The Important Role Wine May Have Played In Ending The Cold War

One of the most iconic photos of the 20th century was taken on February 17, 1972: an image of then-President Richard M. Nixon and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai raising their glasses to signify the end of a historic four-day visit and the start of thawing relations between China and the U.S. Per The Washington Post, writer Fred Ryan said that as Nixon raised his glass, he used the words of George Washington: "Observe good faith and justice toward all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all." That visit brought an end to cold war-level hostilities between the U.S. and China, and could well have helped bring an end to the Cold War as a whole. 

What was then known as The Toast to Peace was done with a California sparkling wine with a historic past. Schramsberg wine, which today is owned by the Davis family, has actually been around for more than a hundred years. And before it played its historic part in Beijing, Schramsberg had been served to literary giant Robert Louis Stevenson in the 1800s, who likened the vintage to "bottled poetry."

Schramsberg's new owners sought to find their niche

The current owners of the Schramsberg estate aren't descendants of Jacob Schram, who founded the winery and first created the wines that won Robert Louis Stevenson's praise. In 1965, the vineyards changed hands and fell into the laps of Jack and Jamie Davis, who took on the vineyard with the idea of turning their dream into a reality. Their son, the vineyards' current CEO, Hugh Davis, told Vivino that when his parents took over Schramsberg, the Davises "set out [to] make a style of wine that no one else was making at the time. Together they set out to find a niche that was unoccupied and took a leap of faith that they could do it on their own."

That niche was sparkling wine, which the couple fell in love with during trips to France's Champagne region. By 1967 and with the help of consultant winemaker André Tchelistcheff, the couple released their first sparkling wine under the Blanc de Noir label. It was, as Vivino points out, "the first of its kind in the United States." Five years later, the Davises took a call that would not only change the course of the vineyard's history, but the country's, too.

Schramsberg wines took off after Nixon's visit to China

Hugh Davis tells Vivino that: "My parents delivered 13 cases of the Blanc de Blancs to the Travis airport base weeks before they found out what it was being used for. It was top secret." The Washington Post says the wine was Schramsberg's 1969 Blanc de Blancs, which blended chardonnay and pinot blanc.

But what is already an intriguing story takes an even more mysterious turn — because even as family records show that 13 cases were purchased, records show that 15 cases may have been procured and taken to China. And it was only after Barbara Walters had presented a bottle of the family's wine for the TV cameras that the Davises realized why the wine had been requisitioned. Today, Schramsberg's bubblies are present at every official State function, a tradition held by every U.S. president since Nixon. 

That visit wasn't just a watershed moment for U.S.-China relations, it also put Schramsberg on the map of the world's best sparkling wines, since judges selected the Davises' wine over French champagnes during a tasting. It also managed to put Napa Valley on the global map as a manufacturer of quality, fine sparkling wines.