Visiting California's Napa Valley, part 2


Schramsberg is my second visit. On a spellbindingly crisp, sunny morning I meet with Keith Hock (below), 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, with 270 unique lots of wine. In addition to the sparkling wines, a J Davies Cabernet Sauvignon is also made here. Production is 60 000 cases of sparkling and 3000 cases of red wine.

Originally, the property was established in 1862 by J Schram, a German immigrant. He built the first caves here and also planted the first hillside vineyards. From this time until prohibition, around 20 000 cases of wine were made annually under the Schram name, which by the standards of the day was a considerable production level.


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.


Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs 2006
20% aged in barrel, 80% in stainless steel. Lovely complex toasty  nose: very fine and well defined. Wonderfully fresh with lovely complexity. The palate has appealing fruit with taut, fresh, lemony personality as well as some toasty richness. Fresh with good acidity. A lovely wine. 91/100

Schramsberg J Schram 2001
80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir. 60% Stainless steel fermentation, 40% barrel. Very focused and complex with rich, toasty, fruity notes. There's some richness here, too. Taut, intense, complex and toasty with nice intensity and focus. Brilliant wine. 93/100

Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs 2006
90% Pinot Noir, 10% Chardonnay, 20% barrel fermented. Rich, focused, fruity nose is lively and quite lemony. Beautifully focused fruity palate is fresh and linear with lovely purity. All fruit. 90/100

Schramsberg Reserve 2001
The best Pinot Noir from each vintage (80%) blended with 20% Chardonnay, 40% barrel fermented. Beautifully bold, warm, rich and toasty on the nose. The palate has focused rich fruit with some mandarin notes and hints of herbs and toast. Lovely wine. 92/100

Schramsberg Brut Ros 2006
60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay, 40% barrel fermented. Some colour from skin contact. Light salmon pink. Focused and complex. Dry but very fruity with some cherry notes. Appealing but also quite serious. 90/100

Schramsberg Reserve 1992 Napa
Labelled 'Napa Valley Champagne'. Golden colour. Very rich and toasty with some ripe fruit characters on the nose. The palate is rich and fruity yet still quite fresh and pretty complex. Real richness and toasty depth here: this is ageing beautifully. 92/100

Schramsberg J Schram Ros 2000
75% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir. Light salmon pink with some golden notes. Wonderfully elegant fruit. Toasty, pure, fresh palate with subtle herbal notes. Lovely fruit quality with nice complexity. 93/100

J Davies Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 Diamond Mountain
Sweet, open, ripe nose is pure and sweet, showing lovely lush blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. The palate is ripe and open with lush, rounded fruit. A ripe style but still quite balanced and elegant. 92/100


Photos from Napa Valley
Part 1, Cain
Part 2, Schramsberg

Part 3, Corison

Part 4, Saintsbury
Part 5, Lagier Meredith
Part 6, Trefethen
Part 7, Trinchero
Part 8, Grgich Hills
Part 9, Cakebread

Wines tasted as 11/09  
Find these wines with

Back to top