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Schug Winery - Carneros District, Sonoma County


Double Gold Medal and Best of Class - San Francisco International Wine Competition

When Walter Schug brought in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from his Carneros vineyards this past fall, he achieved an impressive milestone few others in the wine industry can claim: his 50th harvest!

There might not be a Schug Winery story to tell had Joseph Phelps continued to make a Pinot Noir wine. What was essentially a marketing decision by Phelps, was one of life’s turning points for Walter Schug.

The year was 1979. Joseph Phelps had recruited Walter Schug away from Gallo six years earlier to spearhead the creation of his now famous Joseph Phelps Winery & Vineyard. Phelps knew of Walter’s reputation at Gallo where he was in charge of quality control and grower relations. In this role he dealt with hundreds of vineyard owners in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties who were under contract to provide grapes for Gallo’s huge wine empire. At the time, Walter Schug oversaw the growing and purchasing of an amazing one-third of all grapes being grown in California!

For Phelps to recruit Walter Schug was a genuine coup. Phelps was not an industry insider, he was a building contractor from Colorado (among his many projects was Denver’s Stapleton Airport), and knew very little about starting a winery. So he left it up to Walter to handle just about everything. Walter selected the land, designed the winery, laid out and planted the vineyard, and even made the wine! He also bought grapes from other growers—grapes needed to supplement the winemaking while the estate vineyard was maturing.

Walter remembers well the first grapes he bought and crushed at the new facility. “Right from the start we made Pinot Noir from the Heinemann vineyard. I felt that particular vineyard had great promise,” he recalls. Phelps Winery continued to produce Pinot Noir until 1979 when Joseph decided it was too tough to sell Pinot Noir to the American consumer. That decision by Phelps was the catalyst for Walter Schug. Walter knew what he had in the Heinemann vineyard, so Walter arranged through Phelps to make the Heinemann vineyard Pinot Noir on his own using the winery’s facilities.

After two more harvests he decided it was appropriate to find another home for his new endeavor. He took his barreled wine over to Storybook Winery where he and owner Jerry Seps had worked out a partnership to jointly build up the facility to handle both operations. While building his own brand at the Storybook facility, Walter remained with Phelps Winery, orchestrating its production to 80,000 cases.

As Winemaster at Phelps, Walter distinguished himself as one of the premier winemakers in the country. He earned critical acclaim with just about every major wine varietal. Among his accomplishments was being the first in the U.S. to make a Syrah wine and a Botrytised Riesling. He also crafted their famous Insignia Meritage wine, gaining worldwide recognition as a top Cabernet Sauvignon producer. But by 1983 it was finally time to leave Phelps to concentrate on his own wines.

In 1987 Walter moved his winemaking facility to Yountville, where he continued to build production, reaching the 6,000-case level a few years later. Because of his decidedly European style of winemaking, Walter not only gained prominence on the East Coast where European wines are more popular, but also received an abundance of accolades from the European markets. In fact, Schug Winery today exports one-third of its production to European countries–perhaps more than any other winery his size.

In 1990, Walter made a permanent move to a 50-acre parcel within the Carneros district of Sonoma county. He has since planted his own vineyards on the property and built his own winery facility. About 20 acres is planted to Chardonnay and 18 acres of Pinot Noir. “Our style of wine is quintessential European,” says Walter’s son Axel, who heads up the winery’s marketing efforts. “We have always done well in the overseas market and now we’re starting to see preferences shift here in the U.S.,” he adds. Particularly with Chardonnay, there has been a noticeable change away from the big oaky California-style Chardonnays to a more lean austere style which pairs more aptly with a wide variety of food.

Today, Schug Winery looks to the future with great promise and deserved optimism. Their 25,000-case operation each year produces award-winning Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. Very small lots of special “Heritage Reserve”-designated Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon are produced each year too. These highly sought-after wines are made in under-500-case-lots and normally available only at the winery.



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