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Wine to me is passion. It's family and friends. It's warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It's culture. It's the essence of civilization and the art of living. - Robert Mondavi

Saber a Bottle of Schramsberg

Monday, June 6, 2011
There’s no better way to embrace a Sunday morning in Napa than with a glass of the valley’s finest sparkling wine and it’s a the icing on the cake to take in an awesome history lesson during the process. Our day began with a singing frog in the Schramsberg pond and ended with a lesson in champage sabering (watch a demonstration here ). The Schramsberg Winery Cave tour is fun, interesting and shouldn't be missed, so book ahead of time and come early to stroll around the pond and natural beauty of the Calistoga mountains where Robert Louis Stevenson used to find inspiration. (Cave tour times are: 10:00 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m, 1:30 p.m, & 2:30 p.m). We began outside the caves with the interesting history behind Schramsberg Winery - which, founded in 1862, is the second vineyard and winery on record in Napa Valley. Our guide (who moonlights during the week as a high school science teacher) gave us a great account of the winery’s history, peppered with insider stories from when Jacob Schram came from Germany to Calistoga to the winery’s current ownership (Jack and Jamie Davies). His stories were brought to life by historic photos hanging on the tasting room walls featuring a bevy of famous celebrity and presidential candidates enjoying the bubbly.

Jacob Schram was born in a wine making family in Germany, and came over to New York, then San Francisco to work first as a humble barber. In 1862, he decided to move up to Napa and revisit his winemaking roots and he thus purchased a large piece of land on the Calistoga countryside. In 1870, Schram planted 30,000 vines and recruited Chinese laborers in town from the recent completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, to dig Napa’s first hillside caves for wine-aging and storage. By 1876, his wines were winning awards at American and International competitions. Soon after, Schram built a huge stately Victorian mansion where his many friends (many who were famous such as Robert Louis Stevenson) often visited, drinking until late into the nightwith Schram. The home is still lived in today.

Schramsberg has proven its high quality and demand garnering a presidential and leadership following: In 1891, Schramsberg Riesling was served to President Harrison at Palace Hotel in San Francisco. The Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs gained international recognition in 1972 whenthen President Nixon served the wine at the historic “Toast to Peace” in Beijing, China. In 1987, Schramsberg served at official banquet in San Francisco honoring Pope John Paul II and, in 2007, Schramsberg 2005 Brut Rosé was served at the White House State Dinner honoring Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. There are also photos hanging in the winery depicting presidents Reagan, Clinton and both Bush Junior and Senior drinking Schramsberg at presidential events.
Despite being steeped in history, Schramsberg is still progressive, and managed now exclusively by "Schramsberg's princess", Mrs. Jamie Davies (Be sure to ask for theJamie poker story during your tour)! In 2009, Schramsberg was certified under both the Napa Green Winery program and the Napa Green Certified Land program and just recently, in 2010, the winery installed 466,806 kilowatt-hours solar array, consisting of 1,655 panels. Yet despite the progression, the winery continues to produce wine in the method tradicional, (read more about this on my blog post about champagne production), giving each bottle the tiniest bubbles and interesting flavor extract.
Our tour concluded with a fantastic tasting featuring 4 sparkling wines. Our guide continued to educate us on champagne facts and food pairings - some of which surprised me (try brut rose with barbecue)! He demonstrated the proper way to uncork a champagne bottle -something I’m trying to perfect- and described the proper technique for sabering the top off a bottle of champagne. This I found to be most interesting and couldn’t resist purchasing a wine saber in the gift shop, and plan on asking my father to do the honors of sabering champagne bottles for my wedding this fall! I’ve posted the tasting notes from the Schramsberg tasting guide are below:

Blanc de Blancs ~ $36.00 retail
Blanc de Blancs (white from white) made from Chardonnay is the counterpart to the Blanc de Noirs (white from black), made from Pinot Noir. Blanc de Blancs was the first wine Schramsberg produced in 1965 and was America’s first commercially produced, Chardonnay-based brut sparkling wine.

J Schram ~ $100.00 retail
From the inception of our efforts in 1965, we have sought to achieve the greatest elegance and individuality possible in our sparkling wines. J. Schram epitomizes our philosophy to create a wine in which no effort has been spared and no care has been omitted. This wine is a fine expression of American individuality and innovation.
Wine grapes from the finest vineyards of Northern California are nurtured throughout the ripening process, before they are hand-picked. Complexity is gained through fermentation in both oak barrels and stainless steel tanks. Some small lots undergo malolactic fermentation to enrich aromas and infuse creaminess on the palate. The wine is then aged in our historical mountainside caves for over five years.

Brut Rosé ~ $41.00 retail
Schramsberg Brut Rosé is flavorful, complex and dry, making it both versatile with food and delicious by itself as an apéritif. The character of the wine is most strongly influenced by bright, flavorful Pinot Noir grown in Carneros, Anderson Valley, and the Sonoma and Marin coastal areas. A few small lots of Pinot Noir are fermented in contact with their skins to add depth and subtle color to this unique sparkling wine. Chardonnay gives spice, structure and length on the palate. Hand picking, careful handling and gentle pressing produce a wine of delicacy, free of skin and seed tannin. Following the fall harvest and base winemaking period, an extensive process of blending trial and refinement is carried out in the spring. The finished blend is aged on the yeast in the bottle for about two years, just enough to achieve refined effervescence and toastiness without diminishing its refreshing, vibrant appeal.

Reserve ~ $100.00 retail
Schramsberg Reserve is our top Pinot Noir-focused brut sparkling wine. Typically representing about 3% of our annual production, this richly-flavored and full-bodied sparkler is made from only the finest base-wine lots produced each year. Six years old upon release, this fruitful, yet dry, toasty and creamy bubbly will age gracefully for a good 20 years beyond the vintage date. More than 80 cool-climate vineyard sites in Carneros, Anderson Valley, and the Sonoma and Marin coastal areas are managed each year to achieve the best possible fruit for our sparkling wines. Hand-picking, early-morning harvesting, and light pressing are critical. Small amounts of select Chardonnay are included in the blend to lend additional backbone and length to the palate. Distinct barrel and malolactic fermentation lots are layered in to provide viscosity and depth. Extensive tasting is conducted over the winter months, with as many as 200 base wines being taken into consideration. Following bottle fermentation, each bottle is aged in contact with its own yeast in our historic Diamond Mountain hillside caves for a minimum of nearly five years. The finishing dosage is the result of comprehensive trials to fine-tune balance of flavor and acidity.

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