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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.

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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

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