Why Visit Schramsberg?
- You want to experience a piece of Napa Valley history.
- You love sparkling wine and want to learn more about the production process.
- You want to explore wine caves over a century old.
- You’re looking to visit a gorgeous estate in Napa Valley.
I first heard of Schramsberg while working at Adelaida pouring wine for a couple in the tasting room. We got to talking about my love for sparkling wine and they told me if I love sparkling wine, then I definitely need to visit Schramsberg in Napa Valley. I was dying to visit, but on each of my trips to Napa in 2018 Schramsberg was fully booked! Needless to say, when my parents, boyfriend, and I decided to take a trip up to Napa for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, I immediately jumped on the Schramsberg website to book our visit. And let me tell you, Schramsberg was worth the wait!
A Historic Napa Valley Winery
Schramsberg was founded in 1862 by German immigrants Jacob and Annie Schram. Actually, the winery was originally founded under the name Schramsberger, but we’ll get to that later. Jacob, the son of a German sparkling winemaker, first immigrated to New York City and worked as a barber. He saved every penny and later moved to San Francisco where he fell in love with Annie. Soon, the Schrams purchased 200 acres of property in Calistoga in 1862 for $1 per acre! They planted this hillside property with vineyards for still wine production and the 2nd bonded winery in Napa Valley was born. The Schrams, along with Charles Krug and the Beringer brothers were the major pioneers of the Napa Valley wine industry.
In 1870, Jacob hired Chinese laborers who were in California working on the railroads to dig into the mountainside on the property, creating Napa’s first hillside caves for wine storage. The tufa soil proved too soft for the use of dynamite, crumbling in on itself with each blow. So the laborers proceeded to dig by hand with pickaxes and shovels. Over the course of 10 years, they managed to dig half a mile deep into the mountainside. Upon visiting the Schramsberg caves today, you can still see the pickaxe scars on the walls of the caves!
By 1880, Schramsberg was producing around 10,000 cases of still wine per year with major distribution as far as London. The wines produced included Zinfandel, Reisling, Sauvignon Vert, and Burgundy. In 1905, Jacob died and his son Herman inherited the property. Shortly after, Schramsberg ceased operation and closed in 1912 as it is thought that Herman did not want to carry on the family business. With the commencement of prohibition in 1920, the winery remained closed for several decades.
Just shy of a decade later Jack and Jamie Davies decided to make the move from Los Angeles to Napa Valley purchasing the 200+ acre Schramsberg estate in 1965. The Davies acquired the estate with the intention of fulfilling their dream of making world-class sparkling wines. At this time, the Davies chose to change the name of the winery to Schramsberg from the original Schramsberger and planted varieties intended for sparkling wine production – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
By 1972, the Davies received an exciting request from the White House for 13 cases of the 1969 Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc. They had no idea what the wine was intended for, but were happy to fulfill the request. The Davies soon discovered their wine was used for the famous “Toast to Peace” during the state dinner in Beijing, China. President Nixon wanted to begin opening trade with China and the Schramsberg bubbles were the sparkling wine of choice for his toast with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai. President Nixon helped put Schramsberg, and thus Napa Valley wines, on the global stage. Somehow, the glasses used by President Nixon and the Chinese Premier even made their way back to the Schramsberg estate. Schramsberg bubbles have been served at each state dinner ever since.
Jack and Jamie also opted to continue the work of the Chinese laborers and dig the wine caves further into the mountainside. What took the Chinese 10 years only took 7 months with the help of modern technology. Today, there are just over one mile of caves at the Schramsberg estate housing 3.5 million aging bottles of sparkling wine. The caves are naturally 58°F with 80% humidity because of the tufa soil, the perfect conditions for cellaring wine. There is also a funky looking fungus growing on the walls of the caves which sounds gross, but looks like a grey cotton candy and actually helps to maintain the optimal humidity levels of the caves.
Schramsberg sparkling wines are produced in the traditional method with the second fermentation occurring in the bottle. This means all 3.5 million of those bottles need to be riddled in order to remove the yeast sediment from the bottle. About one third of the the bottles are still riddled by hand! The other two thirds of the bottles are riddled using the more efficient method of gyropalettes. Most of the bottles are stored within the walls of the caves by stacking bottles directly on top of each other horizontally from floor to ceiling. This is insane to see! Quite literally a wall of sparkling wine bottles built from the ground up. Sometimes a bottle or two will burst due to the effects of fermentation and the vacant space left by the bottle will be filled with PVC pipes in order to maintain a sound structure. If you love sparkling wine, you will love touring the Schramsberg caves! I never been in wine caves quite like this.
Reservations and Tasting Experiences
Reservations are required in order to taste at Schramsberg. If you want to visit this historic winery, I highly recommend booking your reservation as early as possible. All tasting experiences at Schramsberg include a tour of the epic caves. There are three options to choose from! My family chose to do the Cave Tour & Tasting which ended with a tasting at this gorgeous set-up:
Cave Tour & Tasting
This experience is offered daily at 9:30am, 10:00am, 11:30am, 12:30pm, 1:30pm, and 2:30pm. Cost: $70 per person. You will tour the historic Schramsberg caves, learn about the traditional method of making sparkling wine, and finish with a tasting in the caves of Schramsberg Vineyards sparkling and Davies Vineyards still wines. We tasted 4 delicious Schramsberg sparkling wines and 1 Davies Cabernet Sauvignon on our visit.
Cave Tour & Tasting – All Sparkling Experience
Available daily at 11:00am. Cost: $95 per person.
Tour through parts of the caves while learning about sparkling wine production and the history of Schramsberg. The tour ends with a seated tasting experience of 6 Schramsberg sparkling wines.
Cave Tour & Tasting – Reserve Wines & Cheese Pairing
Available Monday-Saturday only at 10:30am. Cost: $125 per person.
Following a tour of the caves where you will learn about the history of Schramsberg and the methods used to produce sparkling wine, you will learn about how pairing food and wine can change the way you experience flavor. During this experience you will enjoy a guided tasting of still and sparkling wines paired with a variety of cheeses.
Visit the Schramsberg website to book your tasting experience online or call (707) 709-2469.
As you can see from the photo above, we tasted four of Schramsberg’s delicious sparklers as well as one Davies Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon.
- 2015 Brut Rosé-This was by far my favorite sparkling wine of the lineup. Dry yet delicate and aromatic with notes of melon, peach, and apricot. Very elegant.
- 2009 J. Schram-A sparkling wine dedicate to the winery’s founder. 86% Chardonnay, 14% Pinot Noir. Aged 8 years in bottle. Notes of toasted almonds and pears with bright acidity. More autolytic notes due to extended aging.
- 2014 Blanc de Noirs-90% Pinot Noir, 10% Chardonnay. Youthful with a crisp texture. Easy to see how this wine will benefit from additional aging. Dry with notes of lemon zest and red apple.
- 2009 Schramsberg Reserve-82% Pinot Noir, 18% Chardonnay. Aged 8 years in bottle. The most savory of the lineup. Notes of toasted nuts, baked apples, brioche bread. Lovely and rich. Perfect sparkling wine to accompany a main course.
I don’t recall the vintage of the Davies Cabernet Sauvignon, but I do know there was a bit of Malbec and Petit Verdot blended in with the predominant Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine was luscious and very drinkable. We ended up taking home two bottles of the Brut Rosé and one of the Cab!