What: During Masters Tournament week, I celebrate the excellence on the golf course with some outstanding wines. Some of those wines can get pricey, but the Schug pinot noir is easy on the wallet and spectacular on the palate.
It’s always fun to visit old friends such as this Schug Pinot Noir, which I have been drinking almost since Walter Schug started making it. In fact, I liked the wines he made before he founded Schug Carneros Estate Winery.
Schug was a pioneer in Napa Valley. In 1972, he was the founding winemaker for Joseph Phelps Vineyards about a decade before starting his own winery. Walter made many wonderful wines at Phelps and his own winery, and the Schug family has carried on the tradition of excellence after his death.
The 2015 pinot noir from the Carneros region is everything a great pinot should be, a Carneros classic. Made in the restrained Burgundy style, it is full of great black cherry, strawberry and currant flavors wound together with a rich texture and a long, smooth finish.
It is a gorgeous bright red in the glass with enticing aromas of red berries, cherries and hints of spicy oak.
The grapes come mostly from five vineyards: Viñedo Gloria, Sangiacomo, Ricci, Lund and Schug Estate, all in the cool Carneros region where breezes from San Francisco Bay moderate the hot, sunny days.
After harvest, the grapes spend six to eight days in stainless steel tanks. After fermentation, the wine spends two months in 800-gallon oak casks where it goes through malolactic fermentation. Then it spends nine months in 60-gallon French oak barrels.
I also tried a Schug chardonnay from Carneros, and it was outstanding. Barrel fermented and aged on the lees, it is a rich and powerful wine. It opens with spicy tropical aromas and crisp, clean flavors of apple and pear. Crisp acidity makes it a great food wine.
The Carneros region is in the southern part of the Napa and Sonoma valleys, and is well known for great pinot noir and chardonnay. The beautiful complexity of this wine comes from carefully blending several vineyard lots, each of which brings the characteristics of the clones grown there.
Walter Schug died in 2015 at the age of 80, so this wine marks the final vintage with which he was involved. So while we are toasting the masters on the golf course, it’s fitting to toast this master of wine.
It is a great wine for drinking right now, especially during this Masters Week, but it will improve with age for another 2-5 years. I would serve it slightly chilled.
Winery: Walter and Gertrud Schug seemed destined to be in the wine business. Both their fathers managed wine estates in Germany. They met while he was working near her father’s estate. A month after their marriage in 1961 they took a boat to New York and then drove their Volkswagen Beetle cross country to California.
Walter started his career in Germany, apprenticing at all nine of the famed wine estates of Hessen on the Rhein River. His first harvest was 1954, and after earning a degree in viticulture and enology he left for California.
For five years he worked for a large bulk wine producer and then joined the E &J Gallo winery. Schug perfected his craft working for Julio Gallo starting in 1966 and as founding winemaker for Joseph Phelps before he launched his own label in 1980.
His visionary approach to winemaking led to the creation of California’s first proprietary Bordeaux-style blend (Insignia), two legendary vineyard-designated cabernets (Backus and Eisele Vineyards), and the first varietal syrah in the United States. While at Phelps, his intense passion for pinot noir led him to make his own wines under the Schug label.
Three years after starting his label he left Phelps and concentrated on growing his brand. Production soon exceeded capacity of their leased winery in Napa Valley, so in 1989 the Schugs bought 50 acres in the Sonoma area of Carneros and started planting vines. That is the heart of their operation today.
Each of the three children contributed to the operation in some way, and today they carry on the family tradition. The property southwest of the town of Sonoma features a beautiful tasting room tucked into a hillside containing underground barrel caves. Behind the winery building is a spot with panoramic views of the entire area.
I have enjoyed many tastings in the winery, including times when Walter Schug showed up to chat about his wine. The winery specializes in pinot noir and chardonnay, but also offers merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, sauvignon blanc, sparkling wine and late harvest riesling.
Sustainable wine growing and winemaking practices are a cornerstone of production at Schug Winery.
Goes With: The Schug Pinot Noir paired nicely with a shepherd’s pie made by my son’s friend Michaela. She came to our house and prepared dinner, making Michael help with the prep work.
It was a wonderful version of this dish, full of ground beef, mashed potatoes and vegetables such as carrots, peas and corn. It had rich, warm flavors with just the right amount of spices. I can’t share the recipe because it is Michaela’s, and I don’t blame her for not sharing it.
Paired with the wine, it made a terrific meal, especially with the Nutella pie she made for dessert.
This wine also would pair nicely with lamb, duck or even grilled fish.