Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Schramsberg tour and tasting

By Jessica Yadegaran
Thursday, January 25th, 2007 at 10:43 am in Uncategorized.

I did the Schramsberg tour over the weekend in Calistoga (after Frog’s Leap) and it’s totally
worth the $25, if you haven’t done it. Since I’m not a huge fan of the aromas in Champagne,
Schramsberg is my favorite sparkling, along with Veuve Clicquot and Gloria Ferrer.

On to the tour and tasting. Besides the five premium wines you get to taste (including the
much-hyped J. Davies 2003 Diamond Mountain District Cabarnet ($70) and the 1999 J. Schram
sparkling ($90)) you learn a tremendous deal about the history of the winery (the second oldest
in the Valley) and the pioneering spirit (J. Schram came to Napa as a barber in 1858) to create
sparklings — using method champenoise — that was as good as those made by the French (better,
in my opinion). Best of all, you tour the 1/2 mile long caves dug out by Chinese immigrants with
shovels and learn about how virtually everything is done by hand. Schramsberg hand-riddles
their bottles instead of leaving it to a machine to manipulate the movement of the yeast. They
have one riddler (he has two apprentices) and his hands move like a concert pianist’s turning
something like 40,000 bottles a day. The frog sculpture you see in the pond near the tasting room
holding his flute to the moonlight is an homage to the riddler. There are 2.2 million bottles in the
caves and walls that are 92-bottles deep. Yes, avalanches have occurred, so be careful. They’ve
lost millions of dollars in the past. The creepy stuff hanging from the ceiling and walls of the
cave is actually lichen, a combination of algae and fungus that is natural and provides necessary
humidity to the caves. Year after year, Schramsberg beats out Dom and Cristal in blind tastings.
In 2003, the 1996 J. Schram won Best Overall Wine at the Syndney International Wine
Competition. It was the first time an American wine won this honor. Their sparklings have been
served at dozens of White House dinners. Their legacy is something to really be proud of.

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