A STORY—50+ YEARS OLD—REVEALED


Wine is connection. It’s a bridge to friendship, sometimes in the most improbable ways. Like the November 17th edition of WineSpeed which brought together two respected men in the wine industry who discovered a special shared history–all because of the Wine Question. Below are excerpts from their email exchange which I reprint with their permission. But first, a reminder of that Question. It asked:

Which winery was the first to plant chardonnay in the Napa Valley?

  1. Robert Mondavi Winery
  2. Schramsberg
  3. Kendall Jackson
  4. Stony Hill

The answer was D, Stony Hill. A small cult winery on Napa Valley’s Spring Mountain, Stony Hill planted chardonnay in 1947 and released their first bottle in 1952 at the then steep price of $1.95. Schramsberg Vineyards planted chardonnay for its famous sparkling wines in 1965. The Robert Mondavi Winery’s first chardonnay was planted in 1970. And Kendall Jackson, which is not located in the Napa Valley, made its first chardonnay in 1982 and now makes several million cases of chardonnay annually.

The Question inspired Tim Clark, National Wine Educator for Terlato Wine Company in Chicago to send us the following email:

You brought a special memory for me with today’s Wine Question. Do you have the Schramsberg book?  My parents had a copy, it was a coffee table-type book. I was leafing through it while visiting them years ago, (probably during a Thanksgiving visit!). At the time I worked for the Mondavis, and was really taken by the story of the Davies’ [owners of Schramsberg] very first crush. I can’t recall the year, but something disastrous happened and they weren’t going to get any fruit. Somebody told them to phone Bob Mondavi, maybe he could help. Evidently he rounded up enough people to chip in and the Davies were able to make their first wine. After reading that, whenever I conducted Mondavi wine dinners where a sparkling wine was appropriate, or requested, for the reception, I always asked the restaurant to buy Schramsberg, and I would love telling this story to the group.

 I sense from afar there is a lot of this type spirit going around now, after the wine country fires. At least I hope there is. –Tim

 I was moved by Tim’s email and forwarded it to Hugh Davies, the CEO of Schramsberg, who returned Tim’s email.

Dear Tim,

 It’s great to make your acquaintance through Karen’s Winespeed, and to hear your reflections on Sparkling Harvest, the book my parents wrote to tell of the Schramsberg story.  Mom and Dad were special.  Their spirit, and the spirit of their era, definitely lives on in northern California’s wine country.  Back in 1965, it was Robert Mondavi who agreed to exchange some low alcohol Chardonnay wine for some Riesling grapes that my Dad was able to procure on Spring Mountain.  His friend, Jerome Draper, had already contracted all the Chardonnay to Charles Krug, but suggested that Robert might take some of his Riesling grapes in a trade.   The next challenge came after Robert and his brother Peter had their spat, and Robert was then separated from Charles Krug.  Dad had to go to Peter, who he had never met before, to clarify the arrangement he had made with Robert.  Peter said if Robert told you we would get you the 500 gallons of the Spring Mountain Chardonnay wine, then that’s what we’ll do.  And our first vintage (1965) of Blanc de Blancs (200 cases) was made.  Dad loved telling that story.  A deal was a deal.  Your word was your word.  In 2015 we did a Schramsberg 50th Anniversary event at Charles Krug, and of course Peter joined us.  And we popped a couple of our last bottles of that 1965 vintage in the cellar where it was made.

Thanks for sharing our bubbles over the years!

All the best to you and your team at Terlato,

Hugh

 A few years ago while researching the history of the Napa Valley, I too learned of this iconic story about Bob Mondavi and Jack and Jamie Davies. Maybe this sort of generosity between “competitors” happens in every industry. (Somehow though, I suspect not). Generosity… ineluctably part of the fabric of wine culture.

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