POSTED ON May 5, 2009 | IN Tasting Rooms | BY Joe Becerra

Most wine tourists traveling north on Highway 29 just before St. Helena will spot Flora Springs Tasting Room because of its unusual architectural design. It is also right next door to the famed Dean & Deluca deli. This tasting room is a very convenient place to taste all the very good Flora Springs wines but we have a better idea. It is much more fun to visit Flora Springs working winery just a mile away on West Zinfandel Lane. This is where it all is happening at what is perhaps one of Napa’s most underrated wineries.

Flora Springs’ first vintage was 1978, which is considered to be the early days of the Napa Valley wine world. Jerome Komes, the CEO of Bechtel Corporation at the time, established the winery and it is now in its third generation of ownership and management. There were many advantages to starting out early in the Napa Valley, particularly land, which was inexpensive in those times. Today, Flora Springs is the third largest vineyard owner in the Napa Valley with 650 acres of vineyards. The winery uses only 20% of their vines to produce a total of 50,000 cases of wine per year. The other 80% of grapes from their vineyards are sold off to some 40 wineries.

To visit the Flora Springs winery and tasting room on West Zinfandel Lane, you need to schedule an appointment. It is best to call for the options for visits. We chose to take the tour and tasting along with a lunch of sandwiches and pasta salads at $45 a person. Normally we don’t like to pay that much for a tour and tasting but this was a birthday treat for our two guests.

There were several things we enjoyed about our visit to Flora Springs. The vineyards along West Zinfandel Lane are very beautiful, and because they are away from Highway 29, it is a very quiet and peaceful area. We enjoyed touring the Flora Springs ghost winery that was built in 1885. The ghost winery was originally the Rennie Brothers Winery but like many ghost wineries, it could not survive prohibition and closed up shop. The structure was purchased by Louis M. Martini and then acquired by Jerome Komes in 1974. The ghost winery still has its original stone facing but a new roof and reinforcements have been added. It is a delight to tour both inside and out.

At the back end of the winery, Flora Springs has built a lengthy section of caves. The tour includes a walk through these caves and finishes with a rather unique barrel tasting. We tasted the Flora Springs 2007 Napa Cabernet from three different oak barrels: American, Hungarian, and French oak. This was a good educational experience because it provided us a chance to see what characteristic each barrel gives to the same wine. When this wine is ready to be bottled, the winemaker will most likely blend this wine with 90% French oak, and 5% each of the American and Hungarian oak.

Flora Springs estate wines are farmed organically and the winery has a set of solar panels that is more than enough to supply the energy needs for the winery. The winemaker is Paul Steinaur, who recently took over the position when Ken Deis retired after 28 years. Paul was the assistant winemaker for the past 18 so the continuity of wines at Flora Springs will continue.

We sampled several of the Flora Springs wines in the tasting room and later with our lunch. We have to say that our host was very generous with the number of wines we tasted. Our favorite wines of the day were the 2007 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay, the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2006 Poggio Del Papa, a Sangiovese, and the 2005 Trilogy, a wonderful Meritage blend. It appears that Robert Parker also liked the Triliogy, giving it a 93-point rating. The wines at Flora Springs seem to be fairly priced and but I spotted some of their wines at my local Costco. The 93-Point Trilogy from Parker was priced at $39.50 and the Napa Cabernet and Merlot were $15. The latter two are great wine bargains at Costco.

The Good: Family-owned, the setting and view, the ghost winery, caves, very good wines
The Bad: No option for tasting only at the winery.