Archive for the ‘Napa Valley’ Category

Schramsberg Vineyards: Bubbles, Bubbles, Bubbles

October 27, 2009 Leave a comment

We booked a tasting and tour with Schramsberg Vineyards & Cellars due to its outstanding reputation for sparkling wines and our group was relatively small — about 8 people.  The caves were initially hand dug by Chinese laborers in the 1870s with further expansion of the caves in the 1980s.  As we entered the caves, we noticed a clean up crew at the end of the first tunnel as a couple of bottles had burst causing a chain reaction within the stack of bottles resulting in about 100 bottles breaking.  We could see the remnants of the small stream of sparkling wine that ensued making us realize the careful handling required for sparkling wines — something I had not thought about prior to the tour.  The caves themselves hold an inventory of approximately 2.2 million to 2.4 million bottles.

Image courtesy Schramsberg Vineyards Website

Master Riddler: Ramon Viera (Image courtesy Schramsberg Vineyards)

Schramsberg uses the méthode champenoise method in its sparkling wine production meaning the secondary fermentation process takes place in the bottle itself.  This method is the more expensive process but is used in higher quality sparkling wines such as those Schramsberg produces.  After addition aging, the resulting settled out yeast — the sediment — has to be removed through the Riddling process.   The bottles are placed on a rack with the neck facing downward initially at  an approximate 45 degree angle and abruptly twisted (about an 1/8 turn) every 1 to 3 days with the bottle angle slightly increased each time.  Schramsberg’s Master Riddler Ramon Viera (we were told he is set to retire in 2009) has been with Schramsberg for approximately 35 years and turns between 30,000 and 50,000 bottles per day!  The Riddling process continues until such time as the bottle is almost vertical  — during this process the sediment will have completely migrated to the neck of the bottle.  The neck is then frozen and both the frozen sediment and crown cap are removed and the bottle is then topped off and corked.

Riddling process being explained

Riddling process being explained

The tasting is fantastic as the cave setting with candle-light provides for an impressive experience.  Schramberg’s quality sparkling wines have been served by every US President to honored guests since President Nixon began the tradition with his toast to peace with China in 1972.


Be sure to call ahead and make an appointment as the space is limited and the tours do fill up quickly.  The experience is something you will remember and enjoy and is worth the effort — the tour and tastings are not to be missed.

Recommendation:  Make the effort to enjoy this tour and tasting; it is worth the effort and although a bit pricey, the memorable experience is worth it.

Schramsberg Vineyards:  Tours: Generally 5 tours offered daily; by appointment  — Cost: $35 per person

Location:  1400 Schramsberg Road; Calistoga, CA 94515


Whetstone Wine Cellars: Visit to Phoenix Ranch

October 23, 2009 2 comments

Throughout my experiences in enjoying wines, Sommeliers have in many instances suggested wines that I otherwise would have never tried or experienced.  Such was the case at dinner at John Ash & Company whereby the Sommelier suggested trying a wine from Whetstone Wine Cellars.  He told us of Jamey Whetstone’s beginnings in the wine industry and his development as a “Rock Star” in the wine industry and the quality wines he crafts.  Jamey began at Turley Wine Cellars in the summer of 1998 and the evolution for him continues as he is the founder of the Whetstone Wine Cellars label, is co-founder of Manifesto! Wines and is a consulting winemaker for JT Wines.  That initial taste made me a believer in Whetstone’s quality and I have enjoyed Whetstone wines ever since.  A particular favorite wine of mine is the Phoenix Ranch Syrah and Jamey and Michelle Whetstone were gracious enough to invite us to a private picnic lunch at Phoenix Ranch.  Located in the southern part of Napa Valley, Phoenix Ranch experiences the perfect climate for the quality Syrah fruit this vineyard consistently produces.

Phoenix Ranch (Napa)

Phoenix Ranch (Napa)

Michelle had set up a spread of sandwiches and Whetstone wines for us to enjoy and as we did so we enjoyed the beautiful view of the scenic Phoenix Ranch Vineyard — what a memorable experience in such a beautiful setting.  I had only tasted the Whetstone Pinot Noir and Syrah and noticed that Michelle had included the Russian River Viognier for us to try.  My wife and I had previously made the mistake of limiting ourselves to the reds and the Viognier made us aware of the quality whites Whetstone also produces.    It was a pleasure spending time with both Jamey and Michelle  — they both demonstrated their passion reflected in the wines they represent.

Michelle & Jamey Whetstone

Michelle & Jamey Whetstone

If you have not had the pleasure of enjoying Whetstone Wines I highly suggest you take an opportunity and do so — you will be impressed.

Whetstone Wine Tasting Room — follow the link for information.  It is a fun experience!

St. Supery Winery: Tour and tasting creates great memories

September 14, 2009 2 comments

St Supery Winery

Follow on Twitter:  @stsupery (Keep up to date with special offerings and great information)

St Supery’s Chardonney was our first experience with St Supery wines and that taste brought us back to drinking Chardonney.  Figuring if St. Supery could do such an outstanding job with Chardonney, we would enjoy their other wines so we joined the wine club based upon that experience.  Members of the wine club are offered a free private tour and barrel tasting so we included a visit to St. Supery on our trip and it turned out to be a great decision indeed!

St Supery:  Doorway to a fun experience

St Supery: Doorway to a fun experience

St Supery

Atkinson House

Just walking towards the entrance of the visitor’s center, your senses will be overwhelmed with art, beauty and a sense that St Supery’s goal is to present you with great wines and a sensory education.  The demonstration vineyard along with the smell-a-vision hands-on display allows you to see and touch grapes and then experience the smells typically associated with Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Upon our arrival, (2:30 PM appointment on Tuesday, July 29, 2008) we were welcomed with our names displayed on the visitor’s board and Denise Leuschner welcomed us as if we were old friends.  A very nice personal touch carried out throughout the entire experience.

We toured the winery and the barrel tasting was especially enjoyable as wine was pulled from 3 barrels, each with 100% of the noted varietal, with separate tastings from each.  We then sampled the 3 wines blended together in unequal portions taken from each barrel.  It was very interesting how the blends completely changed the character and taste of the wine.  This simple demonstration illustrated what goes on behind the scenes in crafting a fine wine when blending is required and it furthered our appreciation of those who craft great wines.  Crafting a great wine truly is an art.

The demonstration vineyard allowed us to see various trellising systems and taste 6 grape varieties: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillion, Merlot, Carbernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Anyone desiring to learn about wines and all the effort needed to craft fine wines, like the ones produced by St Supery, should visit.  This really was a great experience.

St Supery Demonstration Vineyard

St Supery Demonstration Vineyard

St Supery Demonstration Vineyard

St. Supery Demonstration Vineyard

Tasting room

Tasting room

Next stop, the tasting room!  Joe took care of us and the tasting room was a-buzz!  We enjoyed many selections and ultimately settled on the 2006 Moscato, the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, the 2000 Dollarhide Limited Cabernet Sauvignon (Joe pulled this library wine out special for us as Club members) and the 2005 Cabernet Franc.  Simply stated, St. Supery crafts some great wines.

We continue to enjoy wines produced by St. Supery and sometimes even pair them with some fantastic recipes posted by St. Supery on their website.  St. Supery has it right as they fully understand a great experience at the winery can and will likely translate into a long-term customer relationship — something especially important during these economic hard times.

Recommendation:  Great Winery to Visit! You will truly enjoy the experience.

Location:  St. Supery Winery; 8440 St. Helena Highway; Rutherford, CA 94573

Del Dotto Caves — learned about “toast”

September 8, 2009 Leave a comment

Del Dotto Caves.  The second day of our winery tours began on Tuesday morning — July 29, 2008 — at 11 am with The Del Dotto Cave tour and Barrel tasting which is a tour I recommend to anyone visiting the Napa area.  The tour is fun, enjoyable, you can learn a lot if you so desire and tastings out of the barrel seem to just flow and flow.  We were told that the caves were dug — extending about 350 feet — by Chinese laborers back in 1885.  We also learned how the “toast” level of the wine barrel also can significantly influence tastes of the ultimate wine crafted.  We tasted the same type wine, aged in barrels with different toast levels and could taste significant differences.

Display of barrels with different toast levels

Display of barrels with different toast levels

Cave entrance

Cave entrance

We tasted out of 12 different barrels, or thereabouts as I lost count for some reason or another.  At that time, Del Dotto was focusing almost exclusively on red wines, of which we ordered 2 cases representing 6 different wines (Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and a blend or two) tasted from the barrels.  We also added a bottle of the Zinfandel Port along with 2 bottles of the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc they offered.  We still are enjoying the wines and pull them out especially when entertaining.

RecommendationMake time to visit!  Unique opportunity that is both fun and educational.   Appointment is required so don’t forget to make arrangements before shøwing up.

Location:  1055 Atlas Peak Road;  Napa, CA    Phone:  707.963.2134

Cost: $40 per person :  Wine Cave Tour Fee is not waived even if wine is purchased.