Holiday Cheers to the 50 year Anniversary of Schramsberg Vineyards
“Pop! Pop! Pop! For wine fans across the nation, popping corks and sharing bottles of domestic sparkling wines has become a tradition during the holidays. One of the great wineries to thank for this tasty trend is Schramsberg Vineyards in Napa Valley.
“Located on Diamond Mountain near Calistoga, the Schramsberg brand was originally developed by Jacob Schram, who purchased the property in 1862. Following his family’s German tradition of winemaking, Schram established a reputation for making award-winning wines with Riesling, Golden Chesslas, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah grapes grown on the first hillside vineyard in Napa Valley.
“Following Schram’s death, his son Herman ran the winery until he sold the estate just before Prohibition. Over the next few decades, the property changed hands numerous times before Jack and Jamie Davies purchased it in 1965 with the intent of making sparkling wines that could rival the finest offerings from Champagne.
“While renovating the abandon winery, caves, and bringing the Schramsberg brand back to life, the Davies launched their inaugural release, the 1965 Blanc de Blancs, a combination of Chardonnay and a smaller percentage of Pinot Blanc, in 1967. A few vintages later, the name of the brand exploded when President Nixon took bottles of the Blanc de Blancs to the “Toast to Peace” in China in 1972.
“Over the first couple decades, most of the fruit for these early wines came from Diamond Mountain, Spring Mountain and the Oak Knoll District in Napa Valley. But that started to shift in the early 1980s, when the family began working with more ultra-premium Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes from the cooler climate regions of Carneros, Sonoma Coast, Anderson Valley, and Marin County.
“Fifteen years ago, the focus on making the world-class sparkling wines was passed on to Jack and Jamie’s son Hugh, who was born the same year his parents purchased the property in 1965. Before joining the team, Hugh earned his masters in Enology at University of California Davis and worked harvests at Moet Chandon and Remy Cognac to hone his skills.
“Today, Davies and the winemaking team works with 200 separate lots of fruit picked from 120 different vineyard blocks grown at different elevations and unique soils. Consequently, this diverse mixture of vineyard sources and special sites has resulted in an increase of concentrated flavors, complexity, and natural acidity in all the new Schramsberg releases.
“These dynamic flavors shine in the new 2012 Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay, $39), which features elegant notes of spring flowers, brioche, crisp green apple, lemon/lime, grapefruit peel, roasted almond, and spice. Same is true for the 2011 Blanc de Noirs (89% Pinot Noir/11% Chardonnay, $41), which features vibrant flavors of baked red apples, ripe cherry, wild strawberry, raspberry compote, citrus peel, caramel, cinnamon toast, and a long lingering finish.
“For the more limited releases wines like the J. Schram, J. Schram Rosé and Schramsberg Reserve, the team has started to ferment the hand-selected lots in a combination of stainless steel and a smaller amount of neutral oak barrels to add more nuances, structure, depth, and rich texture to the finished blend. (Check out the retrospective tasting notes below to see how well these wines age over time).
“Other admirable sparklers to look for in the marketplace include: Schramsberg Brut Rosé, Crémant Demi-sec, Mirabelle Brut and Mirabelle Rosé. Before putting the master blends into individual bottles with dollops of sugar and yeast to start secondary fermentation (the classic methode champenoise process which creates the bubbles); the wines are sterile filtered to insure freshness.
“In the bottle, these sparkling gems are aged in the expansive estate caves which were hand-dug by Chinese laborers in the 1880s. According to Hugh, patience is the key. ‘You can’t make apple pie if you start with apple sauce. Instead, you must let the tart flavors develop over time.’
“Beyond bubbles, the winery began making the J. Davies Estate Cabernet Sauvignon in 2001 and more recently launched a special series of limited production Pinot Noirs made with fruit from Anderson Valley and higher elevation vineyards on the Sonoma Coast.
“‘My parents set us on a track to move forward with our own vision and access to the best possible fruit by developing deep relationships with some of the finest growers on the West Coast,’ says Hugh, who lives on the estate with his wife Monique and their three son Emrys, Nelson and Hugh.
“‘For that reason, we are not afraid to try new things with the intent of making world-class sparklers and still wines that offer complex flavors, subtle nuances, texture and other unique characteristics that are engaging and satisfying from the minute the cork is popped or how well the wines age in the bottle over time.’
“Schramsberg Vineyards is open by appointment. For more information, visit www.schramsberg.com. Also, look for Hugh Davies and Schramsberg Vineyards at the upcoming Flavor Napa Valley events, March 16-20: www.flavornapavalley.com.
History in the bottles: A 50-year Retrospective Tasting with Schramsberg Vineyards
“This fall, to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of Schramsberg Vineyards, Schramsberg President & CEO Hugh Davies and Winemaker Sean Thompson hosted the Golden Bouchon, a special series of exclusive Sparkling Wine Library Tastings at the historic mansion built by Jacob Schram in 1875 at the Schramsberg Estate. Here are my notes from the special sparkling wines and still wines we tasted at this memorable event…”