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Bubbly Maker Schramsberg Drops Napa Valley Champagne Moniker

Daniel Sogg
Posted: June 5, 2001

Thirty-six years after beginning production of Napa Valley's first premium sparkling wine, Schramsberg Vineyards has decided to drop its "Napa Valley Champagne" moniker from its labels. The 1998 wines, due to be released over the next six months, will be the first not to carry the "Napa Valley Champagne" wording and will simply state "méthode champenoise" in its place.

Labeling a California wine as "Champagne" is somewhat controversial; U.S. law allows it, so long as it is qualified by a regional designation such as Napa or Santa Barbara, but the French consider the word appropriate only for sparkling wines made in the region of Champagne. When Jack and Jamie Davies started their Calistoga-based winery in 1965, no one in Napa Valley was making méthode champenoise wines from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. "At that time, 'sparkling wine' implied a lower status, and times have changed," said general manager Hugh Davies. Now, several other producers have followed in their footsteps and built a reputation for high-quality California bubbly.

Another reason for dropping their long-lived moniker is that although 60 percent of Schramsberg's grapes still come from within the Napa Valley appellation, the winery now looks to a variety of vineyard locations in Sonoma, Marin, Monterey and Mendocino counties. Once considered too cool, these regions are now acknowledged to yield grapes with the bright acidity necessary for high-quality sparkling wines.

Schramsberg's current production stands at about 45,000 cases per year, and its wines are blended from 61 vineyards. The winery's new labels will include a breakdown by county of the grape sources used in the different bottlings.

So far, 2001 has been a busy year for Schramsberg. Duckhorn Wine Company, a private company that owns Duckhorn Vineyards in St. Helena, purchased 28 percent of the winery this March from older shareholders who were ready to sell their stake. Jamie Davies remains majority shareholder, with 53 percent of the company assets.

And as of May 29, winemaker Hugh Davies became general manager at Schramsberg, replacing Mike Reynolds, who will be assuming the same post at Stonestreet in Alexander Valley.

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Check our recent ratings of Schramsberg wines.

Learn more about Schramsberg:

  • April 24, 1999
    New Schramsberg Brut Rosé Raises Money for Napa Preserve

  • June 15, 1998
    Jack Davies, Napa's Outsider

  • Dec. 31, 1995
    Schramsberg Revisited
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