From A Career in Design to Kelly Fleming Wines: One Woman’s Road to Happiness

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Kelly Fleming, Kelly Fleming Wines

Kelly Fleming, owner of Kelly Fleming Wines, original plan in Napa was just to build a getaway home with her former husband and plant some vines.  Life has a way of changing plans.

“My original plan was to just live there – not to be a farmer,” she said.  They purchased 300 acres of undeveloped land in 1998 that backed up to the Land Trust’s Wildlake property about a mile and a half from Calistoga.   Only 12 of those acres were plantable and after doing a site survey, she found that the land was ideal for Cabernet Sauvignon with all of the diverse soils of the vineyard.  The first eight acres of cabernet sauvignon were planted in 1999, and four more acres were planted six years later once the permit was granted.

She hired Winemaker Celia Welch and produced the first vintage in 2002, which was released in 2005. Welch was there until 2013 and then she promoted Rebecca George, who was assistant winemaker.  She liked Rebecca’s style and experience in making other varieties of wine that were not made yet at Kelly Fleming Wines.

After her marriage ended, Kelly found building the winery and designing the house on the property was the perfect road to happiness.  She went from a role of leading a team while working in design development at restaurants like Ruth Chris Steak House, Fleming’s Prime Steak and P.F. Chang’s to relying in herself to get the job done.  That meant blasting the rock, planting the vineyards, building 13 underground water treatment tanks, working on the roads and driving the forklift.  And she’s not a woman afraid to get her hands dirty.

The winery, tasting room and caves came later.  She moved to Napa full-time in 2013 after her house was finished.  Her daughter, Colleen, worked at the winery before becoming a partner in Cadet Wine Bar in Napa.

Kelly describes her style as elegant and restrained.  She has a small farm on the property with olive trees, fruit trees, bees and even a crew of three rescue donkeys (she keeps photos on her phone and they are precious).

We tried five wines, several Estate Cabernet Sauvignons, the Big Pour Napa Red and the Sauvignon Blanc. Most is sold direct and is in limited distribution.

2018 Kelly Fleming Sauvignon Blanc – this is a blend of Sauvignon Musque and Sauvignon Blanc. I tasted stone fruit, minerality, jasmine and citrus.  It’s lovely.

2011 Kelly Fleming Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – I tasted lots of red and black fruit, cassis, spice, almonds and eucalyptus.  It’s rich and elegant.

2015 Kelly Fleming Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – black cherry, licorice, sage, blue and black fruit, tea and chocolate.  Much more fruit forward, but very expressive and delicious.

We then moved to the Big Pour Napa Red.  This label reflects Kelly’s nickname earned when she visited Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in Burgundy.  Her host kept giving her larger pours over her male colleagues which caused one of them to say, “I want to be next to Big Pour over there!”  The name was born.  The label, which used to be pictorial, also changed this year to reflect the Kelly Fleming logo in the 2015 wine.

2011 Big Pour Napa Red – this blend of 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot and 4% Cabernet Franc takes a bit to open, but is worth the wait.  I tasted cassis, red fruit, Asian spice, chocolate and herbal notes.

2015 Big Pour Napa Red – this blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Syrah and 10% Malbec is very easy drinking.  I tasted blueberry pie, herbal notes, cassis, spice and chocolate.

Kelly is an amazing women who literally rebuilt her second career with a sense of determination and a forklift to make wines showing the terroir she cultivated by hand.

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