Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Schramsberg Vineyards

Schramsberg Vineyards offers one of the finest and most interesting tour and tasting experiences in Napa Valley. They produce wonderful sparkling wines, arguably the finest in the U.S.  The grounds are beautifully landscaped with gardens, forests and lovely views.  The architecture with the old barn and their historic Victorian house are quite interesting. Their extensive and highly informative tour includes a visit to their old wine caves and finishes with an intimate, elegant table tasting.  Their history is amazing, Schramsberg being one of the oldest wineries in Napa Valley, having been founded in 1862, only one year after the first winery Charles Krug began.  Robert Lewis Stevenson visited Schramsberg in 1880 and tasted 18 different wines.  He even mentioned Schramsberg in his famous book The Silverado Squatters. So yes, Schramsberg Vineyard is a "must visit winery."

Schramsberg Victorian house

The winery was founded by the German immigrant Jacob Schram who grew up along the Rhine River in a winemaking family.  He immigrated to America and earned his way as a barber until purchasing the land in 1862.  Chinese workers helped build the wine caves starting in 1870, and by 1880 he was producing 20,000 gallons a year from his fifty cultivated acres.  The gorgeous Victorian house was built to replace the original cabin.  Jacob Schram continued to operate the winery until his death in 1905.

Schramsberg garden

The property was sold next to the Sterling Investment Company and was then purchased in 1916 by a wealthy San Francisco contractor, W.J. McKillop, who used it as a summer home.  The estate was in the hands of several other owners until sold to Douglas Pringle in 1951.  In 1957 it was designated a state historical landmark.  Not until 1965, however, when the property was acquired by Jack and Jamie Davies, did the estate become an operating winery once again.

Schramsberg grounds
In January of 1972 Jack Davies was contacted by the State Department asking if they could purchase 13 cases of his sparkling wine.  He had to deliver the wine to Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield though.  They did not know what the wine was to be used for.  About a month later they received a phone call from a fellow vintner, Chuck Carpy, that Barbara Walters had been on TV standing in Tiananmen Square holding a bottle of Schramsberg wine, announcing that their wine had been served last night at the State dinner in China called "Toast to Peace" that was hosted by President Nixon for the Chinese Premier Chou En-lai.  This was a very historic occasion and quite an honor for a little known California winery. It was the first time that any California wine had been served by a U.S. President at a major international event. Schramsberg sparkling wines later had the honor of being served at official functions for Price Charles and Princess Diana in 1985, for Pope John Paul II in 1987 and for Queen Elizabeth in 2007.


Schramsberg frog pond

It is the Davies family that has made Schramsberg what it is today, and it really has been and continues to be a family endeavor.  Although Jack died in 1998 and his wife Jamie in 2008, their son, Hugh Davies, has been the CEO and President of Schramsberg since 2005.  (See Hugh Davies The Next Generation )

Schramsberg tasting table

Although Schramsberg is famous for their sparkling wines, they produced their first estate Cabernet Sauvignon in 2001 (released in 2004).  They continue to offer Cabernet Sauvignon and now Pinot Noir under their Davies Vineyard label.


Schramsberg view from visitor's center

The Schramsberg estate is situated a few miles south of Calistoga, just off Highway 29, in a forested area along Diamond Mountain and consists of 218 acres.  Only 43 acres are under cultivation, with most of the estate remaining a picturesque forest. In 1998 they were placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2009 Schramsberg received final certification by both the Napa Green Winery program and the Napa Green Certified Land program.  A year later they became even more environmentally friendly by installing 1,655 solar panels. I love Schramsberg sparkling wines and have been drinking them for many years.  They are among my very favorite of all American sparkling wines.  If you visit Napa Valley, and are serious about wine, you will certainly want to visit them.  If you do not have an opportunity to visit, I strongly recommend purchasing their wines, which seem to be widely available.

Schramsberg grounds

The first wine we tasted was their well known Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs, retailing at $38 but often discounted.  Having tasted many of these over the years I can attest to the consistently high quality of this sparkling wine.  It is always excellent regardless of the vintage.  You simply cannot go wrong buying a bottle and all the wine critics seems to score it in the 90s year after year.  This Schramsberg 2011 Blanc de Blancs was no exception.  It was from 100% Chardonnay grapes.  52% of the grapes were from Napa, 40% from Sonoma, 1% from Marin and 7% from Mendocino.  Bubbles were small, tight and plentiful. The aroma was exceptional with lemon and pear along with lovely yeast notes.  It was refreshingly dry and crisp but not bone dry, with mostly apple, lemon and minerality along with very appealing yeast and vanilla notes. Balance was impeccable and the finish was very nice.  Highly recommended.

Schramsberg entry sign

Our second pour was the Schramsberg 2006 J Schram retailing at $110.  It was made from 87% Chardonnay and 13% Pinot Noir with 47% from Napa, 46% from Sonoma, 6% from Marin and 1% from Mendocino.  The J Schram represents only about 3% of their annual production.  This is cave aged, so their current release is the 2006.  From the first sip it was evident that great care had gone into this excellent wine. On the nose I got apple, grapefruit and almond with some tropical notes.  On the palate it was very dry but deep and complex with a myriad of flavors of apple, grapefruit, lime, almond and spices.  The finish was very long with additional hints of fresh ginger.  It was well structured, perfectly balanced and fairly intense.  You could certainly pair this outstanding sparkling wine with food, but I would prefer it on its own or perhaps with just some oysters or goat cheese.  This was one of the finest American sparkling wines I've tasted and was an essential purchase for us.

Schramsberg old wine barrels

Third up was the Schramsberg 2011 Brut Rosé  retailing at $43.  It was produced from 61% Pinot Noir and 39% Chardonnay.  It had a very fruity aroma that was quite appealing.  On the palate I got mostly strawberry, tangerine and raspberry.  Crisp, refreshing and rather light with an emphasis on fresh fruit and charm, this sparkler would be especially appealing on a warm day and should pair well with many different foods, including most seafood and poultry.  Quite nice.

Schramsberg Victorian house

This was followed by the Schramsberg 2006 Reserve that retails at $110.  It was from 84% Pinot Noir and 16% Chardonnay with 66% of the grapes from Sonoma, 17% from Marin, 9% from Mendocino and 8% from Napa.  I got mostly cherry and tangerine on the pronounced nose.  On the palate it was crisp and quite dry with tangerine and peach, some minerality, good complexity and a decent finish.  It was excellent, although we both preferred the 2006 J Schram at the same price. But that was simply a matter of personal preference and you might, indeed, prefer the Reserve. The Reserve seemed very food friendly and should pair well with a wide variety of foods.

Schramsberg old wine press

Our last taste was the J Davies 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain District at a retail price of $90.  It is 86% Cabernet Sauvignon and 14% Malbec, all estate grown, and was aged for 24 months in French oak with 90% new oak.  This Cab is refreshingly different than many other Napa Valley Cabs.  It is not one of those big, overly extracted Cabs.  And, even though the grapes are from Diamond Mountain, this is certainly not one of those bold, burly, tannic mountain Cabs that needs ten or more years of cellaring to be drinkable.  The presentation of this Cab was much more about delicacy and finesse.  Beginning with very pleasant cherry, cedar and floral aromas, it was medium bodied with lots of fresh, bright fruit, mostly cherry and raspberry, and fairly restrained tannins, all well balanced with spice and floral notes culminating in a long finish.  It is quite drinkable now and should appeal to those who like a more medium bodied Napa Valley Cab that emphasizes freshness and charm over intensity or power.

Schramsberg building

The interesting, lovely and fascinating tour at Schramsberg is one of the finest in Napa Valley and should not to be missed by any serious wine lover. The tours and tasting are offered as a package and require an appointment.  The tour size is usually limited to groups of ten to twelve persons so you will receive warm personal attention and have the opportunity to ask as many questions as you wish.  They generally offer six scheduled tours per day.  Hours are from 10 to 2:30. Information and scheduling is available by phone or over the Internet.  Much thanks to Kayla and Matthew for assisting in coordinating our visit and for being so enthusiastic, informative and welcoming. 

Schramsberg wine cave

Schramsberg Vineyards
1400 Schramsberg Road
Calistoga, CA 94515
Tour and Tasting Reservations: 707-942-4558
Date of visit: December 16, 2015


Schramsberg Registered Historical Landmark No. 561
Schramsberg Victorian house
Schramsberg frog pond
Schramsberg bar


Schramsberg grounds

Schramsberg old barn
Schramsberg entry road

Schramsberg Victorian house
Schramsberg small tasting table
Schramsberg cactus garden
Schramsberg wine cave storage
Schramsberg California "Bear Flag"

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Cliff Lede Vineyards

"This is as about as good as it gets."  Such were my thoughts after our wonderful and highly informative two hour tour and tasting at Cliff Lede Vineyards which included visiting the  art gallery, vineyard, and winery production area, finally culminating in a fantastic wine and food pairing. Much thanks to our very interesting and enthusiastic host, Tom Roseler, who provided one of the finest and most educational winery tours we have experienced in over 40 years of winery tastings at hundreds of wineries.  Other staff at the winery were also extremely pleasant and professional.  Although Cliff Lede wines are great by themselves, we recommend that you schedule to take the full tour because it is such an exceptional experience.


Cliff Lede grounds

Cliff Lede Vineyards has lovely views, interesting architecture, pleasant courtyards, an amazing state of the art wine production area, and an art gallery with rotating exhibits.  The vineyard and wine production tour is amazing; the wines are outstanding; and the food and wine pairing with the educational component is superb.  Be sure to schedule the Estate Tour and Tastings: "Tue - Sat, 11am (allow 2 hours) | Prior reservation required Join us for a guided tour of the property that will lead you through the vineyards to our state-of-the-art winery. Relax in one of our intimate tasting spaces and enjoy wines from both Cliff Lede Vineyards and FEL Wines paired with a selection of seasonal canapés."  Visit  Regular tastings are available to the public without an appointment.

Cliff Lede courtyard

Cliff Lede Vineyards is located where the old S. Anderson Vineyard use to be on Yountville Cross Road in the Stags Leap District. Both of us had visited S. Anderson Vineyard many times over the years and use to love attending the yearly classical music concerts held there. In 2002 Cliff Lede (pronounced "Laydee"), a Canadian businessman who loved Bordeaux wines, purchased S.Anderson Vineyards and founded Cliff Lede Vineyards.  He decided to focus primarily on red Bordeaux style wines. The well known architect Howard Backen designed the new high tech, state of the art winery completed in 2005 and Backen & Gillam restored the 1913 Craftsman-style building now used as a tasting room.  The vineyard includes 60 acres that extends toward the hills where Cliff Lede's luxurious Poetry Inn (opened in 2005) is situated overlooking the Napa Valley.  In 2011 they also added Savoy Vineyard in Anderson Valley and created a sister label called FEL, named after Mr. Lede's mother Florence Elsie Lede.  

Cliff Lede entry sign
 
Each vineyard block or section is named after one of Cliff Lede's favorite rock songs or rock albums, with such names as "Dark Side of the Moon", "Hotel California", "Purple Haze" and "Light My Fire."  The art gallery in the Backstage Reserve Tasting Room (included in the tour) currently features rock related art by Stanley Mouse who created album covers and advertising posters for the Grateful Dead, Journey, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin and others. A large, impressive painting of Grace Kelly by Tony Scherman may be viewed in the winery production area.  In the lovely courtyards you will encounter sculptures by Jim Dine along with a pretty rose garden.

Cliff Lede courtyard

Every year about half of the newly forming grape bunches in the Cliff Lede vineyard are "dropped" or removed so that the remaining grapes will be more concentrated and complex.  Irrigation and farming are carefully monitored by computers that alert staff by mobile phone when attention or changes are required. After harvesting, a Pellenc optical sorting machine is used to sort individual grapes after they have been carefully destemmed.  This is followed by hand sorting of grapes to find any imperfect grapes the optical sorting machine might have missed.  Each block of wine is fermented and aged apart from other blocks. A unique gravity crane system gently guides the whole berries to the tanks.  Specially tapered tanks modeled after the ones used at Chateau Latour were specially created for them by American tank manufacturer Mueller and allow for higher skin to juice ratios that lead to wines with great complexity and deeper concentration.  The more expensive cigar barrels made of French oak are utilized for aging. With Cliff Lede Vineyards wines everything is meticulously hand crafted.

Cliff Lede 
Exhibition Artwork Courtesy of Stanley Mouse.
Copyrights Reserved, Mouse Studios 2014

Our first tasting actually began upon or arrival and prior to the wonderful tour.  This was the FEL 2013 Chardonnay from Anderson Valley ($28).  It is a blend of multiple clones sourced from Ferrington and Savoy Vineyards near Boonville.  Only a small amount of malolactic conversion was allowed and it was aged sur lie in neutral French oak.  1,201 cases were produced. If you like a more French Burgundian style Chardonnay, without excessive oak or too much MLF, then this Chardonnay should really appeal to you, especially at this price.  I got mostly lemon and mineral notes on the palate which was dry, fresh and very well balanced.  The finish was moderately long.  I enjoyed drinking this alone, but it would pair wonderfully with food, especially seafood or vinegar based salads.  It is a bargain at only $28 and we purchased some.

Cliff Lede courtyard and waterfall fountain

Our food paired tastings were not at the bar but at a table situated in a comfortable room adjacent to the tasting room.  It was a relaxed, quiet and intimate setting with our wine educator, who really is a "wine educator" and not simply a winery server.  The first pour was the Cliff Lede Vineyards 2013 Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley at $25.  Most of the fruit in this wine was grown on old vines in eastern Rutherford known for their richness and citrus notes.  Other grapes were sourced from the southeastern hills of Napa Valley and help to provide the brightness and minerality.  Fruit from the cooler east side of Napa was then included to add more acidity and finesse. Chiles Valley fruit adds some tropical notes. The final blend was 91% Sauvignon Blanc, 7% Semillon and 2% Sauvignon Vert. It was cold fermented 50% in stainless steel, 44% in neutral French oak and 6% in concrete egg shaped containers. Production was 6581 cases. This very nice Sauvignon Blanc was paired with smoked salmon and crème fresh on crispy toast.  It was a brilliant yellow in color and had an intense floral nose of fresh orange blossoms with some notes of  lemon, white peach and minerality.  It was one of the most aromatic Sauvignon Blancs I've encounter recently, a sheer delight to the senses.  On the palate it was well structured with crisp but very well balanced acids, good minerality, along with white peach, pineapple and pear.  It had a long and lingering finish with lemon, lime and grapefruit notes.  At only $25, this Sauvignon Blanc is an excellent buy.  Obviously we had to purchase a number of bottles and will probably return for more. 

Cliff Lede courtyyard

We moved into red wines with the FEL 2012 Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir at $65.  This is a blend of clones from the famous Ferrington Vineyard in Anderson Valley.  (Ferrington grapes have been sourced by Williams Selyem, Schramsberg and other premium wineries.)  It was aged for 14 months in French oak with 44% new oak.  2,923 cases were produced.  It was one of the most aromatic Pinot Noirs I've ever encountered, with intense but complex notes of cherry, strawberry, raspberry, black tea, and spices that captivated the senses while my nose was still about eight inches away from the glass.  On the palate it was medium bodied and complex with good acid, silky tannins and mostly cherry with some forest floor.  It seemed to combine the best characteristics of a the fuller bodied and more structured styled Pinot Noirs with the liveliness and fresh fruit of a softer type Pinot Noir.  The finish was long and broad.  This Pinot Noir should be receiving scores in the 90s and was an very good Pinot Noir that was an essential purchase for us.  It is very drinkable now but should age well.  We had it delightfully paired with roasted portabella mushroom tartar on top of toasted brioche with shaved asiago cheese. This would be the perfect wine for turkey and Thanksgiving dinner. 

Cliff Lede
Exhibition Artwork Courtesy of Stanley Mouse.
Copyrights Reserved, Mouse Studios 2014

Next up was the Cliff Lede Vineyards 2011 High Fidelity Red Blend from Napa Valley, priced at $80.  As most readers will know, red French Bordeauxs from the left bank are blends based mostly on Cabernet Sauvignon whereas those from the right bank are mostly Merlot.  This High Fidelity red blend is a classic right bank Bordeaux styled blend of 45% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Franc, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Petit Verdot and  was aged for 18 months in French oak, with 85% new oak.  It had a lovely aroma of red cherry, pomegranate and cigar box followed by smooth tannins, refreshing acidity, a medium body and fresh berries on the palate.  The finish was long and refreshing.  Medium bodied but with good structure, this wine had good substance and complexity while retaining refreshing fresh fruit and liveliness. It paired extremely well with duck and juniper berry polpetta with fig and Cabernet reduction. Another essential purchase for us.

Jim Dine sculpture at Cliff Lede Vineyards

Our final pour was the Cliff Lede Vineyards 2011 Songbook Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley at $190.  Many Napa Valley wineries now offer some ultra premium or reserve Cabs in the $200 range, and I must confess that most of them I've tasted are really exceptional.  What makes this one stand out is that it is a wonderful Cab in a year that was not one of the best in Napa Valley.  But then the grapes are from David Abreau's Thorevilos Vineyard and his Madrona Ranch, so this Cab was made from some of the finest (and most expensive) grapes in the world.  This is a blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc and 9% Merlot with an alcohol content of 14.4%.  It is an amazing wine, and well worth the asking price.  Again it had an intense aroma.  All of the Cliff Lede and FEL wines had such a great nose that I would ordinarily think that my sense of smell was somehow enhanced the day we visited.  But my friend had the same olfactory experience.  The Songbook had aromas of black cherry, black currant, cinnamon and forest floor in a complex and enticing aromatic presentation.  Taste wise it was heavenly.  It had great body and structure but was not overly extracted.  Tannins were soft, silky, and perfectly integrated.  Fruits were mostly dark with black cherry, black plum, and black currants.  There was some flinty minerality with exotic spices, adding layers of complexity to perfect balance and harmony.  It was hedonistically pleasurable to experience.  I would expect this wine to be receiving scores in the high 90s. It should age gracefully if you can resist drinking it now, something that would be probably be beyond my ability to do.  We tasted it paired with Neapolitan style eggplant parmesan with tomato confit and warm, fresh mozzarella, but it was a wonderful wine simply on its own.  

Cliff Lede vineyard

We enthusiastically recommend that you place Cliff Lede Vineyards very high on your list of Napa Valley wineries to visit and that you indulge yourself by taking their outstanding tour with the food and wine paring.  We have been on hundreds of winery tours over the years, but this one is really a must.  We hope you enjoy your visit as much as we did.

Cliff Lede food and wine pairing


1473 Yountville Cross Rd
Yountville, CA 94599
Phone number (707) 944-8642
Date of visit: November 12, 2014


Grace Kelly by Tony Scherman at Cliff Lede Vineyards
Photo from Cliff Lede Vineyards


Cliff Lede tasting room entrance

Cliff Lede
Exhibition Artwork Courtesy of Stanley Mouse.
Copyrights Reserved, Mouse Studios 2014

Sculpture at Cliff Lede

Cliff Lede vineyard

"Twin Venuses by Thunder" by Jim Dine at Cliff Lede


Cliff Lede vineyard view

Cliff Lede tasting table

"Abbey Road" at Cliff Lede

Cliff Lede
Exhibition Artwork Courtesy of Stanley Mouse.
Copyrights Reserved, Mouse Studios 2014

Designer chairs at Cliff Lede



Cliff Lede outdoor tasting table

Cliff Lede courtyard

View of The Poetry Inn from Cliff Lede Vineyards

One of the tasting bars at Cliff Lede

Cliff Lede tasting lounge

Cliff Lede view of tasting room from winery