Our wine-of-the-week winner is the Schramsberg, 2007 Blanc de Noirs at $38, and we did a Q&A with Hugh Davies, president and CEO of the winery to find out what happened behind the scenes in making this standout. The key ingredient, it turns out, is time.
Q: What is the most challenging part of making a great sparkler?
Davies: “I would say time is the most challenging factor. It has taken years to get vineyards up and running in the right locations to the point where they produce the delicious fruit that you’re after. It takes even more time to learn how to work with that fruit in the winery in order to produce the base wine mix needed to create balance and depth in the blend. And then you have to wait more years for the bottle to develop the aromas and flavors of a classic sparkling wine. You need patience and determination.
Q: What is the most crucial factor?
Davies: Absolutely, the most crucial factor is the quality of the fruit. We are truly fortunate in the north coast of California to have a climate so well suited for growing delicious sparkling wine grapes. The natural acidity and sugar are in great balance on the day that the grapes are harvested. There is no need for acidulation or chapitalization.”
Q: What is the most fascinating part of making sparkling wine?
Davies: “The process of making traditional method sparkling wines can be as layered and complex as the sparkling wines themselves. Perhaps the most exciting aspect for me is blending. Harvest is glorious and full of action, but blending is a bit more cerebral and calm. At Schramsberg, we work as a team over the course of three months tasting and tasting and tasting. It’s where the rubber meets the road. Today, we are making over 200 base wine lots each year, some are Chardonnay, some are Pinot Noir; some are fermented in tank, some in barrel; a few are malolactic, most aren’t; some are very, very tart, others are softer and rounder; some exhibit green apple, pineapple, and citrus and others berry, cherry, peach and melon. It’s at the time of blending the pieces together that we truly learn what has worked and what hasn’t. And we take what we have learned and we build from it as we then begin to set the plans in motion for the next vintage.”
Q: What is it that the uninitiated don’t know about sparkling wine?
Davies: “Well-made sparkling wines are truly age-worthy. The CO2 gas (the bubbles) acts as a preservative in the bottle, holding at bay the impact of oxygen gas which causes wines to age. The very high acidity in these wines also provides stability, enabling a very gentle evolution of character to develop in the bottle. The most expensive sparkling wines are already aged 7-12 years before their release. This 2007 Blanc de Noirs tastes great today, but it will develop caramelized, nutty, and luscious savory character for another 20 years or more. We popped a 1984 noirs with the Thanksgiving turkey and it was a big hit. Alas, sparkling wines also go really well with a broad range of foods…”