Long-Dead Napa Winemakers Come to Life in St. Helena Cemetery; Paranormal Activity at 'Ghost Winery'

Also in Unfiltered, extended tirage, hair, accompany Argyle 'Art of Sparkling' hipster-artist label project; this week's wine smuggling adventure less romantic, more cocaine
Long-Dead Napa Winemakers Come to Life in St. Helena Cemetery; Paranormal Activity at 'Ghost Winery'
Left: George and Agnes Lemme toast to the next life; they built a winery on Spring Mountain in this one. Right: Flora Springs' ghost winery (St. Helena Historical Society/Courtesy of Flora Springs)
Sep 27, 2018

On Sunday, beloved Napa wine-industry pioneers like Jacob Schram and Charles Krug briefly rose from their graves and walked among the living, brought back to life not by sorcery, witchcraft or other interventionist methods, but by the spirit of historical celebration through reenactment, and a touch of dramatic flair.

The annual "Spirits of St. Helena Cemetery Discovery Walk," put on by the St. Helena Historical Society, celebrates—and reanimates—the historical figures that lived, died and are buried in the small city in California wine country. For each of the past 16 years, the event has highlighted a different aspect of the community's past, including Civil War vets in 2016 and Chinese immigrants in 2017. This year's theme: "Gesundheit! German Stories in St. Helena." And where there were the Germans in Napa history, there flowed das wein, from the famed winery founders to the laborers who planted many original vines and rootstocks.

Portrayed by drama students of St. Helena High School, figures like Mr. Krug, Mr. Schram (and wife, Anna, founders of Schramsberg) and the Lemme family (who built La Perla winery, now part of the Spring Mountain Vineyard estate) were among the notables in attendance. Though themselves not old enough to drink, the young thespians depicted the achievements, trials and tribulations of the 19th-century German immigrants right there among the tombstones, steps away from where they are laid to rest in the St. Helena Cemetery. About 100 townspeople and tourists came out for the cemetery walk-though, a turnout that the St. Helena Historical Society called "a tremendous success."

St. Helena Historical Society
A "Charles Krug" (center) and fiancée "Carolina Bale" (left) meet with "her mother" over an unspecified vintage of Napa "wine."

But if you missed the chance to commune with Napa's dead last weekend at the St. Helena Cemetery, fear not: There are plenty more spectral vintners doomed to roam the terroir for all time (it's been said some Napa winemakers even sold their souls), and not a few so-called "ghost wineries" they're thought to haunt. The old Rennie Brothers Winery, completed in 1900, is one—the once-thriving wine factory sat derelict through Prohibition before its rebirth as Flora Spring Estate. On Oct. 28, the winery is bringing in local paranormal investigators/Napa history fiends Ellen MacFarlane and Devin Sisk, who most recently appeared together on the Travel Channel's Ghost Adventures, to lead a haunted tour and wine lunch in the old stone cellars and caves. "As one of the few remaining Napa Valley 'ghost wineries,' we are constantly reminded that there are phantoms and spirits who walked here before us," noted general manager Nat Komes to Unfiltered.

As in past years, Flora Springs is also releasing a set of Halloween-themed wines next month with limited-edition label art from painters and illustrators: All Hallow's Eve Cabernet Franc, Ghost Winery Malbec, Black Moon Cabernet Sauvignon and Drink in Peace Merlot (glow-in-the-dark label; comes in coffin-shaped gift box) are a few representative treats.

With Extended Tirage, Hair, Argyle Uncorks Next Generation of Wine Artists with 'Art of Sparkling' Labels

The Willamette Valley's Argyle Winery has spiritual ties to the Portland, Ore., hipster-artist scene going back to Rollin Soles' founding moustache in 1987, but in the past few years, the Dundee sparkling specialists have made their ties to the art community more formal (though no less fashionable) than in the early days.

Courtesy of Argyle
Student artist Levi Hylton and the fruits of his labor await TTB approval.

When the winery was opening a new tasting room in 2015, it occurred to management that the light-filled space and high ceilings could use some wall art to spruce it up. Soon, a scholarship program with the Portland Northwest College of Arts was underway, and last week, the third annual class of recipient students unveiled Willamette wine–inspired works that will decorate both the Argyle tasting room and bottles of Argyle's limited-edition Art of Sparkling vintage 2015 brut wines.

Courtesy of Argyle
From left, the creative dégorgements of Rebecca Giordano, Levi Hylton and Jeff Cravath

The scholarship program begins each year in January, with PNCA and Argyle reps selecting three student recipients. The trio this year—students Jeff Cravath, Rebecca Giordano and Levi Hylton—made the trip to Argyle in April to find inspo in the vineyards and cellars, and get a brief crush course in how traditional-method wine gets made. "After visiting the vineyard and winery I was taken aback by how simple and elemental the process was," said Cravath to Unfiltered via email. "Since then, I’ve thought a lot about how little I know of what I consume daily. Where and what it comes from, its maker, and how far it travels to get to me.”

In May, the students unveiled their designs on canvas, then the Argyle team fired up the label printer, the vintage bubbly rounded out its third year of aging, and the Art of Sparkling bottles were launched. The pop of bubbly wine completed the cycle of art-world patronage, from commission to exhibition, and the young creatives got a brush with the business side that was less commercial-crass than warm and, uh, fizzy. "In addition to generous scholarships, students have a true client experience—researching and exploring how their creativity can be deployed to represent the essence of the Art of Sparkling and Argyle," Don Tuski, PNCA president explained to Unfiltered.

Latest Wine-Smuggling Venture Discovered: Actually $808,000 of Cocaine

Seizing the torch of wine swashbuckling from last week's genteel Scottish cave smugglers and carrying it into the 21st century is an Australian man whose contraband enterprise was grounded earlier this month by the Australian Border Force. The man was apprehended at Sydney International Airport after two bottles of wine in his baggage tested positive for an unusual and most illegal enological additive: cocaine. $808,000 worth of cocaine.

Australian Border Force
A wine deal that fell through

“While there are ever-changing and creative attempts to beat our border processes, criminals continue to be undone by our mix of intelligence, officer skill and state-of-the-art technology," ABF regional commander Danielle Yannopoulos said in an Australian police press release. Points for creativity then, but a D for execution on the perp's part: The ABF estimated they collected more than 7 pounds of cocaine from the 2-bottle bust, but most wine bottles, full (of wine), weigh noticeably less at 2 to 3 pounds. The smuggler was remanded into custody and charged with importing a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug; let him be a reminder to all you kids out there reading who the real wine ghouls and gremlins are.

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