We followed our tour and tasting at Ladera with some food and World Cup final action at the Silverado Brewing Company, a great place in Calistoga to grab a beer if you get sick of wine.
Since the World Cup was going on at the time of our appointment, I called Schramsberg to try to reschedule our tour and tasting, and though they were busy, they very kindly rearranged it for us.
Everything about our visit to Schramsberg, from their help on the phone, to the check-in at the winery, to the tour and tasting, was perfect.
After pulling up a long, woodsy driveway, we arrived at Schramsberg’s parking area and proceeded to check in. While we waited in the hot Napa sun for our tour to begin, I spotted pollywogs in the pond out front.
Soon, our tour guide was bringing us up to the entrance of the original Schramsberg cave and sharing with us the rich history of the winery.
There is so much information to tell, and if you are interested I suggest checking out Schramsberg’s website.
Among the very interesting things we learned was that Robert Louis Stevenson, famed writer, and the man some say is a distant cousin of mine, spent his honeymoon on the property. I just had to share his thoughts about the visit at the home of Mr. Jacob Schram:
“Mr. Schram’s, on the other hand, is the oldest vineyard in the valley, eighteen years old I think; yet he began a penniless barber, and even after he had broken ground up here with his black malvoisies, continued for long to tramp the valley with his razor. Now, his place is the picture of prosperity: stuffed birds on the verandah, cellars far dug into the hillside, and resting on pillars like a bandit’s cave: all trimness, varnish, flowers, and sunshine, among the tangled wildwood. Stout, smiling Mrs. Schram, who has been to Europe and apparently all about the States for pleasure, entertained Fanny in the verandah, while I was tasting wines in the cellar. To Mr. Schram this was a solemn office; his serious gusto warmed my heart; prosperity had not yet wholly banished a certain neophyte and girlish trepidation, and he followed every sip and read my face with proud anxiety. I tasted all. I tasted every variety and shade of Schramberger, red and white Schramberger, Burgundy Schramberger, Schramberger Hock, Schramberger Golden Chasselas, the latter with a notable bouquet, and I fear to think how many more. Much of it goes to London – most, I think; and Mr. Schram has a great notion of the English taste. (Source)
Schramsberg has seen its share of historical events, and the entire timeline can be found here. It is currently owned by Hugh Davies, son of Jack and Jamie Davies, the couple who took over and brought the winery back to life in the mid-60’s.
Once we were given some fun historical information, it was time to enter the mile or so of underground caves, a space that while cool, was also very humid. Our guide pointed out the ceilings which were covered in a natural moss from the humidity inside the caves. You can see it hanging down in the photo below.
He also warned us that there were rows of sparkling wine bottles covered in plastic sheeting and that we were not to remove the sheets or to touch them at all. They are there to protect visitors and workers if by some chance the pressure inside the bottles from fermentation becomes so great that they explode. It happens.
During the tour, our guide talked to us about their sparkling wine and how it is made. Jack and Jamie Davies were California pioneers in sparkling wine made in the Méthode Champenoise, that is the same way Champagne is made, only you can not call it Champagne because it is not from that region.
He also told us how Jamie Davies won back these wooden casks (that originally belonged to the Schram family) in a poker game when she had never before played poker.
And he showed us how the bottles are “riddled”, a process invented by the Widow Clicquot (sound familiar?;)). The intent of the process is to shake loose any sediment from the fermentation process so that it is freed from the sides of the bottle and sinks to the bottom. In many places, this process is done by machine, but at Schramsberg it is done by expert human hands, making their wine that much more labor intensive and special.
After a captivating tour, it was time for a tasting. We were seated in a lovely room and walked through a variety of sparkling wines and a couple of still wines.
It turns out our tour guide was from the Boston area, had lived in Dorchester, and had worked for the same moving company that my husband worked for in college. Small world when you are married to an Irishman. . .
Schramsberg wines have been served at White House functions for decades, so I wasn’t concerned that I wouldn’t like them. I could write an entire post on Schramsberg’s wines, and perhaps I should, as they each have such personality that they deserve the spotlight on their own.
Really though, a mile or so of underground space filled with bubbly, an elegant tasting room, a friendly, gregarious, and incredibly intelligent tour guide. . . can you go wrong in such a situation?
Truly, as The New York Times reported, Schramsberg’s sparkling wines are sparkle to make a French nose twitch. The property is gorgeous, rich in history, and produces some of the best quality sparkling wines I have ever tasted.
Add Schramsberg to my list of repeat visit wineries. It is spectacular.
If you could live in any time in history what would it be? Being on a property such as Schramsberg’s made me envision Napa Valley over a hundred years ago, and it seems so romantic and unsettled!