When Flora Springs Winery found itself with a vacant winemaker position earlier this year, the Komes and Garvey families, owners of the winery, didn't have to look far to fill the slot. Working in the wings at Flora Springs for the past 18 years, Assistant Winemaker Paul Steinauer was primed for the challenge of taking the winery into the future.
Steinauer, who was born in St. Helena but spent most of his youth in Oregon, didn't imagine himself a winemaker when he was a business major at the University of Oregon in the 1980s. But five summers staying with his grandparents in St. Helena and working harvest at Joseph Phelps convinced him that winemaking was his career path. As Steinauer says, "I found myself enthralled with all of the activity at the winery. I even dreaded the weekends when I didn't work because I didn't want to miss any of the action."
Steinauer joined Flora Springs in 1990 as an assistant winemaker. He recalls that on his first day of work, winery President John Komes pulled him aside and said, "If I ever look like I'm not having fun, tell me, because it's time for me to do something else." With those words, Steinauer knew he was in the right place. In fact, he uses that as his own litmus test for his job. Says Steinauer: "I still love coming to work here on Mondays."
Steinauer says he never considered moving on to another winery to move up to head winemaker "because I was always really happy here. I never felt complacent because I continued to grow. There have always been new challenges, like the addition of single vineyard wines and the opportunity to experiment with rootstock, clones and trellising to get things the way we want as we have replanted our vineyards over the years."
After 18 years as a winemaker, Steinauer says harvest is still his favorite time of the year. "A four-week harvest can turn into a 12-week harvest just like that. You get thrown a curveball with the weather and you have to react; it's 'make it or break it' time."
Steinauer also loves to create the final blend, a skill that is especially important at a winery whose flagship wine, Trilogy, is a Bordeaux-style blend. "With so many different vineyards and varietals, it's fun to blend a wine that will be better than the sum of its parts."
Outside of his work at Flora Springs, Steinauer is an avid fisherman and golfer. He also loves to travel, and with international intern exchange programs he's had the opportunity to visit many winegrowing regions around the world. And Steinauer still gets together with a core group of friends who were interns at Joseph Phelps 20 years ago. The group, now winemakers, viticulturists and vineyard managers, meet regularly to taste wine and compare notes.
Visit Flora Springs Winery's striking, newly remodeled tasting room at 677 St. Helena Highway in St. Helena. The tasting room is open daily from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.