2009 Schug Carneros Estate Carneros Chardonnay

Mission Codename: Leaning Towards Burgundy

Operative: Agent White

Objective: Secure an allocation of a classic Carneros Estate Chardonnay.

Mission Status: Accomplished!

Current Winery: Schug Carneros Estate

Wine Subject: 2009 Carneros Chardonnay

Winemaker: Michael Cox


Some of our favorite California Chardonnay comes from the Carneros viticultural area, a wine growing region which straddles the Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley. The Carneros region ranks as one of the Wine Spies’ top choices for California Chardonnay. So, too, does Schug Carneros Estate. The cool Carneros region provides ideal growing conditions for the Burgundian varietals of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that boththrives here. Schug Winery is a Wine Spies favorite and we are proud to bring you today’s very special wine.

Wine Spies Tasting Profile:

Look – Brilliantly clear and pale golden yellow that lightens slightly at the edges to a more straw hue. When swirled this springy wine settles quickly and leaves widely clusters of slow fat legs along the side of the glass.

Smell – Bright and aromatic, this white is both fresh and complex with the layers of both tree and tropical fruit leading the way followed by toasted brioche and oak as well as vanilla hints as well as creamy and spicy notes.

Feel – Cool, smooth and expansive initially and then the vibrant acidity and a touch of textured minerality kicks in across the palate providing a crisp and fresh feel that perfectly counterbalances the rich cream and full-bodied texture.

Taste – Flavors or ripe and tart apple, white pear as well as tropical fruit and even hints of sweet and tart citrus blend with creamy and toasted brioche. Add in baking spice, and even a touch of toasted nuts to add depth and complexity.

Finish – As the creamy and smooth texture fades initially leaving behind a fresh, crisp and mouth drying feel lead by this wine’s lively acidity that lingers on and on.

Conclusion – The 2009 Schug Carneros Estate Carneros Chardonnay is quite a wine, bridging the gap between a more creamy California style but leaning more towards brighter,fresher and more textured Burgundian style. Great complexity on the nose and palate and a well structured and balanced mouthfeel. Pair this wine with ripe and aged cheeses or fresh or raw seafood.

Mission Report:


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

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)


AGENT WHITE: Greetings, Mike. We are thrilled to be showing your fantastic 2009 Gold Medal Carneros Chardonnay today. The wine is really delicious. Thanks so much for the wine, and for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today.

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

WHITE: 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).

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

MICHAEL: This is the 2009 Carneros Chardonnay, our flagship white. I think it really shows off the Schug style well. Pleasant acidity is well balanced with the warmth and richness of the barrel fermented component. We use minimal amounts of oak, and we do stir the lees to give the wine a creamy character, but we really focus on the elegant mouth feel.

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

MICHAEL: Dungeness crab, marinated overnight with garlic, lemon, paprika, wine and olive oil. Or now that spring is here, shrimp grilled on the barbeque.

WHITE: Tell me Michael, 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. In general, we like that.

WHITE: 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.

WHITE: 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.

WHITE: 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.

WHITE: 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.

WHITE: 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.

WHITE: Who do you make wine for?

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

WHITE: 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.

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

MICHAEL: Thinking about the 2012 vintage, planning meetings for the vineyard, evaluating barrels, tasting the 2011’s, scheduling bottling supplies, catching up on paperwork, occasional market work, open houses.

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

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

WHITE: 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.

WHITE: 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.

WHITE: 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.

WHITE: 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.

WHITE: 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: 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.

Wine Spies Vineyard Check:

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

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