Kelly Fleming is living the dream(s) that so many wine lovers share. First, to own a vineyard / winery and second to build a family business, in touch with nature, to be shared with her children.
In 1998, Kelly purchased 300 acres near Calistoga where today you will find a twelve acre vineyard next to her small yet beautifully designed winery tucked up against the hillside. From the private tasting room you look through glass doors into a 7,000 square foot limestone wine cave cut into the hill. Kelly, as you will see, is a hands-on vintner who has no problem with dirty boots and vineyard dust on her hands.
Bacchus and Beery Wine Blog had the opportunity to meet Kelly in the summer of 2011 to share wine and stories. Kelly is very down-to-earth with a casual elegance, much like her wines. Her easy style combined with her passion for wine made for a lovely Sunday afternoon visit far away from the frenetic pace of so many winery tasting rooms.
Kelly Fleming Wines produces only two varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. The first vintage was 2004. We enjoyed the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc’s beautiful balance with soft flavors of honeycomb, pear, pineapple, vanilla and honeydew melon. The Cabernet was well integrated with soft and supple tannins combined with flavors of dark cherry, dark berries, spice, and smoke with hints of cocoa and toasty vanilla.
The winery offers appointment tastings by contacting the winery. Elegant wines at a winery of understated elegance; Kelly Fleming Wines is a stop worth making.
B & B Wine Blog: Kelly, you are living the dream many of us have, to own our own winery. Tell us why you wanted to open a winery and how you made your dream into a reality.
KF:I wanted to continue to learn. Next I thought about my interest in food, wine and growing things. Once I found this land, the story evolved. First I was only thinking about planting grapes suited to the property. Once I got my hands dirty and spend time on the land, I was forever lost and consumed in farming. Once the grapes came, I contemplated the next step of wine production. After a few years of watching, I wanted to have the winemaking here in our control with our caring hands.
B & B Wine Blog: How did you choose this property near Calistoga? What made this the right location for you?
KF: In searching I looked at many properties and what was being made “next door.” We have some very famous vineyards right here, so I knew we could make wonderful wines. I love how the valley narrows and becomes smaller up Valley.
B & B Wine Blog: How many acres make up the estate and how many acres are dedicated to vineyards?
KF: The land is almost 300 acres and we have 12 planted to vineyard.
B & B Wine Blog: Why such a small percentage dedicated to vineyards?
KF: To be a good steward you have to offer more than grapes and cover crops to keep the land alive. We have a wonderful assortment of animals and flora along with seasonal creeks and riparian zones. Water limitations are another reason. We are trying to balance what we can hold through the winter to support our vineyard and arid landscape.
B & B Wine Blog: What grape farming techniques do you employ (organic, sustainable, biodynamic)?
KF: We farm organically and sustainably and I have a shovel, clippers and watering can in my car at all times.
B & B Wine Blog:Do you purchase grapes from other growers? Will you in the future?
KF: I purchase my Sauvignon Blanc grapes from three vineyards in Oakville and Pope Valley. I love the grape source and the lovely wine it makes. We will always produce this as it’s a good fit for the winery/tasting room.
B & B Wine Blog: How involved are you personally with the vineyard and winemaking process.
KF: I do it all and I’m hopeful I’m getting better each year. I have a good team that works well together and everyone communicates and shares thoughts while in the vineyard with Amigo and Jeff or in the fermentation room with Celia and Becky.
B & B Wine Blog: Tell us about the team at Kelly Fleming Wines.
KF: My children are my partners in the winery. Colleen started in April full time and moved to Napa. Colleen is the culinary talent and prepares all special lunches and dinners we do for our customers along with food pairings and canning all the produce which we grow on the property. Robert lives in southern California and travels for our distribution out of state; he comes back to the farm to work throughout harvest. Becky George is our assistant winemaker and oversees the winery fermentation room, caves and work orders. The four of us are all active with harvest and sharing all responsibilities related to running the winery from production to marketing. Celia Welch is our winemaker and is on property throughout the year
B & B Wine Blog: Now that your two children are involved, how has that enhanced your whole wine life experience?
KF: To have my kids involved and working hard to create a tiny family farm and winery is the best. We all started at the same point in our knowledge of winemaking and are having blast learning as we go.
B & B Wine Blog: What is your overriding objective when creating a Kelly Fleming wine?
KF: To have a family farm which was mindfully crafted and makes a beautiful wine from a quiet canyon that our family could be proud of.
B & B Wine Blog: Currently you produce a Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. Stylistically what are your goals for these two wines?
KF: My style is more French than Californian. Softer wines without high alcohol, balanced ripeness and lovely fruit from my estate vineyards and the Oakville vineyards.
B & B Wine Blog: You opened this small yet elegant winery facility just last year in 2010. The feel is rustic and very open with a touch of Arizona. Tell us about this lovely building.
KF: This is a very simple building. Each space has a purpose without any additional nonsense. The building is all stone, like the caves and has a timeless, relaxed feeling.
B & B Wine Blog:You have over 7,000 square feet of limestone caves. Why did you create such a large cave instead of a large building?
KF: My winery permit is for 4,000 case production and this 7,000 square feet is the answer for 2 years of red wine and one year of white wine stored and stacked 1.5 barrels high. We do not produce this amount at this time. Since the building was constructed after the caves and blocks the portals, we built the caves to the full planned size.
B & B Wine Blog: What did you like best about the building process?
KF: I love construction and have always been involved with the design and flow of projects. My favorite part of this project was the dynamite. The idea that we could blast into our site without the entire mountain caving in was amazing. Today it’s like an underground view of our vineyards along with the history of the Mountains.
B & B Wine Blog: Now that you have your own winemaking facility, will you expand your Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc production? Any plans to add other wines to your portfolio?
KF: I have no plans to expand what we are doing. I’m happy to be a “small” vintner with dirty boots who actually walks the rows and knows the property.
B & B Wine Blog: The winery sports a beautiful kitchen. Do you enjoy cooking? What are your favorite foods to pair with your Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc?
KF: My daughter is teaching me and I love it. I have always enjoyed cooking and now I’m more confident. Our menu changes with the season and what’s growing in the garden. We have lovely options living in northern California for fish, birds and meats. Recently we’ve been developing a pizza repertoire—or should I say, pizza palate? So you never know when you come into the kitchen if it might be a pizza to sit next to our Sauvignon Blanc or a pizza for the Cab. We included an outdoor wood-fired pizza oven as part of the winery courtyard: last year during the winter it was always a very popular spot for visitors to experience.
B & B Wine Blog: Kelly, is there anything else you want our readers to know about you or Kelly Fleming wines?
KF: We’re a small, friendly family winery; we stand for the uniqueness of estate-vineyard wines, made in a truly unique and remarkable spot.