Camp Schramsberg Part Three: Riddling, Blending & Disgorging – Oh My!
November 8, 2013 / Stephanie Miskew / 0 Comments
Following a fabulous evening at the Camp Schramsberg Library Wine Dinner at Meadowood (read more about that by clicking here), it was nice to get a slightly later start the following morning. After breakfast we hopped back on the buses and headed towards the winery in Calistoga.
Day two of Camp Schramsberg began with a tour of the winery and its caves given by Hugh Davies. He explained how the estate, a registered historic landmark, has been painstakingly restored by his family when they purchased it in 1965. The Victorian house, the lower winery, the barn and the caves remain largely unchanged since Jacob Schram’s days. He also informed us of the use of Schramsberg’s sparkling wines at significant historic Presidential functions. President Nixon’s “Toast to Peace” in 1972 with China’s Premier Zhou Enlai in Beijing China featured the Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs. Their sparkling wines have also been served by every U.S. Presidential administration since. As we entered the caves at the winery, Davies explained they were dug primarily with pick axes and shovels in the 1960’s. He also shared the details of a harrowing incident immediately prior to the release of the Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs. The press broke and his parents Jack and Jamie Davies had to stomp the grapes with their feet in order to keep production underway to meet their deadline!
As we made our way deeper into the caves, we reached an opening with multiple rows of riddling racks full of sparkling wine bottles. Here, Davies introduced us to Jesus who’d recently taken over as Chief Riddler for Ramon who’d worked at Schramsberg since the 1970’s. Of Schramsberg’s total production of sparkling wines, 80% is riddled mechanically using a gyropalette. The remaining 20%, consisting of their more expensive cuvées, is done by hand. Riddling is a very labor and time intensive process which is very important in the production of sparkling wine. By gradually displacing and inverting the bottle, the dead yeast cells generated by the wine’s secondary fermentation move towards the neck of the bottle. It is later removed via a process called disgorgement (see video below). Jesus was kind (and patient!) enough to give us all a lesson on how it’s done. Upon trying it myself, I quickly realized it took years of practice to master.
After Riddling 101 we sat down to a Blanc de Blancs Progression Tasting. Guiding the tasting were Schramsberg winemakers Keith Hock, who specializes in sparkling wine, and Sean Thompson, who makes Schramsberg’s still wines. During the tasting we were able to sample wines in various states of evolution ranging from a 2012 Base Wine to a 1990 Library Wine. The exercise was very enlightening and beautifully demonstrated how these wines evolve and develop over time. At one end of the spectrum, the 2012 Base Wine exhibited aromas and flavors of tart green apple and citrus while the 1990 Library Wine was at the complete opposite end featuring notes of hazelnut, pastry dough and honey. It was a valuable lesson in the effects of time on sparkling wines and the complexity that can be achieved through proper aging.
This exercise led up to perhaps the most exciting, hands on exercise of the trip: we got to make our own unique bottle of Schramsberg sparkling wine to take home with us! We were able to disgorge a bottle of Blanc de Blancs and select the dosage level, which determines the wine’s final level of sweetness, to suit our own personal taste. We donned our protective goggles for the disgorgement process but, thankfully, we had winemaker Keith Hock supervising us so nothing went horribly wrong. My disgorgement attempt went very smoothly and when it came time to select the dosage level I decided to approximate Schramsberg’s custom cuvee they produce for the The French Laundry. This low dosage sparkler is intended to pair perfectly with oysters and shellfish. After adding the dosage to the wine, I got to cork and label my very own bottle: I’m really looking forward to enjoying the one and only bottle of Cuvée Miskew!
After lunch we explored the Future and Sparkling Wine on our Tables led once again by the fabulous Holly Peterson. This tasting expanded on the pairings we studied the day before and featured the Schramsberg 2009 Brut Rosé and 2005 Schramsberg Reserve. Food pairings included Beef tatake with a variety of sides and sauces including lime wedge, ginger beurre blanc, tomato concasse, yozu koshu spicy sauce, marjoram infused olive oil and Béarnaise sauce. Some surprising favorites of this class included the brut rosé paired with the beef and lime wedge as well as the tomato concasse and basil. My favorite with the 2005 Reserve was the beef and ginger beurre blanc and the Béarnaise sauce.
Once we completed this tasting exercise, we were faced with a challenge! We divided up into teams and each had to come up with a 5-course tasting menu to pair with a selection of Schramsberg wines. There were some extremely creative pairings and I’m happy to report we came in second place and had alot of fun in the process!
Following the competition, it was time to say our goodbyes. Camp Schramsberg was an amazing experience I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys sparkling wine. 2013 marked the 18th year Schramsberg has been hosting the camp and they’ve really developed an excellent program that can accommodate any level of wine knowledge – just come thirsty to learn!
November 8, 2013 / Stephanie Miskew / 0 Comments
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