Daniel and Florence Cathiard, the owners of Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte in Bordeaux, are branching out to California’s Napa Valley. The couple has purchased the Flora Springs estate, which straddles the Rutherford and St. Helena AVAs, at the base of the Mayacamas mountain range. The sale price was not disclosed, but the deal includes 280 acres (58 planted to vines) and the winery. Flora Spring’s owners, the Komes and Garvey families, will retain the brand and tasting room in St. Helena.
"It was love at first sight," Florence Cathiard told Wine Spectator, noting that visiting the estate—beautiful and rural, surrounded by forest—reminded her of when she first saw Smith-Haut-Lafitte. Cathiard said they looked at several Napa properties prior to landing on Flora Springs. "We were looking for something which is becoming very rare in Napa Valley, which is a lot of biodiversity," she said.
Ski champions turned vintners, the Cathiards have been ambitious and active buyers in France. Their purchase of Smith-Haut-Lafitte came in 1990. They also own Châteaus Le Thil, Cantelys, Beauregard, Bastor-Lamontagne and St.-Robert, as well as luxury hotels and spas and a ski chalet. This is their first foray outside of France. Cathiard said they considered Tuscany, but were intrigued by what they felt has been a recent upswing in quality wines from Napa.
Their goal will be to release Cathiard Family Estate wines within a few years. Ben Morken, a U.S.-born enologist who trained at Smith-Haut-Lafitte, will be the winemaker, and Smith-Haut-Lafitte technical director Fabien Teitgen will help oversee production. Cathiard said there will be some winery and viticulture renovations, but they plan to harvest grapes in 2020.
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For the Garvey and Komes families, the decision came down to estate planning. "My sister Julie and I founded and grew Flora Springs from the ground up, but the wine business has changed since we began," John Komes told Wine Spectator. "I think sales like this are an inevitable fact of life and part of the estate and succession planning, particularly when you have a large, extended family as we do."
Komes' parents, Jerry and Flora, retired to Napa Valley in 1977 and purchased a property with a neglected old winery west of St. Helena. The estate was founded in 1885 by Scottish brothers James and William Rennie, and later became the home for Louis M. Martini and his wife, Assunta. Martini and his wife passed away in 1974, and the property remained vacant until the Komes arrived.
Jerry and Flora’s children and their spouses—John and Carrie Komes and Julie and Pat Garvey—were the driving force behind starting a winery, naming it after Flora and the natural springs that run throughout the property. Initially they planned to only grow grapes, but John wanted to try his hand at winemaking. Today the brand produces more than 30,000 cases in a typical vintage.
Over subsequent years, the family renovated the winery, built a tasting room along Highway 29 in St. Helena and became substantial landowners in Napa Valley. At one point the family owned a combined 300 planted acres in various locations. They sold a large property to E.&J. Gallo a few years ago.
Anchored by flagship wine Trilogy, a Bordeaux-style blend from their best vineyard lots, Flora Springs is predominantly a Cabernet house, but also makes Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Merlot. The wines saw early success, earning Wine Spectator Top 100 honors six times during the 1990s.
Jerry died in 2001 and Flora in 2012. John and Julie have carried on the legacy, and Julie’s husband, Pat, has served as vineyard director. Their kids Nat Komes and Sean Garvey joined as well, serving as general manager and vineyard manager, respectively.
"Our family’s third generation grew up in this business and has a great understanding of it; they can keep up with the new pace," said John, noting that he is looking forward to retiring from his day-to-day role at Flora Springs while continuing to work on the Jon Nathaniel wines that he started with Nat.
Komes noted that his family still owns 200 acres of vineyards, including the sources for their flagship wines, Trilogy and Soliloquy. "We still have a burning passion for success and perfection and we look forward to sharing our same wines and wine style with our loyal following."