Brief Napa reports: Schramsberg
Schramsberg is my second visit. On a spellbindingly crisp, sunny morning I meet with Keith Hock, the winemaker here. Schramsberg reeks of history. When Jack and Jamie Davies brought the property in 1965 it was pretty much abandoned, and they decided to make wine here again. But they made an interesting decision. They saw that the 20 or so wineries in the valley at the time were all making table wines, and to carve out a niche, they decided to focus on sparkling wine.
The first vintage was done at Charles Krug (using Chenin Blanc) which was where the Mondavis were at the time – before Robert had struck out on his own. The Davies decided to replant their property with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and became the first producer in the USA to make traditional method sparkling wine from the classic Champagne varieties.
Now the large hillside property (250 acres with 50 acres of vineyards), doesn't produce grapes for sparkling wines: instead, grapes from 95 different vineyard blocks farmed by 45 different growers are used. 1300 tons were crushed in 2009.
In addition to the sparkling wines, a J Davies Cabernet Sauvignon is also made here.
Keith took me through the cellars where we tried quite a few base wines (as in base for sparkling, not 'base' in the other sense), as well as some stunning reserve wines. A quarter of the wines here are fermented in barrel. 'We like the richness, the mouthfeel and the texture we get from barrels,' says Keith. All barrels are about three years old, or older, and around 60 are brought into the cellar each year. Reserve wines are aged in larger puncheons (500 litres).
The tasting of bottled wines showed that Keith is making some very serious fizz here. Blanc de Blancs 2006 is complex, fresh and lemony, while the Blanc de Noirs 2006 has more fruitiness and purity. J Schram 2001 is the flagship wine, and it's really complex and focused. The Reserve 2001 is a high end Pinot-dominated blend with lively, intense fruit and both the Brut Rose 2006 and the J Schram Rose 2000 are very successful, dry, complex roses. We also tried the Schramsberg 1992 Reserve 'Napa Valley Champagne', which is rich, complex, very fruity and bold. I rated all the wines highly and would be delighted to drink them.