By JULIA HOLLISTER
For the Capital Press
NAPA VALLEY, Calif. — John Komes can tell you a lot about viticulture and the changes he’s witnessed; he’s been at it for 41 years.
“My ‘first’ career was as a contractor, and I worked on construction projects all over the Bay Area,” he said. “But in the early 1970s I took a wine appreciation course and my fascination with wine just took off. When my parents bought the Flora Springs property in 1977, I convinced them to let me start making wine from the vines there.
“Part of my motivation was that I wanted to move my family to Napa Valley. It was so unspoiled, so bucolic, and it seemed like a good place to raise children. And I loved the idea of having the whole family involved in the winery. Today I work closely with my son, my brother-in-law and my nephew, which is very satisfying.”
Komes said there have been many changes in viticulture since he got started, and he’s learned much over the years. At Flora Springs he is constantly experimenting, both in the vineyard and the winery. They were one of the first wineries to try barrel fermentation with Chardonnay.
“Our flagship wine, Trilogy, which we introduced in 1984, was one of Napa Valley’s the first proprietary red Bordeaux-style blends,” he said.
“Because we’ve owned our vineyards for so long we’ve had several opportunities to replant, and every time we do, we experiment with different spacing, rootstocks, clones, trellis systems, you name it,” he said. “It’s all about fine tuning as you go along, and I can tell you that the wines we make today are more compelling than ever because of the experimenting we’ve done over the years.”
Napa Valley is a superb place to grow grapes, but over time Komes admits he has learned a lot about which varieties grow best here. This is a region where Cabernet Sauvignon thrives, and the Sauvignon Blanc also grows well.
“I guess to answer the question, the hardest grapes to grow are the varieties that are planted in the wrong place,” he said.
The family has 500 acres throughout the Napa Valley, 300 of which are planted to vineyard.
“We have estate properties in Carneros, Oakville, Rutherford and St. Helena, and we produce varietal wines ranging from Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay to Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and other red Bordeaux varietals,” he said. “All of our vineyards are sustainably farmed, and many are farmed organically.”
Wine tastes are changing, and Komes sees more people gravitating to reds these days, but that’s not to say there aren’t a lot of white wine lovers out there.
“In fact, we happened to notice recently that there is no white wine emoji, just a red one! So Flora Springs launched a ‘Where’s the #WhiteWineEmoji’ campaign, and we’re inviting people to sign a petition to have one created,” Komes said. “People can go our website at www.florasprings.com to learn more.”
In spite of the excellent weather and high-quality grapes, Komes said two challenges stand out.
“The two that stand out to me are climate change and labor,” he said. “But the wine industry has faced a lot of challenges, and when we work together we usually find solutions.”
One more thing: What about the big wineries in Napa?
“People often ask me if I think there are too many wineries in Napa Valley. I don’t think there are too many wineries; I just think there are too many big wineries,” he said. “In the last couple of decades the wine industry has experienced what many American industries have undergone: conglomeration. A few big guys buying up the little guys.
“But the little guy is the genius of this industry. The one who discovers new techniques in the vineyards and wineries, who finds and develops small plots of land that produce outstanding grapes, who innovates and creates. I like to think we still have that spirit at Flora Springs, and I certainly think it shows in our wines and hospitality. I also think there will always be little guys, people willing to risk everything to pursue their life’s passion. And to them, I raise my glass!”
Residence: Napa Valley
Occupation: Founder, president and proprietor of Flora Springs Vineyards and Winery
Years in Business: 41
Family: Married to Carrie Komes. Son is Nat Komes. Sister and brother-in-law are Julie Komes Garvey and Pat Garvey.