Wine tours that begin with bubbly are an auspicious way to start a day with family and friends, and that’s how a day in wine country began with family (my husband Jose) and friends (Oak Knoll’s president Greg Lint, and winemaker Jeff Herinckx).

Above, Mathew Levy is showing Greg Lint  (center) and Jeff Herinckx (right) where Schramsberg sources their fruit  for wine making. Jose Diaz took this photo.

It also began as a Pure Luxury tour, with our favorite limo company. Steve Heimoff was the first person to make me really think about the days we go into wine country to taste its offerings. Steve once told me that he can’t professionally afford to enjoy a wine tasting, and then get behind the wheel and drive. I though, “Wow… he’s right! Neither can I.” I don’t want any of the consequences for this kind of behavior. Now, in any word association with wine tasting, my answer would be “designated driver.” And, for Jose and me, it’s a Pure Luxury moment. Our friends and colleagues also appreciate the way we’re able to roll right now, when they’re invited for a day away. It won’t always be this way. I know life too well to think that this goes on forever; but, for now, it’s working really well for all of us.

So, at the suggestion and request of Greg, we began our day with Schramsberg.

I had never been to Schramsberg, so I was thrilled to learn something new.

It’s always best for me to call ahead. Being in the wine business, our insider edge is pretty wonderful and respectful… I contacted Matthew Levy, Schramsberg’s PR and marketing manager. (Below, Mathew Levy is riddling bottles for us, while we were on his tour.) Matt was very cordial, and willing to fit us into his busy, daily schedule. He gave us an amazing tour and then a very special, private tasting.

Please know that if you’re visiting wine country, and not a wine professional, which is the most likely scenario given the odds, you – too – are going to be treated like royalty at this American house of sparkling wine.

At the core of every winery, defining it’s heart and soul, is its history. Schramsberg is steeped in history, being Napa Valley’s second vineyard and winery on record. For me, living out here, exploring the areas forefathers is a fascination. In Matt’s tour, he gave us from then (when Jacob Schram came from Germany to Calistoga, California), to now (with the current owners being the Jack and Jamie Davies). The Davies purchased the property in 1965, and have loved it every since. as the custodians of this modern-day, famous house of bubbly. To capture the winery’s soul properly and accurately, I’m going to borrow a bit from their website:

In 1826, in the small town of Pheddersheim Germany, along the Rhine River, Jacob Schram was born. He came from a winemaking family. When he was sixteen, the young Schram immigrated to New York. He was educated in the trade of barbering, and in 1852 sailed across the Caribbean, crossed-over the Panama Isthmus, and continued up to San Francisco. He spent the next several years barbering, eventually moving his way north, to the Napa Valley.

In 1859 he married Annie Christine Weaver, also from Germany, and they started a family. For several years he continued to barber full time. Never far from his thoughts were his homeland and his roots in the vinelands of Germany. In 1862, Jacob purchased a large piece of land on the mountainsides of the Napa Valley. He was going to be a part of the emerging efforts by many fellow German countrymen in the Napa Valley to make wine; thus Schramsberg was born.

First to the valley was Charles Krug… Napa Valley was interestingly born from viticulurally German roots, between Krug and Schram.

After Jacob succeeded his wife in death (Annie died in 1900, and Jacob died just five years later) their son Herman tried to carry forward. But it wasn’t his true calling, so he eventually sold the property to Sterling Investment Company.  By 1916, the property went through several intriguing people owning it. By 1965, the property was sold to its current owners Jack and Jamie Davies. This was the point in time, that Schramsberg moved into the modern era of wine making in Napa Valley.

[Do you know what this white spot is in the wall of wine? I’ll send a pair of  PS I Love You “Masters of Petite Sirah” Riedel Vinum Syrah glasses to the first person with the correct answer.]

Going back in history to its original roots, writers have always found the allure of wine country to be irresistible. Mark Twain wrote copiously, while living in Calaveras County. Jack London hung out in Sonoma’s Valley of the Moon. For this early period of Calistoga, it was Robert Louis Stevenson (in 1880) who was given the Schram’s property to roam and encamp themselves as a respite. Of the Schrams, Stevenson wrote.

“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.

Standing on the same property where Robert Louis Stevenson was inspired to also write played with my heart. I felt what he must have, as I spied lichen dripping from the trees, and smelled wet moss. This property still has the flavor of terroir and the aromas of a forest primeval still lingering. Stevenson arrived as a honeymooner, I arrived as a wine blogger… The stretch of imagination in between just boggles my mind, as I write this. I also think it’s a hoot that a writer with Robert Louis Stevenson’s stature today, was so eccentric back then that he and his “bride” honeymooned in an abandoned mine shack on the Schrams’ property. I love that free spirited Stevenson was just living in the now… true to an artist’s calling.

The caves were an extraordinary experience… going right into the heart of Napa Valley, where Chinese mine diggers had become wine cave diggers, based on their tools and their experience during the Gold Rush diggings.

And then, there were the wines.

Matt had set up a really beautiful and thoughtful tasting for us. I tasted each bubbly, but was a bit removed from the process that was surrounding me, because I was Twittering. Doing that today is much the way a sports announcer takes in a game, and then broadcasts what he or she is seeing… In this case, it would be broadcasting a tasting.

While Greg, Jeff, and Jose tasted, I was enraptured by the experience in my own way. I could have just kept it all to myself, but I felt compelled to give Schramsberg some immediate publicity (I’m a publicist, after all. I live to tell other people’s stories. With Greg, Jeff, and Jose to take in every single bubble for their own enjoyment, I wanted to spread a few bubbles around to anyone interested on the Internet. And, there were followers who Tweeted back to me. It’s a very exciting way to taste wine, I’ve found, for those of us in that loop.

The order of wines tasted, and Schramsberg’s own fascinating tidbits (from their Web) about these sparkling wines:

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. Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs gained international recognition in 1972 when then President Nixon served the wine at the historic “Toast to Peace” in Beijing, China.

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.

Once we had tasting all of the bubblies that Matt had chosen for us, he gave us another really rare treat… The J.Davies Diamond Mountain Cabernet. It was a really rich, round, and delicious Cab from stellar mountain fruit. We were all amazed with this wine, and it was a very fitting finish to our Schramsberg wine tasting. This wine retails for $75.00, and is well worth its weight in gold.

If you’re wanting a “true” Napa experience, put Schramsberg at the top of your list. You could only be delighted with this wonderful step back in time, with its modern day twist. Schramsberg is a complex winery with fabulous history and flavors. I personally look forward to many happy returns.

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