2007 Schug Carneros Estate Heritage Reserve Carneros Pinot Noir

Mission Codename: The Rhein’s Heritage Meets Carneros

Operative: Agent White

Objective: Secure an allocation of a delicious Reserve Carneros Pinot Noir.

Mission Status: Accomplished!

Current Winery: Schug Carneros Estate

Wine Subject: 2007 Heritage Reserve Carneros Pinot Noir

Winemaker: Michael Cox

Backgrounder:

Some of our favorite California Pinot Noir comes from the independent Carneros viticultural area, a wine growing region which straddles the Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley. Originally designated in 1983, the region’s distinct Terroir and cool climate make it one of the best regions for the Burgundian varietals of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The first grapes were planted here in the early 1800s by missionaries. The cool Carneros region provides ideal growing conditions for Pinot Noir, which thrives here.

Wine Spies Tasting Profile:

Look – A lovely ruby red with dark black cherry juice hues and lighter streaks through its clear core. When swirled, this wine settles quickly and leaves randomly spaced thick legs along the side of the glass.

Smell – Bright red fruit including ripe black cherry mingles with both hot and baking spice, and woody toasted oak. A touch of earth, green dried herbs, mocha and floral lavender notes adds depth and invites a sip.

Feel – Soft, supple and expansive on the palate, almost creamy in its texture with well developed tannins and a vibrant acidity that frames the earthy fruit.

Taste – Generous plump and ripe black cherry leads the way and is complemented by pleasant spice, toasted vanilla, black tea. At mid palate, tarter fruit including cranberry makes an appearance along with subtle flavors of sweet tobacco.

Finish – Long with this wine’s ripe and juicy cherry lingering as the spice, earth and other notes slowly tails off leaving behind hints of this wine’s vibrant acidity and well developed tannins, drying the palate slightly and begging for another sip.

Conclusion – The 2007 Schug Carneros Estate Heritage Reserve Carneros Pinot Noir is yet another classic Pinot from one of our operative’s favorite wineries. Classic California Pinot with bright red fruit on the nose and palate, approachable complexity and a feel that is smooth, rich and ripe. Pair this very drinkable wine with grilled chicken or pork at your next barbecue or cellar for three to five years as it continues to evolve in the bottle.

Mission Report:

WINEMAKER INTEL BRIEFING DOSSIER

SUBJECT: Michael Cox

WINE EDUCATION: Started working in Sonoma wineries out of high school. Graduated form UC Davis in 1991

CALIFORNIA WINE JOB BRIEF: Winemaker for Schug Winery since 1995

WINEMAKING PHILOSOPHY:
Don’t get to fancy, let the vines and the yeast do their stuff. Just don’t mess up what mother nature intended.

WINEMAKER QUOTE: From Tao Te Ching: “The hard and stiff will be broken, the soft and supple will prevail.”

FIRST COMMERCIAL WINE RELEASE: 1993 Napa Valley Chardonnay from DeMoor (Napa Cellars)


WINEMAKER INTERVIEW

AGENT RED: Greetings, Mike. We are thrilled to be showing your fantastic 2007 Carneros Chardonnay, Heritage Reserve today. The wine is really wonderful. Thanks so much for the wine, and for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today.

MICHAEL: Thanks Red, we are so happy that you continue to love our wines. We always enjoy your detailed reviews – and these sit-downs!

RED: The pleasure is all ours, I assure you. How long have you been making wine?

MICHAEL: My first job in a wine cellar was when I was 19. I got a summer job working at Hacienda Wine Cellars (pre Bronco – then family owned by the Cooleys).

RED: Was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?

MICHAEL: Not sure if it is specific, but that summer of 1987, working on the bottling line, cleaning barrels, driving all over Sonoma County sampling vineyards, long wide ranging conversations on music and farming with the winemaker, Eric Laumann all combined to sell me on the idea that growing and making wine would afford me the ability to continue to live in Sonoma Valley.

RED: And where did you learn the most about winemaking?

MICHAEL: Hmmmm. Tough one. I spent my formative years from 1987 -1991 at Hacienda, a year at Dry Creek Vineyards, got my first‘Winemaker’ job at Napa Cellars/DeMoor, and have spent coming on 14 years here at Schug with Walter. I’d probably have to say my time at Napa Cellars. I was 25 and they gave me the keys and said ‘drive’. I learned to get things done, not to waste time or money, and how to pull together a wine from vineyard to bottle. For all the talk of art, it is also a big logistics game.

RED: What is your winemaking style or philosophy?

MICHAEL: I’ll happily steal from Robert Mondavi here: ‘The first glass of wine should invite the second.’ I don’t like flabby, heavy, ponderous wines. I want brightness and zip. Elegance is foremost.

RED: Walter Schug is a legend in the wine business. How has he influenced you?

MICHAEL: Walter has been, and continues to be a mentor. I am very fortunate that Walter saw in me someone with the kernel of his own winemaking style that he could nurture and develop. He is a font of knowledge that I can tap into at any time. With just about any situation he’s seen it in his own experience here, at Gallo, or as consultant, at least twice.

RED: What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?

MICHAEL: We already talked about Walter being a mentor, but Eric Laumann, who gave me my first job was also very important. He certainly instilled a confidence in myself and the wines that make. He also is a reminder to not
take yourself too seriously, just the wine.

RED: Who do you make wine for?

MICHAEL: Myself foremost. Plan D is always to just drink it all ourselves, so it better be good.

AGENT RED: Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today.

MICHAEL: This is the 2007 Carneros Pinot Noir, Heritage Reserve. Every spring I go through the cellar and taste all the individual barrels of pinot we have and the ones that I feel have a special charm get a chalk mark. I then spend a few weeks trying different blends with the owner and his father, massaging the blend until we come up with something that, we think, best represents the vintage and the Schug style. In our case “Reserve” is a small, handcrafted selection of our very best barrels we have to offer.

RED: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?

MICHAEL: Mushroom ragout, Thanksgiving/Christmas Dinner (I know it is not the season). Fresh caught salmon, grilled.

RED: Whoa… Umm, YUM! Tell me, what makes the Carneros region so special?

MICHAEL: It is a small region, so within our borders there is a lot of consistency. Appellations like Sonoma Coast and Russian River just don’t have the same climate conditions throughout the appellation. We have two main dominating features: the wind and the water. Wind is where the cool ocean air forces it’s way though the Petaluma Gap into the bay and interior valley. It cools us in summer and brings the fog. The water is the San Pablo Bay and the wetlands that surround it. In winter, it buys us a few extra degrees and gets the vines going early. Between the wind and the water, the growing season in Carneros can be up to two weeks longer than our neighbors. At the same time, we don’t have to push the growing season into late September/early October, so rain is not normally an issue. On top of that Carneros is pretty dry as far as Northern California goes, though this year it has been downright silly. 1” of rain in June? The record in the past 20 years was less than a quarter of an inch…

RED: What is one piece of advice that you would give to someone that is considering a career as a winemaker?

MICHAEL: Trust yourself and your palette. Don’t chase a style or someone else’s opinion. Be ready to work and get down and dirty. Don’t expect a lot other than the reward of the wine itself.

RED: What is occupying your time at the winery these days?

MICHAEL: Thinking about the 2011 vintage, planning meetings for the vineyard, evaluating barrels, tasting the 2010’s, planning bottlings, catching up on paperwork, walking the vineyard to keep an eye on the current crop, getting ready for a wine club event….

RED: Please share one thing about yourself that few people know

MICHAEL: Considering how much I enjoyed NASCAR, I may well be a closet redneck.

RED: Nice. What is your favorite ‘everyday’ or table wine?

MICHAEL: Well until recently it had been Laurenz V.’s Gruener Veltliner, either the Singing or the Charming, but I have been drinking a lot of our dry Rose of Pinot Noir of late.

RED: How would you recommend that people approach your wines, or wine in general?

MICHAEL: Well wine is for sharing with friends so have some people you like around and start opening bottles. Schug wines always get better of the course of a meal as the layers start to unveil themselves. Don’t rush into it. Relax and enjoy.

RED: If you could choose any one wine to drink (regardless of price or availability), what would it be?

MICHAEL: The Holy Trinity from E. Guigal – La Turque, La Mouline, La Landonne. Odd for a Pinot maker, but I could drink those all night.

RED: What is the one question that I should have asked you, and what is your answer to that question?

MICHAEL: Hmmmm. How about: ‘If you couldn’t make wine, what would you do?’ And to be honest, I am not sure of the answer… I always say that my retirement plan is to move to Hawaii (Kauai – westside) and make rum, but that’s a bit close to winemaking… So perhaps a historian and author. 18th and 19th century European to be a bit more precise.

RED: Very cool. Thank you so much for your time. We learned a lot about you – and about your wine. Keep up the great work, we are big fans!

MICHAEL: No problem. Thanks again for having me. I hope I covered what you wanted to know. Glad you like the wine, I hope your Operatives do, too.

And here is a recap of Agent Red’s original interview with Walter Schug:

I had the incredible great fortune to meet with one of the wine industry’s most respected and renowned wine craftsmen in California wine history.

Walter Schug, owner and winemaster at Schug Carneros Estate, was born into wine in Germany in 1936, where his father was winemaker for one of Germany’s top Pinot Noir Producers.

As a young man, Walter worked throughout Europe, honing his craft. In 1966 Julio Gallo asked Walter to oversee all grapegrowing and quality control for the company. Seven years later, after Walter’s reputation had grown, Joseph Phelps asked Walter to become Phelps’ winemaker at his new Napa Valley winery.

Walter helped to create the Insignia label and some of the finest and most sought after Bordeaux-style blends in the country. Walter crafted wines that set the high water mark for excellence in winemaking.

To this day, Walter Schug’s early influence on the industry lives on, with wineries across California and around the world emulating his winemaking style.

With Phelps, Walter Schug’s goal was to make the best Bordeaux-style blend possible. Today, Walter Schug’s philosophy remains largely unchanged. There is one big difference, however; Where a bottle of Insignia may cost you $200 or more, a Schug wine of comparable quality with cost you less than $60.

On arriving at the Schug winery last week, I am greeted by Axel Schug, Director of Marketing for the winery and the son of Walter Schug. Axel, with whom I had met previously, introduces me to his father, and then escorts me through the bowels of the winery, to a tasting room buried in a wine cave. The long table the stretches down the tunnel is surrounded on both sides by seemingly every vintage from Schug’s history.

As I am escorted to my seat, I notice several magnums of Insignia wine and I spot one bottle in a special wooden display. Walter Schug sees me looking at it and he takes it from the display and shows it to me. The bottle is from Joseph Phelps himself, and a touching tribute to Walter Schug, from Phelps, is engraved on the back.

What follows is a partial transcript of our conversation:

AGENT RED: Mr. Schug, thank you so much for making yourself available today. It is an honor to meet you!

WALTER SCHUG: Welcome, Agent Red.

AGENT RED: Let me first say that your wines blow me away. The winery is beautiful as well. I love Carneros and wines from the region. You are really a pioneer of the region. When it came time to build your own winery, how did you come to settle here?

WALTER SCHUG: When I was with Gallo, I sourced fruit from Carneros. I recognized the region as having great potential for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Given my passion for Pinot, settling in Carneros was a natural.

AGENT RED: And, when you did settle, you produced a fair amount of Chardonnay, did you not?

WALTER SCHUG: Yes, and it was excellent, too. It still is. Back then, Chardonnay subsidized my passion for Pinot Noir! It allowed me to perfect Pinot here.

AGENT RED: This Cabernet Sauvignon we are drinking [today’s 2003 Heritage CS] is incredible. How has your philosophy changed from your Insignia days?

WALTER SCHUG: Very little. The goal now, as it was with Phelps back then, is to create the very best wine that we possibly can. And, to do so without recipe or formula.

AGENT RED: Ahh. Whereas I have heard that Insignia is more formulaic in its approach to winemaking today. Instead, your proportions or even fruit sources may change a good deal – if it means making wines that are that much better. Am I correct?

WALTER SCHUG: Yes, this is true. This Cabernet is streamlined and far more European in character. This is a wine that has elegance, delicacy, finesse – this is what I strive for in all of my wines!

AGENT RED: Again, this is a great wine and I am sure that our Operatives will love it. I also look forward to bringing them your Pinot Noir, during a future mission.

WALTER SCHUG: If they appreciate wines that are made for the best enjoyment, they will love this wine. In the end this wine is not made by going to the vineyard and knowing what you are going to get. Rather, it is the result of meticulous blending of wines made from the best fruit. Again, it is my mission to create wines that are the best expressions of place. It is my mission to make wines that are to be enjoyed.

AGENT RED: Mission accomplished, Mr. Schug, Mission accomplished!

WALTER SCHUG: Thank you, Agent Red.

We talked a great deal about Walter Schug’s history and his influence and impact on the wine industry. While I was certainly impressed by his incredible history, I must say that what impressed me the most – what seemed to matter to me the most – was what the Schug Carneros Estate winery was doing today. Today, Schug is crafting remarkably beautiful wines that are a true delight to drink and enjoy!

Wine Spies Vineyard Check:

The location of the Schug Carneros Estate can be seen in this satellite photo.

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