Jamie Davies, who died on Tuesday at the age of 73, was co-founder of Napa Valley’s Schramsberg Vineyards and one of the first generation of true Napa pioneers.
Davies and her late husband Jack Davies bought the shabby 100-year-old Calistoga estate of Jacob Schram in 1965 with the goal – some would call it naïve – of producing Champagne-calibre sparkling wine in California.
In an interesting footnote, Robert Louis Stevenson, honeymooning in the region in 1880, mentioned tasting 18 different Schramsberg wines.
Jamie and Jack Davies entered the business with good taste but little experience of winemaking. They became not only pioneers, but ambassadors of California wine.
Schramsberg was the first California sparkling wine made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and soon became California’s benchmark of the style.
The wine was quickly appreciated. In 1972 President Richard Nixon took a bottle of the 1969 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs to China, to lubricate peace talks with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai.
Over the years Schramsberg has been served at the White House on many occasions.
To this day, Schramsberg’s wines are on a par with those produced by French Champagne houses in California, speaking volumes of the Davies family’s commitment to quality over the years.
Other notable ventures included a partnership in the RMS distillery with Cognac distiller Remy Martin and the J Davies Cabernet Sauvignon named after Jack Davies.
In common with many great wine clans, the Davies family business had its share of controversy.
Last year her son John Davies, who lives in Moscow, Russia, sued his mother on several counts, not least his right to a third of the family fortune. Local paper the Weekly Calistogan reported his claim that his mother’s ‘dementia-addled incompetence’ prevented her from running the estate.
Most of the claims were thrown out by the Napa Superior Court, although one, concerning Jamie’s involvement in the sale of John’s shares, was allowed to proceed.
Davies is survived by her sister, Dallas Price Van Breda, and three sons, Bill, Hugh, the current CEO of Schramsberg, and John.
Written by Tim Teichgraeber