Monday, October 11, 2010

10/11-Bob Cabral, Nat Komes

Bob Cabral has been involved in growing and making wine professionally since 1980 and has had an interest in wine and farming since his childhood helping his grandfather make wine in his barn. Growing up pruning grapes, irrigating vineyards and harvest became routine on his family’s 70 acre ranch near Escalon, CA. A fourth generation farmer and grape grower from the great San Joaquin Valley, he took all he learned at the family farm and applied it to his degrees at Fresno State University. His passion for pinot noir was evident very early on as he would spend every spare dime, and good chunk of his student loans, on buying wine from all over the world—especially Burgundy and Russian River Valley pinot noir. One of the first North Coast wineries he became passionate about was Williams Selyem. He joined their consumer list during graduate school in 1985 as customer #576, soon after experiencing the Williams Selyem 1983 vintage wines. In the mid 1980’s while working at a large winery south of Fresno, Bob knew that Sonoma County was where he could best hone his skills and learn to make wines that could rival the best made anywhere in the world. He worked the next 11 vintages in various winemaking positions as the Associate Winemaker at De Loach Vineyards, Custom Crush Winemaker at Kunde Estate Winery, Winemaker at Alderbrook Vineyards and Winemaker at Hartford Court Winery. In 1998 Burt Williams recommended that Bob take over for him as Winemaker at Williams Selyem. Bob met with John Dyson, then the new owner of Williams Selyem, and discovered that they shared a similar philosophy about winemaking and viticulture: that the most important aspect of winemaking is in the vineyard. Bob became the winemaker at Williams Selyem July 29, 1998. Heading into his 13th vintage at Williams Selyem and 31st at a commercial winery, his winemaking philosophy has not changed: “The key is to respect the vineyard and value the fruit. Working with some of the best growers and vineyards in the world allows us to farm to the highest possible standards and provides us with the finest fruit available. That’s more than half the battle in working with Pinot Noir. Once the fruit is taken care of, then we try to intervene as little as possible. While there is no shortage of hard work in the cellar and you must still pay careful attention to detail as great wines are really made in the vineyard. My job is to just guide it along and allow the individual vineyard to be expressed in every bottle.” Bob is an experienced winemaker whose meticulousness and patience yield wines that are authentic expressions of each vineyard site. Bob, his wife Heather and daughter Paige, make their home in the Russian River Valley.

"This winery has enabled us to touch a lot of lives - our purpose is about wine, but it's also about people, relationships and the joy of what's shared around wine," says Nat Komes, Manager at Flora Springs. He's not just waxing poetic (though he is, notably, a poet, having graduated with a degree in English Literature and published his own volume of poems, called Nighttime Melodies in 1992) - Nat lives his beliefs as well. At home, at the winery, or on the road, it's not uncommon to hear Nat pondering the meaning of it all - wine, art, or life in the Napa Valley - with a customer, fellow staff member, or family over a glass of Flora Springs wine.
Nat has been training for his current role as General Manager at Flora Springs all of his life: his teenage years were full of miscellaneous jobs at the winery, whether on the bottling line, painting the winery, or washing his Uncle Pat Garvey's vineyard truck. "I think my brother Otto and I were Flora Springs' first janitors," he laughs. But it wasn't until his sophomore year in college at the University of the Pacific that Nat realized he wanted a life in the wine business. "I'd always thought Napa was a lonely, rural place growing up, but after moving to Stockton for school I realized just how special this valley is for me," he says. "It was clear that I wanted to continue the tradition that my family started - what a great gift they've given us."
One of Nat's favorite childhood memories is of the Trilogy release party in 1984, the inaugural year for the Meritage blend that has today become a standard bearer for Flora Springs. "A huge crowd of people showed up," he recalls. "Seeing all those people made me realize that what my family had started only six years earlier was something very special," he says.
In addition to his role overseeing wine production and the tasting room, Nat also manages sales for Flora Springs within the state of California. Like his cousin Sean, Nat feels it's important to keep one foot in the marketplace at all times.
Nat credits his dad, John Komes, as a major influence in both business and family life, and relies on his candor, notorious sense of humor and thunderous, arresting laugh for inspiration. "His shoes are big," says Nat. "And they will be hard to fill, but if I am able to continue the Flora Springs tradition long enough to pass on our values and prestige to a fourth generation, then my mission is complete," he adds.
Nat's wife, Anne, is a native of France, and annual visits to her parents' home in Marseilles reiterate the importance of wine in everyday life for them both. Noting the admiration for many of France's 5th, 6th, 7th, and even 8th-generation Chateaux, Nat is disconcerted by many Americans' pre-dominating interests in the new. "I'd like to break that mold and ensure that Flora Springs is a winery that that will be passed from one generation to the next. Consistent, superior quality is what we admire most about older family wineries, and that's what we strive for at Flora Springs," he says.
Much of Nat's spare time is spent remodeling his Victorian home or playing with his toddler son, Matthias, and infant daughter, Charlotte. Are Matthias and Charlotte destined to take on the role of vintner as the torch is passed to the fourth generation in a few decades? "I hope so," says Nat. "But that's their choice. If not," he says, pausing for effect, "There's always Phileas." (He is referring to the family dog.) The Komes' sense of humor, it seems, is certain to live on as well.

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