Sunday, January 4, 2015

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"

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