The first winery established on the hillsides of the Napa Valley was founded in 1862 by Jacob Schram, a German immigrant. In the late 1800s, Chinese laborers dug into the hillside’s volcanic rock to build caves for aging and storing wine. Additional tunnels were added in the 1980s and currently cover 34,000 square feet. The caves maintain a consistent cool temperature, providing an environment that is paramount in the flavor development of bottled-aged sparkling wines. At any given time, as many as 2.7 million bottles are in the Schramsberg caves, aging two to ten years before release.
Schramsberg was re-established in 1965 by Jack and Jamie Davies as a producer of premium methode champenoise sparkling wines. 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.
Named CEO and President of Schramsberg Vineyards in 2005, Hugh had already spent multiple years as the winemaker and general manager of the winery. He had lived and breathed the winery life since he first walked the vineyards as a toddler, and as a young man, he ventured away from home to broaden his experiences; earning a master’s degree in enology from the University of California, Davis, an undergraduate degree from Bowdoin College in Maine, and honing his skills at Möet et Chandon in Epernay, Petaluma Winery in South Australia, and Mumm Napa Valley. This diverse background has provided Hugh with the knowledge and skills to take the reins of Schramsberg and guide it into the future.
Hugh never rests on the successes of previous years, and is always looking to build upon the winery’s venerable track record of producing award-winning sparkling wines that rival the best sparkling wines available worldwide. He has increased the number of vineyards that the winery sources grapes from to over 90 cool-climate sites across Carneros, Anderson Valley, and the Sonoma and Marin coasts; he championed the increased usage of barrel fermentation in the production process; and he expanded the small-lot base wine program to an impressive 200 lots of unique wines.
For the J. Davies Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon program, Hugh was instrumental in the decision to replant the historic hillside vineyards to Bordeaux varietals. These blocks are credited as the oldest hillside vineyards in Napa Valley and are located adjacent to the winery. They are utilized by the Schramsberg winemaking team to make J. Davies Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine that has received both public and critical acclaim since its first release in 2004.
In 2009, Hugh led the winemaking team into another new venture, producing the winery's first still Pinot Noir wines under the Davies Vineyards brand. The family’s experience with Pinot Noir dates back to 1967, when Jack and Jamie Davies first used this elegant red varietal to make their inaugural vintage of Blanc de Noirs sparkling wine. Over the 44 years following that first use, Schramsberg’s winemakers have built long-lasting relationships with some of the best Pinot Noir growers in the North Coast.
The J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon is produced from the historic hillside vineyards on the Schramsberg estate. Ranging from approximately 500 to 1,000 feet in elevation, these are the southernmost vineyards in the Diamond Mountain District AVA and are flanked by two cool creek canyons. Surrounded by dense coniferous and deciduous forests, the vines produce late-ripening, richly concentrated fruit with yields of only two tons per acre.
Schramsberg sparkling wines are produced from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes grown in a broad array of cool-climate North Coast vineyards, located in Napa, Mendocino, Sonoma and Marin counties. The winemakers draw from more than 90 individual vineyards to create over 200 base wines each year. These wines are then artfully blended to create Schramsberg’s distinctive sparkling wines.
The Schramsberg estate is tucked into the densely forested slopes of Diamond Mountain, a few miles south of the town of Calistoga, and is home to the oldest hillside vineyards in Napa. It totals 218 acres with 43 acres planted to vines.
The estate, a registered historic landmark, has been painstakingly restored by the Davies family. The Victorian house, the lower winery, the barn and the caves remain largely unchanged since Jacob Schram’s days.
We invite you to visit us during your next trip to the Napa Valley. We offer tastings by appointment only, in conjunction with an educational tour through our historic caves. We consider each tour a “special event” for you and for us. Reservations in advance are necessary. During your “event,” our tour guide will share the rich history of Schramsberg and our 125 year old caves, introduce you to the classic method of producing sparkling wine, and end with a tasting of four Schramsberg wines.