Saturday, April 23, 2011

The second winery I would recommend making a reservation to visit in Napa Valley is Schramsberg. Seeing the endless tunnels dug into the mountainside by Chinese laborers filled with bottles vs. casks is an amazing sight.

In 1862, German immigrant and barber Jacob Schram purchased a large piece of land on the mountainsides of the Napa Valley. Along with his wife Annie, they planted European varietals, and began to produce wine, establishing the first hillside winery. Jacob remained a barber to supplement his income, while the work at Schramsberg continued. After fully realizing the summer heat in the area, he hired Chinese workers to help him dig his cool underground cellars.

Gradually, the winery and vineyards grew until the Schrams had fifty acres of bearing vines and were producing upwards of 12,000 cases per year. Jacob shipped his Riesling, Hock, Burgundy and Chasselas to New York and beyond. His wines were winning awards at American and International competitions.

As they continued to prosper, the Schrams had a lavish Victorian built to replace the original cabin they lived in. The house became a gathering spot for the many friends and colleagues the Schram's had become familiar with, including Robert Louis Stevenson on his honeymoon. The Schrams would be featured in Stevenson’s book “The Silverado Squatters”.

"In this wild spot, I did not feel the sacredness of ancient cultivation. It was still raw, it was no Marathon, and no Johannesburg; yet the stirring sunlight, and the growing vines, and the vats and bottles in the cavern, made a pleasant music for the mind. Here, also, earth's cream was being skimmed and garnered: and the customers can taste, such as it is, the tang of the earth in this green valley. So local, so quintessential is a wine, that it seems the very birds in the verandah might communicate a flavor, and that romantic cellar influence the bottle next to be uncorked in Pimlico, and the smile of jolly Mr. Schram might mantle in the glass." Stevenson's Journal.

After the death of the Schrams, the winery fell into disuse and the property was abandoned until 1965 when Jack and Jamie Davies bought Schamsberg. The Davies set out to produce sparkling wine – specifically, "America's most prestigious, select and admired sparkling wine; chosen for special guests, special gifts, pampering one's self and expressing one's taste in unique products." They envisioned their sparkling wines, fermented in the authentic Méthode Champenoise, as in the manner of great Champagnes.

The 1965 Blanc de Blancs was a product of the first commercial use of Chardonnay in American sparkling wine. The 1967 Blanc de Noirs followed, an accomplishment in California premier Méthode Champenoise wines in that it was produced using Pinot Noir according to the classic style.

In 1972 the 1969 Blanc de Blancs was served at the "Toast to Peace" in Beijing, between President Richard Nixon and Premier Chou Enlai; Schramsberg wines have been served by every subsequent presidential administration.

Schrams' Victorian Mansion still in use 

Frog in pond that's unoffical logo.

Tunnel dug into mountainside

Wine tasting in a cavern

Infamous Toast to Peace

Schramsberg's sparkling wine even made it to outer space