But at Schramsberg, the heat yielded a cool experience: the chance to taste wine in the caves. Schramsberg is a family owned winery where Jack and Jamie Davies were pioneers as the first Californians to make traditional French-style sparkling wines in the 1960s. For me, the symbol of the winery is the beautiful Victorian home that leaps into view as you reach the end of their winding, heavily wooded driveway in Northern Napa Valley.
The house was built in the 1870s by Jacob Schram, a German immigrant who was the first person to produce wine on the property. He had Chinese workers dig out the hillside to create an extensive network of caves where he stored barrels and produced wine.
A passageway from the Schramsberg tasting room leads to the caves, where PR Director Larry Levine and Winemaker Craig Roemer met me for a tasting. As we walked deeper into the caves, past dusty riddling racks, the natural chill and humidity was like a welcoming caress. We arrived at a table holding a variety of Schramsberg wines. Candles twinkled from candelabras on either side of the table, giving the tasting a slightly spooky, Phantom of the Opera feeling.
The highlight was the chance to taste the 1998 vintage J. Schram Rose, the new pink version of the winery's top wine (aka tete de cuvee). The cool peachy pink wine smelled of fresh strawberries and a toasty sweetness that for some reason reminded me of fresh corn. I still wish I hadn't said that out loud, but that's what I smelled. It tasted crisp and rich, a perfect wine to pair with the rich flavors of seafood or pork or to drink by itself. Larry said I was the second writer to taste the wine; I would have been flattered even if I'd been the tenth because it was so well-crafted and represented so much work. Later we stopped by the labeling room, where a woman carefully smoothed labels on each bottle by hand before wrapping it in tissue.
Getting your hands on a bottle of the J Schram Rose might be tough, since they only made 800 cases and the wine will retail for about $120 a bottle.
Larry offered to send me home with one of the open bottles of wine we'd tasted that afternoon.
Guess what I chose to drink by the pool that night?