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Take a Tour at Schramsberg Vineyards in Napa Valley

There are a lot of different types of winery tours you can take in wine country. You can do "normal," yet informative, hose and tank tours. You can go on vineyard walks. There are tours focused on "green" practices and/or biodynamics. Some tours feature ornate historical buildings or extensive underground labyrinths. You can sip your way through barrel rooms with a wine thief or get a detailed tour of a winery which could be mistaken for a Bond villain's lair.

Excellent tours all, but they may also take two or three hours to complete. You don't always have that much time. Sometimes, interesting yet brief is better. Schramsberg Vineyards offers exactly that. And the tour ends with world-class wine.

The Schramsberg Vineyards tour consists of a wine cave walk followed by a tasting served in the cave. The tour starts in the lobby where you're introduced to the history of Schramsberg Vineyards. After that, you're taken through the process of making a sparkling wine. The first phases, grape selection and viticulture, harvest, crush, and initial fermentation, occur away from the caves so these parts of the process are simply described to you. What you actually see in the caves are hundreds of thousands of bottles, laying on their sides, undergoing second fermentation and sur lie aging in bottle. In addition to the bottles, you see riddling racks, used to gradually move the lees to the neck of the bottle so they can be removed. A bottle is held up to the light so that you can see the cloudy liquid inside and better appreciate the crisp, clear sparkling wine you're about to sample.

When all the explanations are complete and questions answered, your tasting begins. Each person receives a generous pour of at least five different wines in succession. They include the Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noir, J. Schram, and Reserve sparkling wines plus the J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon. All of these wines are very good. And you might consider the J Schram and Reserve tasting a special opportunity. Those wines retail for $100 per bottle.

Tours are scheduled, five per day, and limited to a fairly small number of people per tour. Advance reservations are required and there is a $40 fee per person. Nobody under 21 years old is allowed to participate. You should allow a total of 75 minutes for your tour.

About Schramsberg Vineyards
The Napa Valley hillside property on which Schramsberg Vineyards sits was originally purchased by Jacob Schram, a German emigrant, in 1862. Being from a winemaking family, his intent from the outset was to grow wine grapes and produce wine on his new land. By 1876, his production volume had reached 12,000 gallons. Later, it reached 12,000 cases. By then, he had also become the first vintner in Napa Valley to tunnel into the hillside to create a wine cave. To do this, he hired Chinese laborers who had remained in the area after their work laying railroad track had come to an end. Jacob operated the business, later with the help of his son Herman, until the former's death in 1905.

The property was sold in 1916 and passed through several hands before it's 1965 purchase by Jack and Jamie Davies. Though the property and buildings had been essentially abandoned and needed substantial restoration, the Davies' vision was the production of wine, especially sparkling wine, that could match the quality of French champagne yet have it's own personality that reflected the land and climate from which it came. In that first year, the Davies created a Blanc de Blancs based on Chardonnay from nearby Charles Krug Winery. In doing so, they had created the first commercial sparkling wine made in the United States from Chardonnay.

As time went on, Schramsberg Vineyard under the Davies expanded the line of sparkling wines to include Blanc de Noirs, reserve wines and more. Of greater importance than the the breadth of their offering is that they achieved the level of quality which they had initially hoped for. Schramsberg Sparkling wines are respected around the world for their quality and the winery itself for its historical importance and commitment to excellence.

In recognition of their vision, hard work and great success with sparkling wines, Jack and Jamie Davies received numerous awards. These include the International Festival of Méthode Champenoise Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995 and The James Beard Foundation's Wine and Spirits Professional Award in 1996. In 2009, Jack and Jamie Davies were inducted into the Vintners' Hall of Fame at The Culinary Institute of America's Greystone Campus.

Jack and Jamie Davies have passed away now, but the winery remains in the family. Their son, Hugh, is now president and CEO. This is a position he was well prepared for, having served previously as both winemaker and general manager at Schramsberg as well as having worked at other sparkling wine houses around the world, including Moet et Chandon, Mumm Napa and Petaluma Wines in Australia.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

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