights from the (nicely) long list of Estate wines that Shelley opened for us were the ’06 Sangiovese RosÃ© and the ’05 Reserve Cab. Winemaker Greg Gallagher has crafted some very interesting and site-driven wines that are quite a steal at their prices. This is a perfect winery to visit when you want a no-nonsense, family-style wine tasting experience cloaked in comforting history. I definitely want to make a trip back up and spend some more time on their ranch. I’m also quite interested to follow the progress that is being made to make Pope Valley its own Napa sub-appellation. A lot of fruit is now being grown up in this small valley and the earthier fruit that ripens well in the hotter days and yet retains its food-friendly acidity can create some very unique Bordeaux-varietal wines. I hope to see more wines that feature only Pope Valley fruit!
Feel free to check out my full reviews of all of the wines that my Dad and I tasted that day. All of the wines that we tasted on this 4th wine trip together are tagged with “4thPSWT2008“. Enjoy!