When Hugh Davies announced it was time for dinner, we took our seats at the nearby farmers table where Jacob Schram once sat in 1800.
Schram founded the first hillside winery in the Napa Valley in 1862, named it Schramsberg and hired Chinese laborers to pick-axe through a tunnel of volcanic rock to create a network of underground cellars. As the winery grew in its success, so did the property. The Victorian mansion was added to the estate in 1875; by 1957 the property was declared a California Historical Landmark.
Fast-forward to 1965, when Hugh Davies was born and his parents, Jack and Jamie Davies, purchased Schramsberg Vineyards. The couple re-established the winery with a focus on making world-class sparkling wines with chardonnay and pinot noir grapes used in method traditionnelle.
Grapes are now sourced from over 115 vineyard blocks in four North Coast counties, and our group would head to one vineyard in Carneros the next morning to harvest a few rows of chardonnay. But first, dinner.
Fun Fact: The first vintage of Schramsberg blanc de blanc was fermented at Charles Krug Winery in 1965.
Seated for a welcome reception dinner, every guest at our table was served a glass of 2009 J. Schram. My first sip was a bit acidic until I took a bite of the scallops – a few cooked and a few raw, the latter topped in flying fish roe called Tobikko. This tasting was sprinkled with turmeric spice dust, which offset the acidity in the wine, and dotted with pieces of golden zucchini.
Our next course began with pours of two 2016 Davies Vineyards pinot noir, one from Ferrington Vineyards (multiple clones from Anderson Valley, Mendocino County and Boonville), and the other from Nobles Vineyard (Martin Heritage clone and also the grapes for sparkling). We were instructed to pick one we felt tasted best with the seared vineyard quail under a pool of bay leaf beetroot sauce and side of Emperors Golden Thread mushrooms. My pick was the Ferrington pinot noir.
Finally, a rack of lamb was served with Sicilian pistachio and topped with cassis sauce and tart cherries with a side of coconut heirloom sweet potato. The wines served with this dish were a 2015 J. Davies Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, which was deemed my favorite red of the two completely different versions. The 2014 J. Davies “Jamie” Estate Cabernet Sauvignon was crafted in a blend of the best barrels.
Our group dispersed in a herd, Schramsberg backpacks in-hand and smartphone flashlights leading the way downhill to the parking lot.
Fun fact: The first grape that dominated the Napa Valley was Riesling.
Motivation to meet at 6:30 a.m. was derived from the location; Meadowood Napa Valley Grill piqued my interest in a breakfast of three choices: yogurt parfait, pancakes or a hearty egg breakfast. Fully aware this day would clock the most hours, I chose the latter, served with a Model Bakery English muffin I smeared with raspberry jam. Schramsberg winemaker, Sean Thompson, sat at my table, impressed with my Visit Calistoga logo’d wearables (available at the Calistoga Welcome Center).
On the shuttle bus, campers headed onward to Napa-Carneros while Hugh offered us an education on harvesting grapes. His full-on informative nature was well received and in no time, we pulled in, vineyard-side, at Aloise Francisco Vineyards in Los Carneros. Thanks to Hugh, we already knew these 2018 grapes would be high in acidity due to cooler temperatures. Owner, 101-year-old Jack Tognetti, awaited our visit to shepherd us in picking three rows of tight, full chardonnay clusters measured at approximately 19 brix (measurement of sugar level to determine alcohol content). I plucked a grape to taste and it was delicious. Two bins full, I dumped my grapes into the larger bin, removed my orange gloves and threw down my pruning shears. We all departed with sticky hands and a better appreciation of the job of a grape picker.
At the Schramsberg crush facility, we witnessed the pressing of these harvested grapes before tasting the freshly-pressed and fermenting juice that looked – and tasted more like apple cider. We were more than ready for lunch at Meadowood’s Woodside Room.
Meadowood Estate Chef Alejandro Ayala has a secret to cooking bok choy: cook it in salted water. Our halibut was lean and rested on miso, a bed of bok choy, and a ginger buerre blanc of which Holly described as “an elegant handshake to the 2009 Schramsberg Extra Brut”. On the side of each dish were tiny yellow and orange rainbow carrots. Meadowood Pastry Chef Kristin Davison concocted a dessert of strawberry rhubarb confit of panna cotta with a brown butter biscuit that paired perfectly with a 2014 Schramsberg Cremant Demi-Sec. It was a banner year for this cremant, said winemaker Sean.