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Books,Melanie's Wine Reviews,Profiles,Wine Education,Winery

Melanie’s Wednesday Wines ~ April 2, 2008, Schramsberg Vineyards



Melanie Hoffman

I love bubbles and a good story. Where better to find both than at Schramsberg Vineyards? Thomas Roseler was kind enough to share the story of Schramsberg Vineyards with me as well as some exquisite sparkling wines.

Schramsberg Vineyards was founded by German immigrant Jacob Schram. He was born with wine in his veins, and following his family’s tradition, he too found passion in the vines. When he was a young lad of 16, he sailed across the Atlantic and landed in New York. He didn’t start his winemaking experience here, though; he learned the trade of scissors and practiced as a barber for ten years. At this point he took the long and indirect route down to the Caribbean and around South America, all the way up to San Francisco. Over the next several years he clipped his way up to Napa Valley, where he finally settled into the hills of St. Helena.

In 1870 Jacob Schram began excavation on the property. Over the next 20 years he commissioned Chinese laborers to dig, by hand, two miles of caves. In 1875 he completed construction of the Schram Victorian mansion on the vineyard site. Quite a busy and determined man Jacob Schram was. So determined that he took up barbering again to make ends meet until his first harvest.

In 1880 author Robert Louis Stevenson visited Schramsberg Vineyard. He and his new wife chose an adventurous honeymoon, traveling by ferries, trains and carts. (The original, trains, planes and automobiles.) In a journal that Stevenson kept he told tales of eagles, grizzly bears and rattle snakes; and more importantly, of Jacob Schram who finessed Stevenson with 18 different wines. And you know he wasn’t serving 1.5 ounce pours. Jacob’s wine poured from his heart and Stevenson’s experiences poured into a story that would become Silverado Squatters. Many of his notes of the scenery around him later provided much of the descriptive detail for Treasure Island. This was the moment Schramsberg Vineyard was put on the map. Jacob produced 8,403 cases of wine from 50 vineyards that year and had no difficulties finding buyers thanks, in part, to Robert Louis Stevenson.

Flash forward to 1965, Jack and Jamie Davies happened upon an old decrepit winery on the mountainside above St. Helena. The historic property had been abandoned for quite some time, but the spirits were still bubbling in the foundation of the rich history of the property. The mansion was boarded up and wild animals had taken up residence. After a yearlong search for property to begin their own history, Jack and Jamie found home and breathed life back into Schramsberg Vineyard. The Davies took to cleaning out the squatting rodents, untangling the overgrown vines, and improving the caves.

Determined to produce their first vintage, they purchased Chardonnay from the Charles Krug winery that year for their first sparkling wine in méthode champenoise. Over the next couple years, the Davies repaired the vines; and in 1967, produced their first estate vintage sparkling Blanc de Noirs.

In 1972 the Davies were asked to provide their Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs 1969 for a political event. They later found out that the bubbles were served at the State dinner “Toast to Peace” hosted by President Richard Nixon for the Premier Chou En-lai in Bejing, China. This was the first time in history that a non-French champagne was served at such an event. This historic event put Schrmasberg Vineyards sitting in a catbird seat.

Today Schramsberg Vineyards is being directed by Hugh Davies, Jack and Jamie’s youngest son. He was born in 1965, the year his parents acquired and revived the historic Schramsberg Vineyards property. In 2005 Hugh took over the responsibilities of president and CEO of the winery, relinquishing his dual titles of winemaker and general manager. He holds a Master’s degree in enology from UC Davis, and has his undergraduate degree from Bowdoin College of Maine. This I find particularly interesting, since that is where my father went to college, and also where my older sister received her Bachelor’s degree in government and legal studies with a minor in dance. Also, my family legacy at Bowdoin includes three great uncles: one became a doctor, one became a lawyer, and the third one went on to become the first man in Maine’s history to underwrite $1M in insurance policies in Portland, Maine.

Schramsberg Vineyards, 2005 Blanc de Blanc, 100% Chardonnay, aged 2-3 yrs | $ 34.50 ~ The tiniest of bubbles ascend in gentle streams. Aromas of lemon cream and white figs swirl from the glass with an elegant yeasty nature. Satiny mouthfeel expresses Myer lemon flavors with the essence of honey and vanilla. Toasty and delicious with Mandarin orange and lime essence that lingers.

Schramsberg Vineyards, 2000 J Schram, 75% Chardonnay / 25% Pinot Noir | $90.00 ~ Bouquet of apricot and starfruit, added noted of cassis with hints of clover honey and cedar wood. Palate follows nose with added sweet cream and a nice yeast mid-palate. This sparkling offers a blood orange finish.

Schramsberg Vineyards 2001 Reserve, 70% Pinot Noir / 30% Chardonnay | $90.00 ~ Upfront yeasty aromas with essence of blueberry and raspberry. Added notes of honey and cream. Velvety palate features more blueberry and honey flavors, smooth and enjoyable. The bubbles tease your palate with each sip. Suggestions of lychee nut close this bubbly.

Schramsberg Vineyards 2005 Brut Rosé, 60% Pinot Noir / 40% Chardonnay | $39.50 ~ Upfront fruity aromas of lemon and cranberry, added notes of strawberry jam, honey and fresh bread. Balanced palate, bright acid, clean and creamy with a distinguished lingering pomegranate finale.

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