NEXT MONTH, SCHRAMSBERG Vineyards Co. will celebrate its 25th anniversary, and it's a time of reflection for owners Jamie and Jack Davies.
In 1965, Jamie and Jack decided that this forest-surrounded Napa Valley hillside was ideal for the classic champagne varieties Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Here, in the clearings of tangled wildwood and scrub oak, wine maker Jacob Schram had established his first vines in 1862, as recorded in 1880 by Robert Lewis Stevenson in "Silverado Squatters": "One corner of land after another is tried with one kind of grape after another. Those lodes and pockets of earth, more precious than the precious ores, that yield inimitable fragrance and soft fire; those virtuous Bonanzas, where the soil has sublimated under sun and stars to something finer, and the wine is bottled poetry."
After Schram died in the early 1900s, no wine was made successfully here until the Davieses appeared on the scene. The first Schramsberg Napa Valley Champagnes were greeted with acclaim in 1972. That year, President Nixon opted to take Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs 1969 as the toasting wine for the banquet in Beijing with Chinese Premier Chou En-lai that signaled new U.S. relations with China.
It was the first California wine to achieve international significance. Since then, it has been used as a toasting wine at other summits and has been served at the White House.
My first visit to Schramsberg was in 1968, and I found it to be a veritable repeat of Stevenson's experience 88 years earlier."I tasted all. I tasted every variety and shade of Schramberger."
Like Stevenson, "I tasted all." And still do . . . with increasing admiration for its growing perfection.
Connoisseurs know of the special cachet that is Schramsberg Napa Valley Champagne. Prestigous best describes this California heritage in sparkling wine: Blanc de Blancs 1984 Late Disgorged ($23.25); Blanc de Blancs 1985 and 1986 ($19.40 each); Cuvee de Pinot-Brut Rose 1987 ($18.85); Blanc de Noirs 1983 ($20.85); Reserve 1982 ($27.95); Blanc de Noirs 1982 Late Disgorged ($24.95); Cremant Demi-Sec ($18.85).