POSTED ON October 2, 2008 | IN Sparkling Wine, Tasting Rooms, Wine Education | BY Joe Becerra

Schramsberg Vineyards is the last of the wineries on our sparkling wine trail to be reviewed. It is perhaps the most interesting and fascinating of the five wineries that we have visited and posted to our blog.

Jacob Schram originally built the historic winery and the magnificent Victorian house in the mid 19th century. After Jacob Schram’s death in 1905, the winery remained largely abandoned. The Victorian house went through several owners until Jack and Jamie Davies purchased the entire estate in 1965. Jack Davies, a successful businessman in L.A. had decided in his mid-forties to quit the “rat race,” move to the Napa Valley and become a winemaker. When Jack and Jamie took over the winery, they had the daunting task of renovated the winery, the house, and the vineyards that were all in disarray. Amazingly, Jack Davies chose to tread where no other winemaker had in the Napa Valley. His mission was to produce the finest sparkling wine in the world. Today, the Schramsberg sparkling wines are highly acclaimed and their wines have been served to nobility around the world.

For visitors to the Napa Valley, the only way to see this historic winery is to call and book one of the five daily tours at $35 a person. The tours are limited to six individuals. The tour lasts about 45 minutes and another 30 or more minutes to taste four sparkling wines and one still wine, a remarkable Cabernet Sauvignon named after the late Jack Davies.

The tour takes visitors through a maze of amazing wine caves. The caves are a little on the eerie side. They are dimly lit and have a mossy lichen that hangs from the top of caves. You almost expect to hear a ghostly sound or see a bat or two. They are the first hand-dug caves in the Napa Valley.

At Schramsberg, the winery does most of the riddling by hand. Riddling is the process that moves the yeast residue in the bottle to the neck of the bottle. Hand riddling requires the riddler to lift each bottle, do a quarter turn of the bottle, and then bang the bottle back into its slot. Most wineries accomplish this labor-intensive job with the use of modern-day machinery. At Schramsberg, one man is in charge of this activity. His name is Ramon Viera and he has been doing this at Schramsberg for 35 years. There is a statue of a frog sitting in the pond out in front of the winery called the Riddler’s Night Out. It is dedicated to Ramon Viera and his amazing skill of riddling sparkling wine bottles with remarkable speed and enthusiasm.

The Good: Wonderful tour, sparkling wines, hand riddling, the hand-dug caves.
The Bad: Tour fee is one of the highest in the Valley.