Wine Destination 

Schramsberg Vineyards

By Sandra Crittenden

Hidden away inside a cave in Diamond Mountain in Calistoga, California, a sparkling treasure lies in wait for the perfect moment of release. The 34,000 square-foot cave can hold four million bottles, a liquid trove crafted in the traditional method of Champagne.

The process includes the labor intensive and expensive process of creating bubbles inside of the bottle with a secondary fermentation and hand riddling the bottles during its aging on its lees. This hidden treasure is the sparkling wine of Schramsberg Vineyards.

The history of this cave dates to the 19th century when German immigrant Joseph Schram settled in the area. In 1862, he built his home and a winery on the 200-acre property and in 1870, began excavating the first hillside cave in Napa Valley to store and age his wines.

By 1890, Schram was growing over a half million pounds of grapes and producing over 28,000 cases of wine. The winery’s success continued until Schram’s death in 1905; his son sold the property seven years later.

In 1965, Jack and Jamie Davies bought the property and moved their family from Los Angeles. It was a busy year for the young couple—they were able to get their first wine bottled and gave birth to their youngest son, Hugh.

Shortly following, Jack spearheaded the creation of the Napa Valley Agricultural Preserve, the first of its kind designed to protect the local land from urban sprawl and maintain it for agricultural use.

SchramsbergThe Davies were the first to bring high-quality sparkling winemaking techniques to the valley. They were the first to bottle a vintage dated Blanc de Noir, a sparkling white wine made from red grapes from one growing season.

They introduced wines with longer lees aging in the 1980s when they released the first vintage of their 100% Chardonnay Tête de cuvée named J. Schram in honor of the man who originally saw the potential of the area.

In the mid-90s, the Davies’ youngest son Hugh assumed the role of full-time enologist. The estate vineyards were replanted with Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux grape varieties during this time, and the family soon expanded their offerings with a new label.

The 2001 vintage was the first of the J Davies Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon bottlings; it was named in honor of Hugh’s father Jack who passed away in 1998.

Schramsberg Vineyards has seen continued growth beyond winemaking in the 21st century with a new production building and visitor center. Hugh was named CEO of Schramsberg in 2005 and has continued the family legacy; he introduced the first J. Schram 1998 vintage dated sparkling rose wine in 2006. He married and had three sons of his own.

Environmental safety is still a concern for Hugh and the vineyard. Both the land and the winery have been certified as Napa Green and solar panels were installed to reduce the need for outside energy.

The cave continues to provide the perfect place to store wine until it has been perfectly aged as Joseph Schram intended. Each bottle of Schramsberg or J. Schram sparkling wine seen on a store shelf or on a wine list spent time underground in this historic cave.

Schramsberg produces an array of effervescent wines in several unique styles at multiple price points. They ferment 25% of the juice in oak barrels for a richer, more luscious feel.

They also have a large library of reserve base wines, some aged for ten years, to provide additional complexity to their top tier J. Schram and Schramsberg Reserve wines. When visiting Napa Valley, book your tour or tasting well in advance.

The J. Schram line can be purchased online, and Spec’s on 61st Street carries three Schramsberg wines. The Blanc de Blanc made from Chardonnay and the Blanc de Noir made from Pinot Noir are both dry and incredibly food friendly. The Cremant Demi-Sec is off dry and the sweetest of the three. All three are under $40 and should be well chilled before serving.