Schramsberg Vineyards was founded in 1862 and they make sparkling wines in the traditional French method (méthode champenoise), where the wine undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle. (All champagne and most sparkling wine is made using this method -- also referred to as méthode traditionnelle.)
Anyway, one of the tour/tastings we decided to do this time in Calistoga was the Schramsberg Cave Tour and Tasting. It's not cheap ($50), but enough people on Yelp said it was well worth it, so we decided it just might be. (Unlike, say...the geyser.)
The tour was informative and fun...about a dozen people at 12:30pm today. We learned a bit about the history of the place (which you can do here if you're into it) and then headed off into the caves. There are two miles of underground mountain caves. The first half mile was dug with pickaxes by the hands of about 100 hired workers over a period of 10 years in the late 1800s. The next mile and a half was done with augers in the 1980s and I'm guessing took far less time.
The cave walls are lined with bottle walls, sometimes more than 60 rows (of bottles) deep. Here's a rosé wall:
We learned a lot about how the fermentation works, and all about riddling. Riddling is the act of turning and shaking the bottle every two days and then dropping it back into the riddling rack, with the angle gradually increased. This is a riddling rack:
Schramsberg has a master riddler named Ramon Viera who can riddle a rack of 60 bottles in 6 seconds. He's now 73 and has been at Schramsberg since the 70s. There are YouTube videos of him in action if you want to see his deal.
After exploring the caves for a while and being mezmerized by the insane number of bottles in there (2.5 million or so!), we headed into a lovely tasting room to start our tasting.
The tasting was great! Very good sparkling wines and a bunch of great information. Today they added a food element to the tasting (I think for the first time...they're trying it out for two weeks, getting feedback from the tasters to see if it works and if we'd pay more for it as an option) and so we also had a couple types of salumi, cheese, and some nuts. It was great...tasting without food, tasting with food...lots of people asked questions and it was a fun time.
We had, in order (1) Blanc de Blanc (2) J. Schram (3) Blanc de Noirs (4) Reserve, and then (5) a J. Davies Cabernet at the end. The cab was great, and of the sparkling wines we both liked the J. Schram and the Reserve the best, which means we apparently like the older wines (these were in the caves for 6 and 7 years if I remember right). They're also the most expensive (of course) at $110 per bottle. Oh well, but good to know!
We returned to the Airstream and did a bunch more work and then at around 5pm took our bikes out and rode to dinner over at Sol Bar. Sol Bar has a Michelin star, and the food was creative and delicious. We had two starters and two main dishes, and once our server knew we liked the tasting menu style of things and that we were sharing, she recommended we do one course (split) at a time, first the two fish dishes: the tuna (barely grilled yellowfin tuna, scallion-ginger black rice, pickled garnet yams, shiitake vinaigrette, tempura tat soi) ... and this may have been my favorite dish, but I have no photo for you. Waaah waaaah.
The next dish was the petrale sole (lemongrass-poached local petrale sole, jasmine rice, hearts of palm, coconut milk, charred green onions, pea shoots, lime) and it was light and Thai-ish and lovely. Here's a photo after I had a few bites:
Next came the richer dishes, First the gnocchi starter (yukon gold potato gnocchi, black truffle, house-cured bacon, sunchoke, parmigiano-reggiano):
...and then the duck breast entree (gently cooked liberty farms duck breast, calasparra rice croquettes, sunflower seeds, blue lake beans, pickled oranges, marjoram):
We rode our bikes all around town for 5 miles or so after dinner (probably not enough to burn off dinner, but that'll happen tomorrow), circling in on the campground just as it got dark. Our new Schmidt Edelux 2 lights are KILLER at night. Get a load of those taillights!! :)
Hope you all had a great day! Tomorrow we'll be doing a bike ride/wine tasting tour around Calistoga, organized by the Calistoga Bike Shop. It's unguided, $59 per person ($89 if you don't have your own bikes) and the price includes (1) your tasting fees (significant at mostly $20/pp average), (2) any roadside assistance you might need, (3) they'll bring your wine back to bike shop by the end of the day if you buy anything, and (4) they'll set up a route for you that meets your desires (between 8-18 miles, number of wineries, if you want to plan a lunch stop, etc.) Should be pretty fun...we'll let you know tomorrow!