It took a century for California wines to overcome their "made in America" stigma, but now that they have, with a vengeance, it's about time that domestic sparklers got their due. California sparkling wines should be celebrated alongside their French counterparts--not just because so many of them are so good, but because we're only a couple of months away from an unprecedented frenzy of cork popping.
In anticipation of this planet-wide party, I devised a two-day loop through Napa and Sonoma to sample five of the best American sparklers--Schramsberg, Iron Horse, J, Domaine Carneros and Domaine Chandon--all of which happen to be made at wineries where women play prominent roles. This region gets its share of visitors, certainly, but my jaunt occasionally would lead off the beaten path. It would take me from the northern end of Napa, over the mountains, through Sonoma's ravishing Russian River Valley and across the broad hills of Carneros in the south--all prime real estate for the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes that are the essence of sparkling wine.
I started at Schramsberg, where German émigré Jacob Schram built a boutique winery a century before the term gained, and lost, currency. In 1880 Schram served his sparklers to an early wine tourist, Robert Louis Stevenson, who described them as "bottled poetry." The place stopped producing wine after Schram's death, until it was at last rescued in the 1960s by Jamie and Jack Davies.