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The Freewheel line with a couple of English friends.

It takes a lot of beer to keep the wine business running smoothly. Here in Redwood City, we are very fortunate to have a great English style ale producer right in our backyard: Freewheel Brewing Company. The staff of K&L are fictures at our local pub, and it is a rare moment when one of us isn't there having a pint and a bite of their excellent food. We are also lucky enough to be the first place to offer their bottled beer for sale. If you have never had it, the Freewheel Brewing "FSB" Freewheel Special Bitter, California (500ml) is the benchmark in fresh, balanced, smashable ale. We will do our best to keep some in stock for you, the customer too!

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Entries in Schramsberg (2)


A Quick Mid-Harvest Visit To Some Napa Stalwarts


Heitz Cabernet Grapes looking perfect

By: Ryan Woodhouse | K&L Staff Member

For all that is good and bad about visiting and tasting in Napa these days, there are still many producers worth checking out. My family was recently visiting from England and I thought I would take the opportunity to show them around the valley during harvest--when all the action happens--and visit a few of my perennial favorites. Here are a couple of highlights and shots from the trip.

I kind of blew it right from the beginning in terms of saving the best for last...the first place we visited was the old property at Heitz Cellars. Kaj was kind enough to give us a great look around and popped a bottle of 2005 Martha’s Vineyard, it turned out (unsurprisingly) to be my favorite wine of the trip!

and these beautiful old upright FoudresHeitz wines mature in French oak Barriques

We started with the 2010 Heitz Cellar Sauvignon Blanc, which is really a delicate, restrained style with great drive and freshness with to much fat fruit. This is a wonderfully mineral laden wine with great persistence on the palate. Excellent drinking with oysters.

An old photograph of the Heitz estate and the historic stone winery

Then, as I said, we went right to the top with the 2005 Martha's. Wow - what a wine! So attractive and expressive now but you can just tell it's got another decade(+) in the tank. The quality that struck me most about this wine is that it's 100% Napa Cab, and a wonderful expression of exactly that; it’s not pretending to be Bordeaux. There's the power of the fruit and ripeness of tannin at the forefront. Then the wonderful warm dusty notes, and some minty, herbal edges. Fantastic wine, and very thoughtfully made, as evidenced by such an elongated drinking window. The 2007 Heitz Cellar Martha’s Vineyard Cab has been given the extra special honor of the colored label reserved for only the very best vintages of this stunning wine.

Stunning views from up on Howell Mtn

Next after grabing some picnic supplies we headed up Howell Mountain to Ladera Vineyards. This was my first visit to the property after years of enjoying their wines. The winery is one of the oldest bonded wineries in Napa. The original structure is now just a shell within which the modern winery exists. This beautiful restored stone building set into the rugged terrain of the mountain is spectacular. Again we started with their rare 2010 Ladera Howell Mountain Sauvignon Blanc. Perhaps just a touch more generous than the Heitz, but with a firm bright acidity and tons of rocky minerality under the citrus fruit. A "go-to" domestic SB for sure.

The beautifully restored winery from 1886The modern all gravity winery inside

Next we rolled through their excellent range of estate cabs. Most of the fruit is grown on Howell Mountain but they also have property on the cooler Mount Veeder which interlaces the big burly dark fruit and concentration of Howell Mountain with some touches of tobacco leaf and cedar from the cooler Veeder fruit. These are wines of balance, power, and integrity that make me happy.  They prove that not all Napa Cab has gone over to the big, jammy, soft, manipulated style.

Back now to the valley floor and the Silverado Trail side of St. Helena to Duckhorn Vineyards. I was excited about this visit after a nice stop at Goldeneye in Anderson Valley the previous week. In my opinion, Duckhorn wines are the real deal when it comes to Napa. They make quintessential Napa wines. The world is now so Cab centric and yet their offerings of Merlot are some of the best examples of Bordeaux varietal reds you’ll find anywhere. We toured the facility and saw everything in full swing. The fruit looked great and plentiful!

Winemakers and cellar crews in California have now been working around the clock for months bringing in what many think will be one of the best vintages in years, if not decades. Having left that game myself, I would like to applaud those people surviving the ravages of harvest and 14-16-18 hour days to bring us great wines year after year! Cheers to you all!

The Famous Three Palms Vineyard

Anyway, the barrel rooms at Duckhorn are stacked neatly away, holding their precious treasures. It was great to have a good look around at this top-notch facility. We were treated to a very comprehensive seated tasting of many reserve and single vineyard wines. There was not one bad wine on the table. We started with another beautiful Napa SB,(2011 Duckhorn Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc), this one with some notable barrel character and a dash of Semillion giving it a very Bordeaux Blanc like sensibility. My other favorites included the Cab Franc and the Carneros Merlot. Sadly these do not get into distribution.

Upon tasting the 2009 Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot, I was once again wowed by how good and consistent this Merlot really is. Duckhorn's "workhorse" Merlot, it combines fruit from their many great sites sources and is consistently one of my top Napa wines every vintage. Sure, the 2008 Duckhorn “Discussion” is the premier Bordeaux-style blend and a great wine, and the 2009 Duckhorn “Three Palms Vineyard” Merlot is the flashy, prestigious, sought after release (its concentration, richness, power and purity are also very impressive). However, I can’t help feeling enamored with the regular old Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot. It's an everyman's wine with the pedigree and class to cellar for decades, and delivers on every level at a very reasonable price point. For me, it is benchmark for the varietal and region.

2 miles of caves, 2 million bottles all under Spring Mtn at SchramsbergThe next day after some perusing of the shops in Calistoga and St. Helena, we headed up to Schramsberg on Spring Mountain. I had been told that the Cave tour was not to be missed so I thought this would be a good way to finish off the trip. The history surrounding this property is enthralling as is the atmosphere. You begin by entering the two miles of underground caves, much of which were hand-dug with pick and shovel by Chinese workers in the 1870s, after completing Transcontinental Rail Road. Inside the caves, the walls are lined with millions of hand-stacked bottles ageing on their lees. Schramsberg still riddles their wines by hand. Riddling is an incredibly laborious process of rotating and tilting the bottles over many weeks to move the yeast into the neck of the bottle for disgorgement.

Schramsberg's A-frame riddling racks deep underground in the caves.In the underground caves, everything is covered by a thick dust and mossy webs, a perfect pre-Halloween treat! The tasting deep in the caves was excellent and the wines showed fantastically. The 2009 Schramsberg Brut Blanc de Blanc first was very fresh and zippy with bright acid and vivacious energy on the palate. The Brut Rose, good as always, was showing nice purity and weight in the mouth. If you like domestic sparklers this is the one for Thanksgiving, a very food friendly and versatile wine. The J.Schram (Blanc de Blanc) and Reserve (Pinot Noir) bottlings were a real treat. Both are very big rich wines with a minimum five years on the lees, sleeping deep beneath the Spring Mountain hillside. I sometimes find wines with this amount of lees contact bit much, preferring two to three years on lees over the late-disgorged versions. However, I must say that both of these wines showed excellent balance and brightness of character and I’m sure would be excellent cellaring candidates should you be lucky enough to get your hands on some. We normally get small allocations of both around the holidays so keep a look out or wait-list them if you are interested.

Tasting in the caves at Schramsberg

If you haven’t tried any of the wines we tasted on this trip, I highly recommend you do! This is not the glitzy, glam, “Disney Napa” that some people talk about. These are all wines of history and true substance. Every one of these properties deserves a few spots in the cellar or an outing to the dinner table. Enjoy!




Behind the Wine: Keith Hock and Schramsberg 

Schramsberg winemaker Keith Hock "sabers" open a bottle of Schramsberg Brut Rosé at *Taste of Vail* in April of last year. The technique of using a saber to open a bottle of sparkling is called "sabrage" and became popular in France during the reign of Napolean. Photo by Dominique Taylor/Vail Daily.

It is easy to miss the sign marking Schramsberg Road while zooming north on Highway 29, just outside the town of St. Helena.  Though Schramsberg is one of the oldest wineries in the Napa Valley (established by German immigrant Jacob Schram in 1862), it is not by any stretch of the imagination the most opulent or advertised.  You can see the neighboring V. Sattui castle from across the valley, and you have to be blind to miss the historic Beringer property on the edge of town, but on any given day a good percentage of the calls to the Schramsberg front desk are from would-be visitors parked on the side of the road in Calistoga, wondering where they went wrong. I know because I used to answer that phone.

Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs was the first American sparkling wine to be served at U.S. diplomatic events (for Richard Nixon's "Toast to Peace" in Beijing in 1972) and remains the White House's house sparkler.

The reason Schramsberg doesn't need a big sign or a castle is simple: méthode Champenoise, and the tradition of style and class that Shramsberg's founders, the late Jack and Jamie Davies, built into the brand over the years. The Davies' purchased the old Schram property as a fixer-upper in 1965, and by 1972 had  given it new life as the first winery in America to produce sparkling wine by the same method as in Champagne, using the traditional Champagne grape varietals Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Visitors to Schramsberg's historic wine caves (the original caves were hand-dug in the late 1800s!) get to witness first-hand the labor-intensive steps of sparkling wine production, including the process of riddling the bottles to concentrate the dead yeast cells for removal during disgorging.  At Schramsberg, riddling is still done by hand. 

While the idea of a cave-dwelling riddler spinning still wine into sparkling has a certain fairy tale quality to it, you can't produce first class bubbles without starting with a first class wine, and Keith Hock is the man we have to thank for that.  Keith oversees everything that happens in the winery, from crush through primary fermentation and the all-important step of assembling the cuveés (assemblage) which are the final blends that get bottled and undergo the rest of production in the bottle.  Since each vineyard source delivers unique fruit each vintage, and Schramsberg produces vintage sparkling wines each year (with the exception of the nonvintage Mirabelle line and the ultra premium J. Schram Brut Rosé, which is only made in exceptional years) Keith must craft final blends made from individually fermented blocks that are reflective of the vintage but stay true to the style of the wine for which they are destined, from the flagship Blanc de Blancs to the premium J Schram.   

We are thrilled to welcome Keith to our San Francisco tasting bar this Thursday, February 10 at 5 p.m. and to our Redwood City tasting bar this Friday, February 11th at 5 p.m. for special Pre-Valentine's Day Bubbly Tasting.  In anticipation of the occasion, we thought you might want to get to know the man behind the bubbly a little. Here, Keith dishes on bubbly, biking, and where to get a good bite off-the-beaten-path in Napa:

Behind the Wine: Winemaker Interview with Keith Hock

K&L: How did you get into the wine business?

KH: I was living in France racing bicycles for a French cycling team. The team Soignier educated me on the wines from the different growing areas in France, however, it wasn’t until I moved back to the US, and to Napa, CA that I discovered that I could earn a degree in winemaking. 

K&L: How long have you been making wine at Schramsberg?

KH: I have been with Schramsberg since 2002.

Did you always want to make sparkling wine? 

No, I have worked for several other wineries. However, I enjoy Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, so Schramsberg is a perfect match.

What are some winemaking challenges unique to sparkling wine production?

The challenge with making sparkling wine is that it’s a labor intensive product, where each bottle of wine has to be touched numerous times prior to the wine being released for sale.

What makes Schramsberg unique?

Schramsberg is unique for several reasons: there is the  history of the property, being the second oldest winery in Napa Valley, in addition to our caves and hillside vineyards. We have stayed true to the mission that Jack and Jamie Davies set out to do in 1965 when they re-established Schramsberg as a sparkling wine house--making the absolute best vintage sparkling wines year in and year out. There is a tremendous amount of pride, respect and heritage that goes into each and every bottle of Schramsberg wine!

What did you drink last night? (Or the last time you had a glass of wine that wasn’t your own?)

Last night I had a glass of Argentinean Malbec, Tierra Secreta.

What’s your position on wine-pairing and what do you like to pair your wines with?

Wine and food are a natural. Pairing brings out flavors in both the food and wine that aren’t there without the other.  Sparkling wine and Kettle style salted potato chips are a savory pairing! (Thanks for the tip!)

What are some of your favorite restaurants?

We are fortunate to have so many fine restaurant in the Napa Valley, a few new ones that I like are Bistro Sabor, it casual and fun, [and] ZUZU for tapas. There are too many to name, "spoiled" comes to mind when I think of all the restaurants.

What advice do you have to offer people just getting into wine?

Don’t be afraid, be open-minded and try any and everything. Wine is an exciting and interactive experience.



What: Pre-Valentines Day Bubbly Tasting with Schramsberg Winemaker Keith Hock


When/Where: Thursday, February 10th, 5-6:30 p.m. at K&L San Francisco and Friday, February 11th, 5pm-6:30pm at K&L Redwood City




Visit the K&L Local Events page for updates on this event and to check out all upcming K&L events and tastings!

We look forward to seeing you!

Chiara Shannon