Schramsberg Vineyards

 Schramsberg

Schramsberg Vineyards 

In 1826, in the small town of Pfeddersheim Germany, along the Rhine River, Jacob Schram was born. He came from a winemaking family. When he was sixteen, the young Schram immigrated to New York. He was educated in the trade of barbering, and in 1852 sailed across the Caribbean, crossed-over the Panama Isthmus, and continued up to San Francisco. He spent the next several years barbering, eventually moving his way north, to the Napa Valley.

In 1859 he married Annie Christine Weaver, also from Germany, and they started a family. For several years he continued to barber full time. Never far from his thoughts were his homeland and his roots in the vinelands of Germany. In 1862, Jacob purchased a large piece of land on the mountainsides of the Napa Valley. He was going to be a part of the emerging efforts by many fellow German countrymen in the Napa Valley to make wine; thus Schramsberg was born.

They began to clear the wooded and wild land, building a rustic cabin to shelter them
from the weather. They planted European varietals, and began to produce wine. Jacob
remained a barber to supplement his income, while the work at Schramsberg continued. After fully realizing the summer heat in the area, he hired Chinese workers to help him dig his cool underground cellars. Annie was often left in charge of the hired hands as Jacob visited fellow vintners in the valley, and took on the role of salesman both near and far.

By 1876 his production was up to 12,000 gallons. From this small start, the winery and vineyards continued to grow until they had fifty acres of bearing vines and were producing upwards of 12,000 cases per year. He was shipping his Riesling, Hock, Burgundy and Chasselas to New York and beyond. His wines were winning awards at American and International competitions.

As they continued to prosper, the Schrams had a lavish Victorian built to replace the original cabin. A shipbuilder and his team were hired for the construction, and small pegs were used in place of the more modern nail. The house became a gathering spot for the many friends and colleagues the Schram's had become familiar with. The Schram house is still lived in to this day, and retains its spirit of hospitality.

In the fall of 1900 Annie was stricken with paralysis and went steadily downhill until she died in the summer of 1901. The 75-year-old Jacob continued running the business, with his son Herman, until the spring of 1905, when he took ill. He quickly worsened and died. The St. Helena Star wrote that, "His funeral was largely attended and extended the length of Spring Street, and his body was laid to rest beside his wife Annie in the marble city." Although Herman attempted to continue the business, phylloxera and Prohibition brought an end to the Schram era.

Herman sold the property to Sterling Investment Company, who in 1916 sold it to a wealthy San Francisco contractor, W. J. McKillop for use as a summer home. He later sold it to a Captain Raymond C. Naylor. Following him, John Gargano purchased the property in 1940. Gargano was a mysterious character somehow connected to bootlegging activity. In 1951, he sold the property to Douglas Pringle.

Mrs. Pringle was the legendary Grande Dame, Katharine Cebrian. In 1957, the winery was named a state historical landmark. The Pringles threw a lavish party with movie stars and glamorous girls circulating in a crowd of over 500 people. Katherine Cebrian divorced Douglas Pringle in 1959 and moved back to San Francisco. She sold the property to Jack and Jamie Davies in 1965. And thus, Schramsberg entered the modern era.

Jack and Jamie Davies were determined to seek out a simpler, more meaningful life for themselves and their family. In 1965, after a yearlong search for hillside property in the Napa Valley, they discovered a run-down winery on the mountainside above St. Helena. The historic Schramsberg property had been abandoned for years, but the Davies were looking for a challenge and the spirit of its founder was strong and compelling. The antique Victorian mansion presided over the tangled remains of once stately gardens and the gaping entrance to underground cellars. There could be no question in their minds that this was the challenge they sought, this was the place. On that day they decided Schramsberg would be brought back to life.

The Davies had an ambition to make wine, but not just any wine. They were setting out to produce sparkling wine – specifically, "America's most prestigious, select and admired sparkling wine; chosen for special guests, special gifts, pampering one's self and expressing one's taste in unique products." It was a lofty goal. They saw the challenge of producing sparkling wine in the United States as a need to change ingrained mindsets. To many Americans, sparkling wines were just bubbles and not granted the prestige given to the revered Burgundies and Bordeaux, indeed, in the mid-sixties, any wine produced outside France. They intended to create wine with richness and complexity. They envisioned their sparkling wines, fermented in the authentic Méthode Traditionnelle process , as expressive as any of the great Champagnes – delicate, yet possessing distinct individuality and style.

With these challenges before them, they began their immense enterprise: the replanting of the vineyards, the creation and aging of the wine and engaging the world with the Schramsberg story. Among their many achievements is the innovation for which the 20th Century Schramsberg would become known - with Jack and Jamie at the helm. The 1965 Blanc de Blancs was a product of the first commercial use of Chardonnay in American sparkling wine. The 1967 Blanc de Noirs followed, an accomplishment in California premier Méthode Traditionnelle wines in that it was produced using Pinot Noir according to the classic style. Their next wine release was the Reserve, with over four years of aging, which quickly became widely accepted as the finest sparkling wine made in the United States. The Crémant Demi-sec, first made in 1973 using the Flora grape (a cross of Semillon and Gewürztraminer created at the University of California, Davis) became a favorite at the White House and was served at many state functions. In 1992, the 1987 J. Schram emerged as the crowning glory of the Schramsberg range, a wine to join the ranks of the world's finest sparkling wines.

Through the decades, this spirit of innovation has earned Schramsberg and the Davies praise and recognition throughout the world. In 1972 the 1969 Blanc de Blancs was served at the "Toast to Peace" in Beijing, between President Richard Nixon and Premier Zhou Enlai and Schramsberg wines have been served by every subsequent presidential administration. The Davies earned many awards throughout the years, including; "Winemakers of the Year" by Friends of the Junior Arts Center in Los Angeles, and the Junipero Serra Award for Excellence by the California Museum of Science and Industry, both in 1984, the 1995 International Festival of Méthode Champenoise Lifetime Achievement Award honoring "the thirty-year history of their exceptional winery and its world-class products." In 1996 the James Beard Foundation awarded them the Wine and Spirits Professional Award for "making a significant impact in the wine and spirits industry."

History continues to be made at Schramsberg – time has proven that the original goals have been met with style, grace and elegance. The noted wine author and critic, Nathan Chroman, summed up the Davies' contributions to American winemaking this way: "Some producers will earn a paragraph in the history of sparkling wines in California. The coming of the French will need a page. But it will merit a chapter to spell out what Jack and Jamie have done here."

The work was never done alone. Throughout the years Jack and Jamie gathered a strong and able staff to help them run the expanding business. Members of the Schramsberg team tend to stay; many employees have been with the winery for more than twenty years. In 1996, Hugh, the Davies' youngest son, joined the winery full time, adding his talent to the winemaking staff. To every ones great sorrow, Schramsberg lost Jack Davies in the spring of 1998. Jamie carried on with the support of her family, the dedicated staff, and the legion of friends she made during the Schramsberg odyssey until her death in the spring of 2008. Now, Hugh Davies, with the support of his own family and friends, continues the work and carries on the dream his parents, Jack and Jamie, started together.

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