Following a fabulous evening at the Library Wine Dinner at Meadowood the night before (read more about that by clicking here), it was nice to get a slightly later start the following day. After breakfast we hopped back on the buses and headed towards the winery in Calistoga.
Day two began with a tour of Schramsberg and its caves given by Hugh Davies himself. He explained that the estate, a registered historic landmark, has been painstakingly restored by his family when they purchased it in 1965. The Victorian house, the lower winery, the barn and the caves remain largely unchanged since Jacob Schram’s days. He also informed us of Schramsberg’s sparkling wines at historically significant Presidential functions including President Nixon’s “Toast to Peace” in 1972 with China’s Premier Zhou Enlai in Beijing China which featured their Blanc de Blancs. Schramsberg’s sparkling wines have also been served at official State functions by every U.S. Presidential administration since. As we entered the caves at the winery he explained they were dug mainly with pick axes and shovels in the 60′s. He also shared the details of a harrowing incident immediately prior to the release of the Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs. The press broke and his parents Jack and Jamie Davies had to stomp the grapes with their feet in order to keep production underway to meet their deadline!
As we made our way deeper into the caves, we reached an opening with multiple rows of riddling racks full of inverted sparkling wine bottles (above right photo). Here, Hugh introduced us to a gentleman by the name of Jesus who’d recently took over as Chief Riddler for Ramon who’d been working at Schramsberg since the 1970′s. Of Schramsberg’s total production of sparkling wines 80% is riddled mechanically using a gyropalette and 20%, consisting of their more expensive cuvées, is done by hand. Riddling is a very labor and time intensive process which is very important in the production of sparkling wine. By gradually displacing and inverting the bottle, the dead yeast cells generated by the wine’s secondary fermentation move towards the neck of the bottle where it is later removed via a process called disgorgement (see video below). Jesus was kind (and patient!) enough to give us all a lesson on how it’s done. He had a way of making it look effortless however upon trying it myself I realized it definitely took years of practice to master.
After Riddling 101 we sat down to a Blanc de Blancs Progression Tasting with Schramsberg winemakers Keith Hock, who specializes in sparkling wine, and Sean Thompson, who makes Schramsberg’s still wines. During the tasting we had the opportunity to sample a variety of wines in various states of evolution ranging from a 2012 Base Wine to a 1990 Library Wine. The exercise was very enlightening and beautifully demonstrated how these wines evolve and develop over time. At the beginning of the spectrum, the 2012 Base Wine exhibited aromas and flavors of tart green apple and citrus while the 1990 Library Wine was at the complete opposite end of the spectrum featuring notes of hazelnut, pastry dough and honey. It was a valuable lesson in what time can do to sparkling wines and the complexity that can be achieved through proper aging.
This exercise led up to perhaps the most exciting and hand on exercise of the trip: we got to make our own unique bottle of Schramsberg sparkling wine to take home with us. Well, maybe not from the very beginning but were able to disgorge a bottle of Blanc de Blancs and select the dosage level, which determines the final level of sweetness of the wine, to suit our own personal taste. We donned our protective goggles for the disgorgement process but thankfully we had winemaker Keith Hock supervising us so nothing went wrong. I am happy to report my disgorgement went smoothly and when it came time to select the dosage level I decided to attempt to approximate the wine Schramsberg custom produces for the The French Laundry, a low dosage sparkler meant to pair perfectly with oysters and shellfish. After adding the dosage to the wine, I got to cork and label my very own bottle: I’m really looking forward to enjoying the one and only bottle of Cuvée Miskew!
After lunch we explored the Future and Sparkling Wine on our Tables led once again by the fabulous Holly Peterson which expanded on the pairings we had studied the day before. The wines featured this time were the Schramsberg 2009 Brut Rosé and the 2005 Schramsberg Reserve. To pair with our wines were samples of Beef tatake with a variety of sides and sauced including lime wedge, ginger beurre blanc, tomato concasse, yozu koshu spicy sauce, marjoram infused olive oil and Béarnaise sauce. Some surprising favorites of this class included the brut rosé paired with the beef and lime wedge as well as the tomato concasse and basil. My favorite with the 2005 Reserve was the beef and ginger beurre blanc and the Béarnaise sauce. Prior to this exercise I had always personally enjoyed sparkling wine with beef but it was interesting to take the time to figure out which combinations make the best pairings.
Once we had completed this tasting we were faced with a challenge! We were divided into teams and each one had to come up with a 5 course tasting menu to pair with a selection of Schramsberg wines. We had alot of fun in the process and their were some extremely creative pairings and when it came time to reveal the winning team – I’m happy to report we came in second place!
Following the competition, our last official Camp activity, we all said our goodbyes as some Campers headed to the airport and others headed to other vinous destinations. Camp Schramsberg was an amazing experience I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys sparkling wine. 2013 marked the 18th year they have been hosting the Camp and they’ve really developed an excellent program that can accommodate any level of wine knowledge – just come hungry to learn! For those of you who live in South Florida I’m also happy to report I’ll be hosting a dinner with Hugh Davies at 32 East in downtown Delray Beach on Tuesday, November 12th. Come enjoy a selection of Schramsberg’s sparkling wines as well as their critically acclaimed J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon paired with a mouth watering menu prepared by the fabulous Chef Nick Morfogen. For more information or to make reservations please click here.