Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Schug Pinot Noir, Carneros, Sonoma Coast, California (merchants in Western Canada)

If you don't know who Walter Schug is, then you my friend need to learn one more name today. Herr Schug is, to me and many others, a veritable pantheon in the wine industry, in American wine, and in the nonsensical world of Pinot Noir.

Walter Schug was born with his feet stained red from the grapes... at least, that's what he told me at the 2013 Vancouver International Wine Festival ( You see, Walter's Dad was also in the wine industry and used to take young Walter, when he was very, very young - to the vineyards and into the cellar. Walter told me, with his infectious grin, that they were some of his absolute fondest memories. And Walter has lead quite a life~!

How do I begin to tell the story of this man? Do I start with "Insignia"; the inaugural, iconic Bordeaux-styled blend that set the bar - - - and set it higher then most have been able to reach since? Do I start with Syrah?? Walter was the first winemaker to work with it in the USA. Do I start with late-harvest techniques? Once again - trailblazer. Perhaps you're expecting me to start to tell Walter's story by saying that this year marks his 60th vintage as a winemaker.

You would be wrong.

Of all of the things that there are to respect and admire about Walter Schug, perhaps the greatest- (asides from his steadfast devotion to his childhood grape varietal Pinot Noir which was quite out of fashion during the 80's)- yes the greatest characteristic I admire is his commitment to family. Walter has built everything that we see; built reputation, collaborated to create a community,  crafted a winery from a modest 2,000 cases/year to over 30,000 cases - for family.

Daughter, daughters' twin, son, daughter-in-law... all working in the family business. I come from a big family and I know that families don't always see eye-to-eye, and yet all three children work in the winery. How can this be?

Well just as I said in my last article, I believe in Reaganomics; I believe in trickle-down-theory. Someone at the top in this company (not saying who) must have laid down a foundation of respect, acceptance and even - love. Love? "You must be thinking ardor or passion" I hear you thinking. But, you would be wrong. For I mean love.

Walter crossed from Germany to California in 1961, and he came with his wife Gertrud. His blushing-bride also had a wine-maker as a father and so she knew the lifestyle she was getting herself into... crossing the ocean to the (then) unknown wilderness of central California. There were less then 50 wineries in the entire state at the time. Now there are over 450 in Sonoma County and 700 in Napa Valley. Gertrud came for love.

And it is an Old-Fashioned kind-of-love that lets a husband and wife work together as well as live together. Gertrud became Chief Financial Officer for Schug Wines in 1980 and remained in that onerous position until she passed away in 2007. She and her husband were willing slaves to the promise that they were building something for their children (and now grand-children).

I was reminded of my mentor/inspiration James Conaway (New York Times best-selling author @ when I read about Walter and Gertrud packing their 3 kids into the car and moving to the rural community (at the time) of St Helena, Napa Valley in 1966... The Judgement of Paris was still a decade away, Chateau Montelena and Stag's Leap Wines? Kids just learning to walk... and this was where Walter wanted to bring his kids. This was where he wanted to build their future.

And why? Yes, for love. But also, in Walter's words

“It was the great potential I saw here, and the opportunity to be part of its development, that convinced me to come to California.”

Bravo my friend. Your wines speak for themselves;

2009 Carneros Pinot Noir
92+ Points
$30 USD, winery club price $24 USD
  • visual:   clear; medium ruby core with slightly bricking wide and light ruby/cherry rim
  • nose:   clean; medium+ to fully intense and youthful bouquet of red cherries and raspberries, cherry blossoms, wild herbs such as thyme/sage/savory, a little forest aroma (French call this sous-bois), dark tea notes and a hint of menthol/eucalyptus
  • palate:   clean; dry, medium+ crisp red currant acid, medium+ chewy tannin, medium- body, medium+ alcohol (14% ABV), medium+ intense youthful flavors that are much in-line with the aromas; a bright red burst of young berry flavors is carried by waves of savory herbs, dense wood tones and a strong presence of dark tea minerality. Before today I have never paired tea with mineral, but in this instance the two flavors are nigh congruent and to me deserve to be spoken of as a pair. Excellent balance and structure, medium+ length
  • conclusion: to be enjoyed now. This is a (in my opinion) an excellent expression of Carneros and is just hitting its prime; enjoy 2013-2018
  • FOOD PAIRING:   the presence of wild herbs and sous-bois in the wine really make me want to pair this with Pork; slow roast bacon wrapped pork loin with maple-mustard glaze, sweet potato pave, fresh English peas... the pork is a natural for Pinot Noir, the sweet of the maple balances slightly hot alcohol, the mustard cuts through it, the sweet potato enhances natural fruit flavors and the bright green notes of the peas play counter-part to the savory/herbaceous qualities

2010 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
93+ Points 
$24 USD, winery-club price $19.20 USD
  • visual:   clear; light ruby core fading quickly to lighter ruby/cherry rim, no bricking
  • nose:   clean; fully intense youthful spicy savory herb bouquet; every herb under the sun~! Thyme, rosemary, Italian parsley, sage, savory... a kaleidoscope mixed with musky wood tones like sandalwood, the minerality is a delicate thread of spun steel that threads throughout
  • palate:   clean; dry, full red currant acid, medium grippy tannin, medium- body, medium alcohol (13.5%), medium+ to fully intense youthful flavors perfectly in-line with the aromas; the quick burst of red berry tones quickly gives way to a rich abundance of savory herbs and musky wood tones... the minerality which seemed delicate in the nose shows it's full force here and is finessed as much as it is puissant. Excellent balance and Stunning structure, medium+ to long length
  • conclusion:   still a babe; drink now once through the aerator or a 30-minute decant. Enjoy 2015-2020++
  • FOOD PAIRING:   be big, be bold, because this wine most certainly is as well~! Consider an authentic lamb/venison Poblano mole over Manitoba wild rice pilaf, Chiliwack corn succotash, steamed collard greens (Swiss Chard)... you  might never have thought of Pinot Noir and chocolate (and neither did I for a long time), but in some instances.... Magic!!!
Schug Carneros vineyards
Wine is more then passion, it is more then devotion, it is even more then love. Wine is also business.

And Walter Schug knows that as well, if not better, then anyone. Walter took years - literally years - to discover the place that was going to be best for him to work with the grapes that his father had introduced  him to when he was a child in Germany. Pinot Noir; the heart-break grape. It is his passion, even if it was Chardonnay that paid the bills for many of those first years of the winery.

Walter knew he had found the place at last when he came to the Carneros appellation, just south of the town of Sonoma. It's a place where the fog is replaced at midday by summertime winds that come rushing through  the Petaluma Gap. It's this wind-stress that causes the skin of the grapes to thicken, particularly the higher Pinot Noir plantings, a characteristic that adds pepper and spice nuances to the wine. Perhaps it also toughens the skins of its inhabitants, allowing them to work side by side with family which must be a stress all of it's own... yes, the wind comes and does this all so that you and I get to taste this World-Class wine for pennies, and the Schug family gets to keep building a future. Together.

As always, I welcome your comments here or on Twitter @ AStudentofWine

CINCIN~!!!    SLAINTE~!!!     CHEERS~!!!

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