A little play on words. As it was the writer’s intention to cover more obscure wine regions and their wineries, this seems to be a good time to do so. Since beginning this blog, Schram is the first winery I have interviewed. There will be more, interspersed with other columns. Hope you find it interesting.
Schram Vineyards was started in 2008, as a result of Ashley and Aaron Schram’s passion for wine.
Establishing and operating the vineyard was no easy task with both working full-time. As if that wasn’t enough they soon had a baby, and then a second (she quit her corporate job on that child’s second birthday), and became the full-time manager with the equally important additional task of being a full-time mom. It is their passion that brought me to the winery in 2013, and why they are included in this blog (book?).
It is great fun to own a vineyard and winery (more so if you are a millionaire or more likely a billionaire). Sexy, romantic, and you establish yourself as an esthetic. After all, you can hire people, most of them fairly inexpensively…with the exception of a winemaker. However, you get to take the bows. Still the Schram’s are having fun. TB could name a few gentlemen vintners but instead would rather focus on those who put ‘sweat equity’ as well as real money into their endeavor. The obvious places are California, Oregon, and Washington. Since wine is produced to some degree in all 50 states), and living in Minnesota I decided to look at wineries here, in Wisconsin, and also in New York. TB even had a bottle of wine once from New Mexico, La Bombe, the winemaker being a scientist at Los Alamos who made the wine in his garage. The label showed a mushroom cloud…and the wine was pretty good too!
I took note of the Schram name because of the similarity to Schramsburg ( founded by Jacob Schram in 1862), the California producer of sparkling wine. Although Schramsburg is made to closely match French Champagne, the French sued and now the appellation can only be used for those wines made in the Champagne region. Considering some of the ‘plonk’ that was passed off with ‘champagne’ on the label, who can blame them? Schramsburg became world-famous when then-President Nixon decreed that all wine served at the White House would be American-produced (this did not stop him from having a bottle of Chateau Margaux on the floor beside him…what did you expect from the man? It’s good to be president!
The Minnesota Schram’s first harvest was in 2011 but they sold all the grapes to other local producers. Their wines are now produced with about one-third of the grapes from the ‘estate’; other Minnesota growers; and from Yakima, Washington.
They use screw cap bottles, which some of you may be surprised to learn, are as expensive as bottling with corks. The Kiwi’s and Aussie’s were the first to do this with Randall Grahm (Bonny Doon), being the first well-known producer to adopt it. Take the romance out of it, and screw caps are more reliable. Ah, but what about the aging, you say? Did you know that if you store the wine long enough the bottles will probably have to be re-corked (Mouton Rothschild does this for its wine for free when they come to the U.S.). There is also the possibility of a ‘corked’ bottle (not a pleasant taste), not to mention some people saying they don’t like a wine and declaring it corked. Either way it is expensive for the winery.
They were assisted in the beginning by enologist Nick Smith, who teaches Enology at the University of Minnesota, where many varietals have been improved or created. Aaron, who has been making wine since he turned 21, learned well and fine-tuned his winemaking skills.
The Schrams have ten acres of land suitable for vineyards, of which six are gently sloping, southerly facing, and have plans to plant the other four acres soon. Their sales (increasing them for a young winery is always difficult) gradually grew and last year expanded by 200%, quite a feat and made possible by adding beer last year!
Schram produces wine from eight different Minnesota varieties — Marquette, Frontenac Gris, Sabrevois, Petit Pearl, Prairie Star, Brianna. In addition, they use Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Cabernet from Washington. From these they produce seven wines including their signature wine Marquette also available as a Reserve wine that is barrel-aged for 14 months. In December, they released their first sparkling wine, moving them somewhat in the direction of the California Schramsburg.
All is going well with Schram’s new community room (tasting room), and as if that was not enough they added a brewery. That is not as far-fetched as it may sound because you use much of the same equipment that is idle after the harvest is completed. There are a few other wineries in the U.S. doing this but Schram may be the first to do so in Minnesota. The advantage is that if one person in a couple only likes to drink craft beers, and the other only wine, they can provide both and make the thought of a visit more attractive to them. As TB has found over the years, it is not a far stretch to transform a beer drinker to a wine drinker, especially when there are several wines, both red, white, and a sparkler, as well as eight craft beers on tap!
From Spring through Fall they have wine tasting and fun events, making use of their beautiful outdoor space. Beginning this Valentine’s Day, they are offering dancing lessons one Saturday night a month; Case Club activities, ‘Paint and Sip’ nights, and many other events. They also serve as a venue for parties, weddings, etc., but Ashley made it clear this will not be their focus, as it is at some wineries.
If you are in the Twin Cities region, TB highly recommends taking the drive out Hwy 5 to Waconia and visiting the Schrams as well as some of the other vintners in the area. You might be surprised and you won’t be disappointed.
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