Category Archives: Holidays

Giving a Local Edge to Holiday Cheer!

As the sixth largest economy in the world, it is safe to assume California residents are already going local.  This vintage article in the New York Times Eat Local; Drink European reminded us of how far we have come in doing just that,  supporting the amazing assortment wineries in of our great state.

shopsmallWhile this isn’t possible everywhere in the nation there are alternatives to wine when the aim is to support the local community.  Maybe a side dish at Thanksgiving?  Holiday shopping on Small Business Saturday?  Dishing out Christmas dinner at the local shelter?  Whatever you can contribute not only strengthens the local economy, but can give a well deserved warm fuzzy to liven up your personal celebrations!

Cheers & Happy Holidays from the Sawyer Family!

 

Introducing the Real Halloween Spirits of Napa Valley!

With Halloween now descending upon us, there are so many merry people dressed as ghosts, ghouls, witches and skeletons to celebrate this sacred holiday. But for some, it’s a real-life occurrence at different times of the year. One of those people is gifted winemaker Pam Starr of Crocker & Starr Winery in St. Helena.

Starr didn’t believe in spirits until 2004. But that changed when she purchased a house in Browns Valley west of Napa. In addition to having a lovely hillside view of the valley, the house also came with a set of spirits who lived near the window in her bedroom.

“They would rattle the window from the inside. God, they were loud!” says Starr during our interactive discussion about ghosts and spirits at Crocker & Starr in mid-October.

After having many encounters with the spirits, Starr discovered her friend was a practicing witch. And after a deep discussion and a few bottles of wine, it was determined that the best method to get rid of the spirits was to use the traditional method of burning sage. The only catch was that she could only invite friends with personalities strong enough to persuade the uninvited guests to return to the spirit world.

Once ready on that fateful night of 2006, the team Starr assembled included herself, the witch, and another friend that couldn’t wait to help the cause. Here’s a summary of the de-ghosting process:

Step 1: Light the sage on fire then blow it out to allow smoke to fill the house.
Step 2: Go to all the corners of the house and start telling the spirits what you want them to do.
Step 3: Use friendly lines to get your point across. The quotes used included: “This is not your place any longer.” “Go in peace.” “Go be with your others.” “You need to go back to the place where you belong.” “It’s time for you to return to your friends in the spirit world.”
Step 4: Cross your fingers and hope for success!

As it turned out, the ritual worked. As a result, Starr and her husband never had another encounter before they sold the house earlier this year.

ghost1
ghost4
ghost3
ghost2

[Photos:  Winemaker Pam Starr of Crocker & Starr says she had spirited encounter inside the old chapel that found a new home on the winery’s estate in St. Helena; The beautiful new Lokoya tasting room on Spring Mountain west of St. Helena; At Freemark Abbey north of St. Helena, there has been a sighting of a ghost that is believed to be Josephine Tychson, the woman winemaker who founded the 16th bonded winery in Napa Valley on the property in 1886; A look at the Crocker & Star wine label.]

That’s the good news. But Starr has also had numerous encounters with spirits at the ancient winery and historic grounds that she and her business partner Charlie Crocker brought back to life when they started the winery in 1997.

According to Starr, every spirit is different. For instance, at the Casali—the old brandy house on the estate which was originally developed by the Dowdell family in the 1890s—the spirits are quite friendly.

“I really believe that the spirit there really had fun with brandy,” she says, as she points towards a classic photo of the people who worked on the property in 1890s. “It’s just a really good ghost. But it definitely has the ability to say when the party is over.”

As an example, Starr told a story about a party that was going sour in the Casali. “Until that point it was a fun gathering, but I think the ghost was done with the crowd. It was at that point that a man started drinking more wine and got in another man’s face. Nothing happened, but everyone decided to leave immediately thereafter. It was the spirit’s version of crowd control,” say Starr, with a chuckle.

On the darker side, another spirit lives in the old chapel on the estate property purchased by the Crocker family in the 1970s.

“Somebody move that cherub and cross closer to the door,” quipped Starr, as we approached the petite white chapel with blue trim. “That spirit in there is not my friend.”

The history behind the building is intriguing. Built with local redwood in 1910, the original home of this quaint chapel was next to Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. As a native of the city and with a long family history with the Catholic community, Charlie and his siblings were approached to see if they were interested in providing a new home for this registered chapel. As a result, Charlie was able to relocate building on the southern edge of the estate in the 1990s.

Starr’s haunting experience occurred when she guided a tour for a small group of visitors through the interior of the building a few years ago. It was a very cold morning. So after walking past the four pews on her way towards the pulpit, she vividly remembers seeing beautiful sunlight streaming in through the window facing Howell Mountain to the east.

“I was wearing a long sleeve black sweater and the sunbeams provided a little extra warmth. Then, all of a sudden, I felt a strange vibration on my arm. Upon rolling up the sleeve, a giant black bumblebee came flying out,” she said in a coarse voice.

“There was no way a bumble bee would be buzzing around on such a cold day. Let alone, suddenly appearing in the arm of my sweater. It freaked me out.”

Although Pam’s wedding was held in front of the chapel, she’s never been back inside. “I don’t know what that spirit was thinking. But I’m not going in that building ever again. Obviously I’m still offended by my experience.”

Pam is not alone with ghost stories in Napa Valley.

Another person with some insight is Ted Edwards of Freemark Abbey Winery. Located on the northern side of St. Helena, the historic winery recently went through a marvelous restoration process. In addition to transforming the interior of the old stone building into an expansive tasting room and wine library; the building is also the new home to Two Birds, One Stone, one of the hippest new restaurants in Napa Valley, featuring the tasty delights of star chefs Sang Yoon and Douglas Keane.

Recently, I sat down with Edwards and tasted through a sampling of new releases and library wines while we talked about the intriguing ghost encounters on the property.

As the first woman winemaker in Napa Valley, the original owner Josephine Tychson and her husband moved from San Francisco to St. Helena in the 1880s. After a hard fight with tuberculosis, he passed away. But alas, Josephine moved on to start the 16th bonded winery in Napa Valley in 1886.

The original wines were made in barn structures on the property. In addition to having vineyards around where the current winery stands, there were more also planted on the hillside across the road near the house where Josephine lived until she sold the winery to Italian immigrant Antoine Forni in the late 1890s.

After renamed the winery Lombarda Cellars after the small region of Italy where he grew up, Forni built the original stone building on the property. The construction was started in 1898 and finished in 1906, the same year as the famous San Francisco earthquake.

There are no records of who owned the property after Forni closed the winery at the beginning of prohibition. But Edwards says it’s been suggested that there was “activity” on the property when it was a ghost winery.

In 1939, Charles Freeman, Mark Foster and Abbey Ahern purchased the property and brought it back to life. They renamed it Freemark Abbey, which is a shortened version of their three names scrunched together.

Since joining the team in 1980, Edwards has vivid memories of suspicious creaks and other noises that sounded like footsteps and voices when he would shut off the lights in the cellar late at night. But the most noteworthy occurrence happened when an intern saw a woman walking across the catwalk in the cellar. “It spooked her,” says Edwards.

At the magnificent new Lokoya site on Spring Mountain, winemaker Chris Carpenter said he’s convinced that one of the previous owners still resides in the caves below where the gorgeous new tasting room is located.

Carpenter and vineyard manager Mariano Navarro have also had similar experiences at the ancient stone winery on the historic La Jota Vineyard property on Howell Mountain. The structure was completed in 1898 by Frederick Hess, who made wine on the property until prohibition. But until William and Joan Smith purchased the property in 1974, it too became a ghost winery.

“These old buildings have stories to tell,” says Carpenter, who also noted that more ghost sightings are still pending.

With these thoughts in mind, mark your calendar to be part of Flavor Napa Valley on March 25, 2017. That is the day that Pam Starr, Ted Edwards, Chris Carpenter, myself, and other special guests will rekindle the stories about ghosts and spirits while tasting through a stellar lineup of wines from each of these haunted sites at the special “Ghost Wineries of Napa Valley” at the Rudd Center at the Culinary Institute of America. For more information, visit www.flavornapavalley.com.

For your hedonistic pleasures for the fall and winter months of 2016, here are three new spirited red wine releases from Napa Valley that I recently reviewed.

Freemark Abbey 2013 Merlot, Napa Valley
Although some people believe Merlot is dead, Freemark Abbey winemaker Ted Edwards is the first to say that the noble grape variety is now stronger than ever. The latest example is the Freemark Abbey 2013 Napa Valley Merlot, a spirited blend made primarily with fruit from the Keyes Vineyard on Howell Mountain, Stagecoach Vineyard on Atlas Peak, and the Dos Rios and Cardinale vineyards in Yountville. Soft and elegant, this lively wine is bursting at the seams with expressive flavors of dark cherry, ripe berries, milk chocolate, wild herbs, chewy tannins, and deep, rich finish. $34/btl. www.freemarkabbey.com.

Crocker & Starr 2013 Casali 6 Red Wine, St. Helena
As an alternative to the latest offerings from witch’s caldron and eye of newt, try winemaker Pam Starr’s newest offering of the Casali series. In Italian, casali means “farmhouse.” This unique proprietary blend of Malbec and smaller portions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc was inspired by Pam’s visit to the Mendoza region of Argentina in 2012. Luxurious flavors of ripe plum, blueberry, lavender, vanilla, licorice, and cardamom are caressed with a smooth texture, bright acidity, and a long finish. $80/btl. www.crockerstarr.com.

Lokoya 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Mt. Veeder
From the Loyoka Appellations Collection from rugged vineyards at elevations of 1,100 to 2,500 feet above the valley. This fantastic new release features deep and dense flavors of briary blackberry, dark cherry, mint, citrus peel, allspice and chocolate truffle supported with chewy tannins, firm structure, and long graceful finish as it opens up in the glass. $375/btl. www.lokoya.com.

In the meantime, on behalf of SawyerSawyer.com, my staff,
and the Sawyer family,
Happy Halloween!

Time for Oktoberfest!

oktoberfestWell, technically almost half of the Oktoberfest events have already taken place, mostly in September. Hmm. However the sudden urge to consume beer at the outset of autumn is an understandable predicament. Given that, here are a few Oktoberfest opportunities to whet your palate depending on where you reside or travel this month.

Auburn Oktoberfest (Annual Craft Beer Festival): October 8th
Local, regional and national breweries showcasing a small selection of beers. Select breweries will also present one-off beers, which are brewed specifically to be served at the Oktoberfest event.

Cotati Oktoberfest: October 8th
Wunderbar German food, fresh craft brews on tap, traditional Oktoberfest music by The Continentals and polka dancing! Contests include the not-to- be-missed Wiener Dog Races, the Tankard Hoist, the Yodeling Contest and the Potato Sack Races.

Nevada City Oktoberfest: October 8th
If you are heading into the mountains this might be a fun stop (we will just miss this, arriving in NC 2 days later). There will be beer from local breweries, live entertainment, German food and a vintage motorcycle display.

Ocean Beach Oktoberfest in San Diego:  October 7 & 8
“Bavaria meets the beach!” With a slew of interesting activities including The Sausage Toss, Balloon Blow, Ms. O’fest and Das Booty Flip.  Live music to accompany your pleasures.

Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest in Chico: October 7 & 8
In an area well known for beer consumption, there will also be live music, cold beer and hot glass blowing demonstrations. Musical lineup of three bands. Don’t forget to practice up on your chicken dance before attending.

If none of these suit your locale scout out
some other options at this Oktoberfest Caliornia link!

Father’s Day Tribute to special people in the Wine Industry

Seeing as how Father’s Day represents the last day of spring and the initiation into summer this year, I thought it would be fun to run a smaller version of an article I wrote for Napa Sonoma Magazine that focused on power duos in the wine industry.  I was reminded about this cool set of articles when I was enjoying a magnificent dinner with Joel Peterson this past Saturday night commemorating the 40-year anniversary of Ravenswood Winery and when I attended the special rwood-fam Auction Napa Valley dinner at Grgich Hills Winery to celebrate the 40-year anniversary of the Paris Tasting and the fabulous wines Mike Grgich has made after he crafted the famous Chateau Montelena 1973 Chardonnay.  I can’t wait to spend another fun Father’s Day with my wife and our boy Rupert, who happens to turn 7 on Monday (a.k.a. Summer Solstice)!  In the meantime, Happy Father’s Day 2016 to all the great followers of SawyerSomm!

As a side note: Make sure to follow me on FB, Instagram, and Twitter for all the cool seminars and events I’ll be leading at the Telluride Wine Festival beginning June 23! -CS

Joel Peterson and Morgan Twain Peterson
From the moment he started Ravenswood Winery in Sonoma County in 1976, Joel Peterson has spent the last four decades educating wine consumers, connoisseurs, retailers and sommeliers about the virtues ravenswood40of making flavorful wines with Zinfandel, California’s official “sweetheart grape.” So it makes sense that when Joel’s son Morgan Twain Peterson was born in 1983, wine was already part of his DNA.  Inspired by early visits to the vineyards and winery with his father; Morgan made his first barrel of wine with fruit he procured from local farmer Angelo Sangiacomo at the age of three in 1986. After making multiple vintages of the Vino Bambino Pinot Noir through 2001, Morgan further honed his skills by working as a wine buyer in New York while completing undergraduate studies at Vassar and graduate school at Columbia University.  During this period, he also got to work with star sommeliers at top restaurants, including Craft, Gramercy Tavern, Aureole and Mesa Grill, who also added some of the remaining bottles of the Vino Bambino to their wine lists.  Upon returning home from finishing winemaking internships in New Zealand and France, Morgan started Bedrock Wine Co in Sonoma Valley in 2007, a boutique wine brand focused on working with old vine Zinfandel, Syrah, and other unique grape varieties.  In hindsight, Joel says Morgan’s childhood traits still remain. “He’s very similar to the same kid he was when he was five years old. Back then he liked to explore and had a special sense of determination and a little stubbornness that have ultimately paid off in the complex flavors in the wines he makes.”

Open Daily. Ravenswood Winery 18701 Gehricke Road, Sonoma, (888) 669.4679, www.RavenswoodWinery.com  /  Bedrock Wine Co. is not open for visits. (707) 343.1478, www.BedrockWineCo.com.

Michelle Whetstone and Jamey Whetstone
The son of a southern Baptist preacher, Jamey Whetstone moved to Napa Valley in 1996 with the intent of mastering food and wine skills so he could use to start a restaurant in Charleston, North Carolina. But his plan changed when he began working with fine wines and wstonefamserving high profile people in the wine industry at Mustard’s in Yountville. One of his mentors was Larry Turley, who hired him away from Mustard’s to work at Turley Wine Cellars in 1998. While polishing his skills by working with gifted winemaker Ehren Jordan at the winery and a season spent at Domaine Dujac in Burgundy; he started his own Whetstone brand in 2002.  When he met his future wife Michelle, a Napa native, he left Turley in 2005 to launch a new phase of his career as a wine consultant. While Jamey made the delicious Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Syrahs for Whetstone and their second label called Manifesto, Michelle spent the next few years searched for a building to sell the wines retail. At the same time, both were doing parental duties to raise their four fabulous kids. In the end, what she found was the magnificent 19th Century, French-style Chateau on Atlas Peak Road designed by famous Napa Valley architect Hamden W. McIntyre, which far exceeded their greatest expectations. “For me, I just feel fortunate that I’ve been with very gracious people who have really given Michelle and I a toe-hold to establish a special winery here in the valley, but also inspired us to fantasize about retiring in our early 90s,” says Jamey, with a grin.

Open Daily. Whetstone Wine Cellars 1075 Atlas Peak Road, Napa, (707) 254.0600, www.WhetstoneWineCellars.com.

Mike Grgich and Violet Grgich
If music makes the world go around, then Miljenko “Mike” and Violet Grgich of Grgich Hills Estate have done their best to keep the spirit alive.
grgchfamAfter Violet was born in 1965, Mike spent the next decade crafting some of America’s most legendary wines, including the Robert Mondavi 1969 Cabernet Sauvignon, which won the top award at the San Diego Tasting, and the Chateau Montelena 1973 Chardonnay which won over the highly-touted French wines at the Paris Tasting in 1976.
“He was always humble about his accomplishments and I didn’t really have any idea that he was such a famous winemaker,” says Violet, in retrospect. “To me, he loved what he did and he tried to pass these traits on to me as well.”
It was also during this period that Violet developed an appreciation for music. Mike brought this family tradition with him when he emigrated from Croatia in 1958. As the years passed, she learned to play the piano, accordion, flute, and specialized in the harpsichord while attending college at University of California Davis and receiving her Master of Music degree at Indiana University.
“Music was always part of our house,” says Violet, who is now the Vice President of Operations and Sales at the winery. “Most Croatians will sing at the drop of a hat in harmony. So I’ve always loved music.”

Open Daily. Grgich Hills Estate 1829 St. Helena Highway, St. Helena, (707) 963.2784, www.Grgich.com.

Andy Katz and Jesse Katz
When you consider that they have visited over seventy countries together, it’s hard to dispute that professional photographer Andy Katz and his son, winemaker Jesse Katz, are great travel partners.
“He’s with me whenever I can grab him,” says Andy, who began his career as a photographer of wineries and vineyards when he worked with Robert Mondavi, Domaine Chandon, Iron Horse and Jordan wineries in the 1980s and 1990s.
The colorful photos from many of these adventures over the past katzduothree decades can be seen in glossy table books, museums and galleries, including Andy’s personal studio on Healdsburg Plaza.
On a personal level, one of the most notable journeys was the duo’s trip to France for “The Heart of Burgundy” project, a coffee table book Andy did with Robert Parker. During their stay at Domaine Leflaive, Jesse developed a deeper understanding of the unique qualities of the French landscape, vineyards, varietals, and finished wines. The impact of the trip carried on to college, where Jesse decided to change from studying business at University of California, Santa Barbara, in order to transfer to Fresno State University, where he received his degree in Viticulture and Enology.
After developing his winemaking skills in Argentina, Patagonia, Santa Barbara County and Screaming Eagle in Napa Valley; Jesse became one of the youngest head winemakers when he was hired at Lancaster Winery in Alexander Valley at the ripe age of 25 years old.
On the side, the Katz family makes two distinctive wines in Sonoma County. The first is a decadent Malbec called Devil Proof. The second is a complex single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon called Aperture. “Like the tiny details in dad’s photos, we put our heart and soul into each wine we make,” says Jesse.

Open by appointment. Andy Katz Photography 322 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg, (707) 280.5555, www.AndyKatzPhotography.com.  /  www.DevilProofVineyards.com.

Just in time for Valentines, Crab is back!

Dungeness Crab is back! As seen in this tasty new pasta dish at Cucina Paradiso in Petaluma with fresh crab, cauliflower, pepper flakes, lite cream, and a lovely bottle of #Presqu'ile Pinot Noir. Yum!
Dungeness Crab is back! As seen in this tasty new pasta dish at Cucina Paradiso in Petaluma with fresh crab, cauliflower, pepper flakes, lite cream, and a lovely bottle of #Presqu’ile Pinot Noir. Yum!

The glorious news just in this week, Dungeness crab is back!  Happy days ahead for lovers of the crustacean delicacy and most especially the fabulous fishermen that collect them for our markets. Congratulations to all!

Read more in this SF Examiner article: Recreational Dungeness Crab Season Opens

Cheers! Christopher

La Vie En Rose: Pink Bubbles for Valentines Day!

Until recently, it was rare to find sparkling wines with majestic pink hues outside of Champagne, the bubbly capital of France. But thanks to the growing interest in Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, the two main red grapes used to add layers of flavor and color to these wines, the fascination for the color pink has spread around the globe.

lavieMost of these marvelous new wines are made using the classic méthode champenoise technique, which helps convert the base wine into a sparkler. When making the base wine, a portion of the Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier grapes used in the blend are fermented separately on the skins to add depth and subtle color to this unique sparkling wine.

A tasty example of this technique is the Schramsberg 2012 Brut Rosé, $44, a bright and beautiful wine made with Pinot Noir grapes grown in Carneros, Anderson Valley, and other premium locations in Northern California. To add more complexity, a smaller portion of Chardonnay grapes is also used to give the wine more spice, structure and length on the palate. After the blend is made, the wine is aged in the bottle for about two years.

Once finished, the end result is an elegant bubbly that is creamy and lush with lovely aromas and complex flavors of fresh raspberry, wild strawberry, white peach, orange blossom, ruby grapefruit and toasted brioche, a burst of vibrant acidity, and a elegant finish. Along with tasting great by itself; this versatile wine pairs great with gourmet salads, fine cheeses, salmon, prawns, sushi, roasted chicken, and a wide variety of barbecued meats.

To find out more about the beauty of aging Schramsberg Sparkling Wines, visit www.schramsberg.com.

Wine & Film Pairing: Schramsberg Brut Rosé with La Vie En Rose

This is a wonderful wine to share with someone special while watching La Vie en Rose (2007). In French, this term means “The Life in Pink,” which loosely translates to mean “life through rose-tinted glasses” in English. In a dynamic performance that won her an Oscar, Marion Cottillard plays the legendary French singer Edith Piaf. This biopic journey follows Piaf’s life as a young girl singing on the street corners of Paris, to her emergence as a star at center stage. And despite the ups and downs of her life, it is not hard to tell that the legendary singer is a true believer in love.

Towards the end of the film, we see Piaf performing one of her best songs, “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rein.” In English, the title of the song means “No, I regret nothing” or “No regrets.” After enjoying this powerful film and a bottle of the delicious Schramsberg Brut Rosé, odds are you’ll feel the same way!

Schramsberg at Flavor Napa Valley, March 16-20

To extend your Valentine’s Day delights, taste more sophisticated bubbles made by Schramsberg and other Napa Valley producers at Flavor Napa Valley, March 16-20. In addition to being on a panel with me on Saturday March 19th to talk about the magnificent J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon made with world-class fruit grown on the historic estate property between Calistoga and St. Helena; Schramsberg proprietor Hugh Davies will also be part of a special seminar focused on high-end sparkling wines prior to the splendid Brunch at Meritage Resort & Spa on Sunday, March 20th. See below for more details and to view the complete calendar of events, visit www.flavornapavalley.com. Hope to see you there!

Saturday, March 19, 3pm-4:30pm: High Elevation Wines Pt.2—Westside

Explore flavorful selections of wines made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and other special varieties used to create limited release wines and proprietary blends from hidden sites on the Mayacamas Range overlooking Napa Valley, at the Rudd Center, Culinary Institute of America Greystone, St. Helena.

Hugh Davies, J. Davies/Schramsberg (Diamond Mountain); Mariano Navarro, Mt. Brave & Lokoya Wines (Mt. Veeder); Christopher Howell, Cain Vineyards & Winery (Spring Mountain); Stuart Smith, Smith-Madrone Winery (Spring Mountain); Jay Turnipseed, Mount Veeder Winery (Mt. Veeder). Moderator: Christopher Sawyer, Wine Director of Flavor Napa Valley SawyerSomm.com.

Sunday, March 20, 9:30am – 11am: Bubbly Sensation: Exploring the Top Sparkling Wines of Napa Valley

Start your Sunday off in style by tasting through the top sparkling wines of Napa Valley! Find out where the grapes are grown and how the winemakers create levels of flavor and complexity that make their sparkling gems so special. Bubbles and knowledge in every sip! Participating Wineries: Schramsberg, Domaine Carneros, Domaine Chandon, Mumm Napa.

Sunday, March 20, 11:00 AM to 1:30 PM: Brunch Party – Meet Your Maker: The Butcher, The Baker, and the Sparkling Winemaker

Cap off the weekend with an exclusive brunch party hosted by The Meritage Resort and Spa. Engage with the ‘makers’ and learn how to cure bacon with artisan meat purveyors, bake with local pastry chefs, build a benedict with Meritage chefs, and more — all while sipping local sparkling wines and imbibing from roving bloody mary carts!
Participating Wineries: Schramsberg, Domaine Carneros, Domaine Chandon, Mumm Napa. Participating Artisans: Cate & Co., Cococlectic, Mr. Espresso, Napastak, Napa General Store, Napa Valley Cookie Co., Olive and Poppy, Platanito Pupusas. Secure your tickets!

Holiday Cheers to the 50 year Anniversary of Schramsberg Vineyards

Pop! Pop! Pop! For wine fans across the nation, popping corks and sharing bottles of domestic sparkling wines has become a tradition during the holidays. One of the great wineries to thank for this tasty trend is Schramsberg Vineyards in Napa Valley.

schram4Located on Diamond Mountain near Calistoga, the Schramsberg brand was originally developed by Jacob Schram, who purchased the property in 1862. Following his family’s German tradition of winemaking, Schram established a reputation for making award-winning wines with Riesling, Golden Chesslas, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah grapes grown on the first hillside vineyard in Napa Valley.

Following Schram’s death, his son Herman ran the winery until he sold the estate just before Prohibition. Over the next few decades, the property changed hands numerous times before Jack and Jamie Davies purchased it in 1965 with the intent of making sparkling wines that could rival the finest offerings from Champagne.

While renovating the abandon winery, caves, and bringing the Schramsberg brand back to life, the Davies launched their inaugural release, the 1965 Blanc de Blancs, a combination of Chardonnay and a smaller percentage of Pinot Blanc, in 1967. A few vintages later, the name of the brand exploded when President Nixon took bottles of the Blanc de Blancs to the “Toast to Peace” in China in 1972.

Over the first couple decades, most of the fruit for these early wines came from Diamond Mountain, Spring Mountain and the Oak Knoll District in Napa Valley. But that started to shift in the early 1980s, when the family began working with more ultra-premium Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes from the cooler climate regions of Carneros, Sonoma Coast, Anderson Valley, and Marin County.

schram5Fifteen years ago, the focus on making the world-class sparkling wines was passed on to Jack and Jamie’s son Hugh, who was born the same year his parents purchased the property in 1965. Before joining the team, Hugh earned his masters in Enology at University of California Davis and worked harvests at Moet Chandon and Remy Cognac to hone his skills.

Today, Davies and the winemaking team works with 200 separate lots of fruit picked from 120 different vineyard blocks grown at different elevations and unique soils. Consequently, this diverse mixture of vineyard sources and special sites has resulted in an increase of concentrated flavors, complexity, and natural acidity in all the new Schramsberg releases.

These dynamic flavors shine in the new 2012 Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay, $39), which features elegant notes of spring flowers, brioche, crisp green apple, lemon/lime, grapefruit peel, roasted almond, and spice. Same is true for the 2011 Blanc de Noirs (89% Pinot Noir/11% Chardonnay, $41), which features vibrant flavors of baked red apples, ripe cherry, wild strawberry, raspberry compote, citrus peel, caramel, cinnamon toast, and a long lingering finish.

For the more limited releases wines like the J. Schram, J. Schram Rosé and Schramsberg Reserve, the team has started to ferment the hand-selected lots in a combination of stainless steel and a smaller amount of neutral oak barrels to add more nuances, structure, depth, and rich texture to the finished blend. (Check out the retrospective tasting notes below to see how well these wines age over time).

Other admirable sparklers to look for in the marketplace include:
Schramsberg Brut Rosé, Cremant Demi-sec, Mirabelle Brut and Mirabelle Rosé. Before putting the master blends into individual bottles with dollops of sugar and yeast to start secondary fermentation (the classic methode champenoise process which creates the bubbles); the wines are sterile filtered to insure freshness.

In the bottle, these sparkling gems are aged in the expansive estate caves which were hand-dug by Chinese laborers in the 1880s. According to Hugh, patience is the key. “You can’t make apple pie if you start with apple sauce. Instead, you must let the tart flavors develop over time.”

Beyond bubbles, the winery began making the J. Davies Estate Cabernet Sauvignon in 2001 and more recently launched a special series of limited production Pinot Noirs made with fruit from Anderson Valley and higher elevation vineyards on the Sonoma Coast.

“My parents set us on a track to move forward with our own vision and access to the best possible fruit by developing deep relationships with some of the finest growers on the West Coast,” says Hugh, who lives on the estate with his wife Monique and their three son Emrys, Nelson and Hugh.

“For that reason, we are not afraid to try new things with the intent of making world-class sparklers and still wines that offer complex flavors, subtle nuances, texture and other unique characteristics that are engaging and satisfying from the minute the cork is popped or how well the wines age in the bottle over time.”

Schramsberg Vineyards is open by appointment. For more information, visit www.schramsberg.com. Also, look for Hugh Davies and Schramsberg Vineyards at the upcoming Flavor Napa Valley events, March 16-20.www.flavornapavalley.com.

_______________
History in the bottles: A 50-year Retrospective Tasting with Schramsberg Vineyards

This fall, to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of Schramsberg Vineyards, Schramsberg President & CEO Hugh Davies and Winemaker Sean Thompson hosted the Golden Bouchon, a special series of exclusive Sparkling Wine Library Tastings at the historic mansion built by Jacob Schram in 1875 at the Schramsberg Estate. Here are my notes from the special sparkling wines and still wines we tasted at this memorable event. -CS

schram9

Schramsberg Vineyards Pinot Noir Brut Sparkling
Wine Library Tasting

The Schramsberg Reserve wines are typically made with 70 separate vineyard lots. A percentage of the blend is aged in barrels to create more complex flavors and aromas. It’s also worth noting that there were no reserves from 1987-1993, an important period when the Davies family developed relationships with growers who specialize in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay plantings in the cooler coastal regions of Carneros, Anderson Valley, Sonoma Coast, and Mendocino and Marin Counties. Today, the average retail price of the Schramsberg Reserve is $120; whereas the library selections are priceless.

Schramsberg 2007 Reserve: Lovely aromas and flavors of poached pear, wild strawberry, lemon curd, roasted almonds, truffle, ginger spice, and a long, vibrant finish. Content: 76% Pinot Noir, 24% Chardonnay.
Vineyards: Saltonstall (Sonoma Coast/Petaluma Gap), Stevens (Marin), Juster (Anderson Valley).

Schramsberg 2004 Reserve: Very impressive sparkler with lively flavors of ripe tree fruits, baked apple, wild berries, almond paste, mint, and graham cracker crust. Content: 84% Pinot Noir, 16% Chardonnay.
Vineyards: Corby, Juster (Anderson Valley), Saltonstall (Sonoma Coast/Petaluma Gap), Hyde (Napa Carneros) Stevens (Marin).

Schramsberg 1999 Reserve: Stately sparkling wine that is still so lively and vibrant. Notes of peach, pear, white cherry, fresh ginger, cinnamon toast, creamy texture, and lingering finish. Ripe, zesty, and elegant.
Content: 73% Pinot Noir, 27% Chardonnay. Vineyards: Corby, Husch, Rose, Vidmar (Anderson Valley), Lund (Napa Carneros).

Schramsberg 1994 Reserve
: Rich and complex, with flavors of poached pear, peach, citrus, and nutmeg. Graceful and ethereal. Content: 73% Pinot Noir, 27% Chardonnay. Vineyards: Trefethen, Schramsberg (Napa); Cordoniu (Napa Carneros); Ricci (Sonoma Carneros).

Schramsberg 1986 Reserve: Rich, lively and precise. Aromas and flavors of peach, apple, toffee and smoke. Content: 78% Pinot Noir, 22% Chardonnay. Vineyards: 100% from the Schramsberg Estate on Diamond Mountain (Napa).

Schramsberg 1977 Reserve: Sweet core fruit, layered with accents of coconut, vanilla and white chocolate, apple, truffle, caramel, and earth. Content: 78% Pinot Noir, 22% Chardonnay. Vineyards: 100% from the Schramsberg Estate on Diamond Mountain (Napa).

Schramsberg Vineyards Chardonnay Brut Sparkling
Wine Library Tasting

Made with selective grapes from coastal vineyards, the emphasis of the J. Schrams master blend is Chardonnay with smaller amounts of Pinot Noir. 60-65% is aged in stainless steel barrels; while the other 35-40% is aged in neutral French oak barrels. It’s also interesting to see how the percentage grapes from Sonoma and Marin counties increased 15 years ago. This forward thinking really shows in the 2001, 2003 and 2007 vintages. Retail price of the 2007 J. Schram is $120.

Schramsberg 2007 J. Schram: Lovely floral aromas with hints of fresh citrus, ginger and brioche. Complex flavors of ripe peach, cherry, ripe pineapple, lemon custard, roasted hazelnut; and plenty of backbone for aging in the bottle. Content: 86% Chardonnay. Vineyards, 14% Pinot Noir.
Vineyards: Hyde, Jones, Tognetti, Schwarze (Napa Carneros); Horseshow Bend, Keefer (Sonoma Coast); Stevens (Marin). 12.8% alc.

Schramsberg 2003 J. Schram: Lofty aromas of ripe tree fruits, anise and butterscotch. lead to distinctive flavors of pear, apple, peach, dried honey, mineral and peanut brittle. Lively, vibrant, and inviting.
Content: 85% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Noir. Vineyards: Hyde, Jones, Tognetti, (Napa Carneros); Sangiacomo Vella, Ricci (Sonoma Carneros); Stevens (Marin). 12.5% alc.

Schramsberg 2001 J. Schram: Soft, luxurious, and sophisticated, this sparkling gem is highlighted with notes of ripe Golden Delicious apple, pineapple, fresh lime, Meyer lemon, exotic melon, white pepper, and creamy texture. Content: 77% Chardonnay, 23% Pinot Noir. Vineyards:
Jones, Tognetti (Napa Carneros); Sangiacomo Vella (Sonoma Carneros); Stevens (Marin). 12.6% alc.

Schramsberg 1999 J. Schram: Due to the long, steady ripening period, the wine spent more time in bottle before being released, so it falls into the Late Disgorged category. The end result is a very complex wine with lovely aromas of spring flowers, white fruits, orange marmalade and fennel; captivating flavors of white peach, apple, lemon zest, ginger; and a long, dry finish. Content: 74% Chardonnay, 26% Pinot Noir.
Vineyards: Tognetti, Schwarze, Hyde, Jones (Napa Carneros); Sangiacomo Donnell (Sonoma Carneros). 12.6% alc.

Schramsberg 1993 J. Schram: Intriguing wine with notes of poached pear, wild mushroom, honey, forest floor, earth, and rustic spices. A great wine to pair with creamy cheeses or mushroom bisque. Content: 82% Chardonnay, 18% Pinot Noir. Vineyards: Hill (Napa Carneros); Schramsberg, Trefethen, Elliot (Napa). 12.5% alc.

Schramsberg 1987 J. Schram
: Made with 100% fruit from Napa Valley, this was the first vintage of J. Schram. Today, the wine features notes of apple, pear, almond paste, egg flower soup, and creamy texture. Content:
85% Chardonnay, 13% Pinot Noir, 2% Pinot Noir. Vineyards: Schramsberg, Trefethen, Elliot, Yountville (Napa). 12.9% alc.

Surreal Santa meets fabulous wines at Jessup Cellars

At Christmas, Santa comes in so many different forms. Besides supposedly working with reindeer and elves, sometimes he’s simply the nice person that opens the door for you when you’re shopping or the fun wine pro who tips you off on a flavorful new wine in a tasting room. Or, if you are very lucky, the person that fixes you an amazing dish that far exceeds your expectations. In short, hospitality, fine wines, and tasty cooking are an easy route to thrills and memories during the holidays and the winter months leading into the New Year.

Gastronaut Bob Blumer introduces the first course to guest at Jessup Cellars near downtown Yountville.
Gastronaut Bob Blumer introduces the first course to guest at Jessup Cellars near downtown Yountville.
I bring this subject up because of my recent encounter with my old friend Chef Bob Blumer, who lit up the countdown to the holidays with a special dinner he designed for friends and wine lovers at Jessup Cellars in Yountville.

Gastronaut Bob’s other name is the The Surreal Gourmet, an admirable title he’s earned via the artistic styles of food he’s been creating since he broke into the national scene in the early 1990s. Since then, Bob has gone on to become a master of molecular gastronomy; star in shows on Food Network; publish books; and do live cooking demonstrations at big events around the globe.

If that wasn’t cool enough, in 2010 Bob broke two memorable world records. The first was the Guinness World Record for removing grains of rice from a bowl with chopsticks (134 grains in 3 minutes in Taiwan).
The second was the fastest time for peeling of 50 pounds of onions at the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival in Washington, with a record time of 2 minutes and 39 seconds.

Although he was born and raised in Montreal, Quebec, he now calls Los Angeles his home. Along the way, I was lucky enough to work with Bob and wine PR guru Joel Quigley worked for the Wine Brats organization and mythical cult magazine Wine X over a ten year period starting in the mid-1990s. What I learned is that Bob is more than a chef. Instead, he’s an artist who is willing to push the boundaries of how to prepare dishes and attract the attention of the soon-to-be eaters with his amazing presentations.

The dazzling Duck Sno-Cones, which jiggled in the wire holders for extra fun.
The dazzling Duck Sno-Cones, which jiggled in the wire holders for extra fun.
At the recent dinner at Jessup Cellars, Bob showed his skills by creating a masterful menu that was paired with their new releases. Highlights of the special Tastemakers Dinner included:

– The classic Shrimp-on-the-Barbie, which included spicy grilled marinated prawns served via Barbie dolls on the plate; a tangy dipping sauce; and sips of the charming aromatic gem, Jessup Cellars 2014 Viognier.
Cracker Jacks Soup made with variations of corn (including popcorn) and a great pairing with the extremely balanced 2013 Jessup Cellars Chardonnay.
Duck Sno-Cones, a lovely combination of Duck with fresh herbs and spices. As seen, paired with 2012 Manny’s Blend, a dynamic cepage of old vine Zinfandel planted by Robert Mondavi in 1972 and a smaller portion of Petite Sirah. Jammy flavors and a long engaging finish. Yum!
Life is a Box of Chocolates paired with the 2011 Juel, a Bordeaux style blend with lively notes of wild berries, tobacco, and fresh sage.
– The finishing touches were the Caramelized Pear and Walnut Pizza, a great recipe from B, paired with the stately 2009 Jessup Cellars Zinfandel Port.

Life is a Box of Chocolates, a dazzling spread of Beef Filet, potatoes, and veggies all made to look like pieces of chocolate candy.
Life is a Box of Chocolates, a dazzling spread of Beef Filet, potatoes, and veggies all made to look like pieces of chocolate candy.
Across the board, each dish was paired perfectly with the wines crafted by Executive Winemaker Rob Lloyd, who also makes the Handwritten and Humanitas wines that are also part of The Good Life Wine Collective.

Although the seating for the dinner was very limited, the great thing is that Bob can come to your house on a daily basis if you buy his great books and share these festive styles of food with friends and family throughout the year. Great last-minute presents too! Visit www.bobblumer.com to find out more about his books available online.

In the meantime, if you are in the Napa Valley area during the holidays or the New Year, don’t forget to stop by Jessup Cellars to taste all the fabulous wines they make!

Jessup Cellars Tasting Room
6740 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599
(707) 944-8523

PressPlay: Sharing Holiday joys with walnuts and Trefethen Winery

Every year I receive great gifts from wineries as a thank you for articles I’ve written, speaking engagements, or friendships that have been built over the past two decades.

Trefethen 2012 Dragon's Tooth Red Wine: Fabulous blend of Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Lively aromas and flavors of dark fruits, cinnamon, nutmeg, chocolate, toasty oak, and a long rich finish. Holiday pairings: wild mushroom pasta, mac & cheese, seared duck breast, and roasted meats. $60.
Trefethen 2012 Dragon’s Tooth Red Wine: Fabulous blend of Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Lively aromas and flavors of dark fruits, cinnamon, nutmeg, chocolate, toasty oak, and a long rich finish. Holiday
pairings: wild mushroom pasta, mac & cheese, seared duck breast, and roasted meats. $60.

With that being said, I always know what I’ll get from Trefethen Family Vineyards on a yearly basis: a fabulous bag of walnuts from the magnificent trees on the old Eshcol property the Trefethen family purchased just east of Napa in 1968.

Besides being used as ingredients in tasty holiday treats, this special bag of nuts serve as a symbol of farming heritage of the estate and neighboring properties in the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley. In many ways, it’s also a small token of the family’s gratitude for friendships they have built through the years with wine writers, sommeliers and retailers whom are appreciative of the family’s unique wine portfolio.

But this year has a little extra meaning to the family. For when the South Napa earthquake hit at 3:20 a.m. on August 24, 2014, tref15bthe impact of the 6.0 tremor caused severe damage to the historic winery and winemaking facility on the property.

Granted, it’s going to take some time to retrofit and rebuild this legendary wooden winery designed by architect H.W. Mcintyre for the Eschol family in 1886. But alas, I’m happy to say that when I visited Trefethen Vineyards in mid-December, the construction was in final stages of restoring the amazing face of the southern end of the building back before Christmas.

According to my good friend Mimi Gatens, the Marketing Manager for Trefethen Vineyards, the family is hoping to have the winery open in spring 2016. But for now, they have a fun and festive tent set up to serve as the hospitality center until the building is finished. (See the photos of my favorite new wine picks.)

Walnut-Recipe-s2With walnuts, here is the newest seasonal recipe done by Napa Valley’s own Chef Cindy Pawlcyn, who will be working with a long list of other star chefs, as well as wines from Trefethen Family Vineyard and a multitude of other great members of the Napa Valley Vintners, at the exciting Flavor Napa Valley events, March 16-20. Try this recipe with another local speciality: the Traditional Plain Chevre from Redwood Hill Farm in Sebastopol.

In the meantime, holiday cheers to the Trefethens and all the great readers of SawyerSomm.com from the Sawyer family!

Trefethen 2014 Dry Riesling: Enchanting aromas of ripe fruits, citrus, chamomile, jasmine and white pepper. Vibrant flavors of white peach, apricot, apple, lime, grapefruit peel, and burst of bracing acidity. 
Crisp, clean and bright. Holiday pairings: young cheeses, spring rolls, soups, salads with citrus vinaigrette, shellfish, light fish dishes, roasted chicken, and spicy Asian cuisine. $25.
Trefethen 2014 Dry Riesling: Enchanting aromas of ripe fruits, citrus, chamomile, jasmine and white pepper. Vibrant flavors of white peach, apricot, apple, lime, grapefruit peel, and burst of bracing acidity.
Crisp, clean and bright. Holiday pairings: young cheeses, spring rolls, soups, salads with citrus vinaigrette, shellfish, light fish dishes, roasted chicken, and spicy Asian cuisine. $25.
Trefethen 2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: Classic Trefethen style of Cabernet Sauvignon with deep flavors of ripe berries, licorice, wild sage, layers of spice, fine French oak, and a smooth, velvety texture. Young, lively, and worthy of aging. Holiday pairings: charcuterie, risotto, ham, grilled steaks, and rack of lamb. $100
Trefethen 2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: Classic Trefethen style of Cabernet Sauvignon with deep flavors of ripe berries, licorice, wild sage, layers of spice, fine French oak, and a smooth, velvety texture.
Young, lively, and worthy of aging. Holiday pairings: charcuterie, risotto, ham, grilled steaks, and rack of lamb. $100

Trefethen Family
Vineyards

1160 Oak Knoll Avenue, Napa, California 94558