Happy Hallowine and A Toast to Ghost Wineries


You might think of the month of October as Ghost Hunting Month, with the penultimate night of the month the perfect day to go out hunting for ghosts.

But actually the first day of October is National Ghost Hunting Day. (Who knew?)



Goals of National Ghost Hunting Day include raising public awareness of best practices and professionalism in paranormal investigation, increasing appreciation of local history and landmarks across the nation, and uniting and organizing a network of ghost hunting teams in common cause to benefit local Humane Societies and non-profit animal shelters throughout the country.

When I saw that haunted pumpkin wine label (above) for Flora Springs on Twitter, I was instantly entranced and knew exactly what wine would be perfect for Ghost Hunting: one from a Ghost Winery!

A Ghost Winery? What’s a Ghost Winery?

By 1920, California wineries numbered 700; by the end of Prohibition, in 1933, we had only 40. The wineries that didn’t make it are known as “ghost wineries” as all that was left was the ghost of the winery.

Flora Springs is one of those “ghost wineries” that was built between 1860 and 1900 but abandoned in the early 20’s due to vine disease, the Great Depression, and Prohibition. What is now Flora Springs was originally planted in 1885 by the Rennie Brothers, but a 1900 fire along with the other challenges turned the property into a ghost winery from 1904 until 1933 when Louis Martini bought it and lived there until he died in the 1970s. In 1977, Jerry and Flora Komes bought the property, and renovated and restored it. Since 2010, Flora Springs has offered a special bottling with distinct labels on small amounts of estate-grown wines to highlight the winery’s unusual history.


On Saturday October 1, celebrate Ghost Wineries and Ghost Hunting Day at the Ojai Library, 111 E. Ojai Ave from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. at a CSU Channel Islands free public lecture that will discuss Southern California’s Ghost Wineries, part of a series from September through December at libraries throughout Ventura County, as well as the Channel Islands Boating Center. Here’s the list of what, where and when of future lectures.


October 1 hear about  Southern California’s Ghost Wineries at a lecture on “Southern California’s 19th Century Wine Industry” from Dr. Julia Ornelas-Higdon, Assistant Professor of History. She will share the history of Southern California’s pre-Prohibition wine industry including information about the diverse groups who built the wine industry: Spanish missionaries, Mexicans, California Indians, plus German, Chinese, and other immigrants. What led to Los Angeles’s vineyards and wineries becoming ghosts? Why did the industry move to Napa and Sonoma?

Future events will be held on the first Saturday of the month. The topic for November 5 is still to be determined, but December 3’s lecture is on “Liquid Histories: Madeira and Port wine.” Dr Rainer Buschmann, Professor of History will discuss why  “Madeira became such prominent place to grow grapes during the early period of Iberian expansion” and the purpose and importance of fortified wine as well as “the development of the different Port and Madeira varieties by the 20th century.”

Read more about Ghost Wineries of Napa in this 2009 Smithsonian article by Matt Kettmann; he talks about Chateau Montelena, Freemark Abbey, La Jota Vineyard and Hall Wines which is built on the grave of the old Bergfeld Winery 1885 and haunted by the ghost of former owner Robert Bergfeld. Vines were planted here in the late 1870s by New England sea captain William Peterson. An article in February 2016’s Vogue talks about several more including

  • Far Niente, one of California’s oldest wineries and is included in the National Register of Historic Places, was also founded in 1885, then abandoned during Prohibition; sixty years later, in 1979, it was restored.
  •  Dana which means “the Spirit of Generosity” in Sanskrit but the winery started out in 1883 as a farm developed by German viticulturist H.W. Helms.
  • Frog’s Leap started as Adamson Winery when it was founded in 1884. In 1994, Frog’s Leap purchased it and began renovations. Since 1988,  Frog’s Leap has farming organically; they also farm their vineyards without irrigation.
  • Spottswoode Winery began in 1882 when George Schonewald planted grapes. During Prohibition, grapes were sold for sacramental wine. In 1972, Spottswoode Estate began growing winegrapes and making their own wines in 1982 which they have farmed organically since 1985. Founder Mary Weber Novak, passed away Sunday, September 25, 2016. She walked the vineyards daily (and I imagine she –or her ghost!– may be walking there still!)

But none of these wineries does anything as special as Flora Springs with these three special bottlings and distinct, artistic labels which you can buy individually (SRP $50 and $55) or in a six pack ($299).


In the six pack this year, Flora Springs offers

  • 2014 All Hallow’s Eve Cabernet Franc with label artwork by John Manders ($50)
  • 2014 Ghost Winery Malbec with an image that celebrates Flora Springs century-old Ghost Winery ($55)
  • 2013 Harvest Witch Cabernet Sauvignon with label artwork by Wes Freed ($50)

My family and Sue’s family got together at Sue’s house where much of her yard is taken over by squash plants (and she grows many of the herbs and other vegetables we use in meals for these blog posts!). Our menu featured classic fall family party fare: pigs in a blanket, tri-tip steak, roasted corn on the cob, potato salad, green salad.


Flora Springs Halloween 3 Some have had dipped wax capsules with a string for easy release


Flora Springs Napa 2014 All Hallow’s Eve Cabernet Franc with label artwork by John Manders  

Appellation: Rutherford, Napa Valley
Varietal: 100% Cabernet Franc
Cases Produced: 300
Aging: 100% barrel aged – mix of new and 1-year seasoned oak
Price: $50
Enjoyability: Drink now through 2021


My kid loves pigs in a blanket and I was at tasting recently where a noted wine person told me out of the blue that every wine tasting should have pigs in a blanket and plenty of them! Plus we had two starving teenagers to feed so we took organic crescent rolls, rolled them out and slathered them in mustard, then rolled them up with a Nathan’s hot dog inside and baked them until they were nice and brown. Sue made a honey mustard dipping sauce. These are so easy and good!

But more importantly, they were awesome with the Cabernet Franc!

Admittedly, Cab Franc is not one of my favorite wines. Sue really likes it, and so I was excited for her that this Halloween offering from Flora Springs was 100% Cab Franc.

However, this Cab Franc made a believer out of me! While Sue found it a bit closed at first and way too tannic, I was wowed by its intense spicy earthy cumin notes. And that’s why I think it paired so well with the hot dogs. Fortunately for both of us, it opened up quickly, and as it opened up, it became more lively, robust, and rich, full of lively fruit including raspberry and plum. On the nose, in addition to fruit, forest floor and some roasted notes.

For the Cabernet Franc fan in your life, this is a must try wine. For the non-believer, even more! I was able to taste it over the next few days and it continued to be excellent. This wine makes me also want to try some of the Flora Springs wines that has this Cab Franc in the blend.

Flora Springs General Manager Nat Komes discovered John Mander’s art while reading to his kids at the St. Helena library and asked the award-winning children’s book illustrator to create the custom artwork for the 2014 All Hallow’s Eve.

The winery says that “The wine comes from a small block near John Komes’ home on the Rutherford side of the Komes Ranch. Featuring rich flavors of black currant, raspberry and plum mingled with notes of violet, black licorice and tea, the 2014 vintage is deeply flavored and generously structured, with ripe tannins and excellent length. A note of fresh roasted coffee beans from the oak barrel aging adds fullness and complexity.” Nothing about cumin but I swear it’s there!

2014 Ghost Winery Malbec with an image that celebrates Flora Springs century-old Ghost Winery 

Napa Valley (100% Rutherford)
Varietal: 100% Malbec
Cases Produced: 460
Aging: 220 months in a combination of French & American oak barrels (25% new)
Price: $55
Enjoyability: Now through 2021


My favorite pairing with the Malbec was a brie en crout with cranberry and apple on top. The rich cheese and roasted apples and tart cranberries combined with this wine to give a mouthful of pleasure! I had a hard time stopping myself!

Super dense in color, overall, I found it to be a very unusual Malbec: not so much blue fruit or blueberry pie, but more like a Dr Pepper or a Cherry Cola in spice and flavor, also mocha and cocoa powder. The mouthfeel was also surprisingly round and supple: quite remarkable actually.

The winery says: “Sourced from two small blocks within the Komes Ranch in Rutherford, this limited-production 2014 Malbec is witch-kettle black with spine-tingling flavors of black cherry, currant and ripe plum and hints of mocha, tobacco and vanilla. Intense and concentrated with silky tannins and a ripe, juicy mouthfeel, this is a frightfully good wine with a hauntingly delicious finish.”

2013 Harvest Witch Cabernet Sauvignon with label artwork by Wes Freed 

Appellation: Napa Valley (55% Rutherford; 45% Pope Valley)
Varietal: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Cases Produced: 250
Aging: 22 months 100% barrel aged – 1/3 new, 1/3 1 yr, 1/3 2yr
Price: $50
Enjoyability: Drink now through 2021

While I loved the spicy cumin of the Cab Franc, and the unusual Malbec with the amazing mouthfeel, it was the Harvest Witch that I loved the most. I loved her sexy cute boldness on the label — and in the glass. Further, I was impressed at how long she lasted! I kept her around as long as I could–she has quite the staying power!


At first, this wine was a closed book– not much to smell or taste until it opened up. Be patient!  It has a beautiful fresh fruit quality to it: lots of black and blue fruit, punctuated by wild earthy truffle qualities and more earth and then some spice and a great deal of complexity. There’s no one note to it: as soon as you think you’ve nailed it, you’re chasing another flavor or scent. This wine definitely went best with the Tri-Tip because of the earthy qualities in the flavors of the wine.

The winery says: “For the 2013 Harvest Witch, our winemaker conjured up a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon from two distinct Napa Valley regions: Rutherford and Pope Valley. The Rutherford component, from the Komes Ranch, brings rich, juicy black and blue fruit and smooth tannins to the blend, while the Pope Valley element features bolder tannins and wild blackberry and spice notes. The wine was aged in a combination of new and seasoned barrels, adding notes of both vanilla and mocha along with subtle hints of fresh-baked bread. With bold fruit, excellent structure and seductive tannins, this is a wicked good wine that will make you cackle like a witch and howl at the moon.”




Happy Hallowine er I mean Halloween! Stay tuned for more fall inspired posts and lots of Merlot!



7 thoughts on “Happy Hallowine and A Toast to Ghost Wineries

  1. Pingback: Flora Springs Releases 2016 Trilogy: An Accessible Napa Cab Blend | wine predator

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