You must enable JavaScript®!
Gold Medal Wine Club
5330 Debbie Road, Suite 200
Santa Barbara, California 93111
Google+ Google Plus youTube YouTube Pinterest Pinterest Instagram Instagram
Welcome to Gold Medal Wine Club. America's Leading Independent Wine Club since 1992. Celebrating 20+ Years!
View AllView All Packages Package Code
Membership Rewards
Save $$$ in the wine store when you buy six or more wines-- combine any wine*, any series!

*Does not apply to Sale or Specials wines.

Schug Winery - Carneros Appellation - Sonoma count

Winemaker Walter Shug Celebrates 40 years of Success

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. 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, amazingly, one-third of all grapes being grown in California! He was the industry’s foremost expert in his knowledge of northern California vineyards. He knew virtually all the growers. He knew which vineyards were best suited to plant any particular varietal and how to coax the best possible fruit out of each. For Phelps to recruit Walter Schug was a genuine coup. 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!

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. He saw potential that was simply too good to let go.

So Walter arranged through Phelps to make the Heinemann vineyard Pinot Noir on his own using the winery’s facilities. From the next harvest in 1980, he made 1,200 cases of Heinemann Pinot Noir. The following year 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.

For the next two years, while making his own wine, Walter remained with Phelps Winery. Meanwhile he was slowly expanding his start-up venture, making more Pinot Noir each year and adding Chardonnay. In 1983 he released his first bottling of Pinot Noir which was quickly snapped up by eager consumers. At that point it was finally time to leave Phelps to concentrate on his own wines. “Joe allowed me to do my first vintage at his winery, then made it easy for me to transition to my own operation. It was a very amiable situation,” recalls Walter.

For four years he made all of his wine at Storybook Winery, remaining focused on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. During this time, he began to use fruit from another promising vineyard owned by Andrew Beckstoffer in the newly defined Carneros region of Napa. Fruit from Beckstoffer’s vineyard offered more acidity to the wine and a higher intensity of flavors. The result was more of a European style wine which Schug sought to emulate. The wines were made to age longer and accompany a wider variety of foods than its California counterparts.

In 1985 a difference of opinion in business direction led Walter to move to yet another location. This time he landed in Yountville, into a building owned by one of the Domaine Chandon principals. Through 1990 he continued to build production reaching the 6,000 case level. Because of his decidedly European style of wines, 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–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. His plan is to gradually shift to about 50 percent estate grown and bottled wines. About 20 acres is planted to Chardonnay and 18 acres of Pinot Noir. “We’re committed to these two varietals,” says Walter’s son Axel, who heads up the winery’s marketing efforts. “Our style of wine is quintessential European. We have always done well in the overseas market, and now we’re starting to see preferences shift here throughout the U.S.”

Today, Schug Winery looks to the future with great promise and deserved optimism. Their 8,000 case production will increase to 15,000 with greater amounts of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, plus small amounts of Sauvignon Blanc, a sparkling Rouge de Noir and Gamay Beaujolais style wine.

This month’s featured Chardonnay from Schug Winery is a solid Gold Medal wine having won “Best of Class” among over 300 Chardonnays entered in the New World International Wine Competition. “In 1991 it all came together,” says Axel Schug. “It turned out to be one of the best vintages of the last ten years.”

Enjoy the unique European style of Schug Winery’s excellent 1991 Carneros Chardonnay.

Walter Schug

Walter Schug grew up with viticulture in his blood. He was raised on a Pinot Noir estate in the Rhine River valley area of Assmannshausen, Germany. His father was the director/winemaker at the winery which was run by the state. The area is considered one of the few outside of France capable of producing high quality Pinot Noir. It was there that Walter developed a lifelong fondness for the charm and elegance of Pinot Noir.

By the time he was eighteen years old, he began his training as a winemaker. He was sent to work at other wineries in Germany for two years as part of his apprenticeship. Soon after, he gained entrance to Geisenheim, the U.C. Davis equivalent in Germany, and began to study viticulture and enology. When Walter was attending Geisenheim, a group of California winemakers came to Germany to observe the operation at Assmannshausen. Walter’s dad put in a plug for his son to help out the group in California. The suggestion turned into reality and in 1959, after graduation, Walter flew to California for what was to be a special temporary work assignment at Cal Grape (the operation later became part of the 6 million gallon Sierra Winery in Delano). Things went so well that they offered Walter a full-time position as Assistant Superintendent. Excited by this new prospect in America, Walter raced home, married his sweetheart, Gertrud, then both headed back to California to live.

Walter was at Cal Grape for almost six years. Feeling like he had exhausted his opportunities there, he left to join ranks with the E.J. Gallo Company. Walter was hired to oversee grower relations and quality control for Gallo’s contract grape sources in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties. He traveled the area extensively, visiting with growers, making sure grape quality was being maintained and helping growers get the maximum potential out of their vineyards. It was a huge responsibility which he expertly handled for seven years.

Walter’s reputation found its way to a Colorado developer named Joseph Phelps. Phelps hired Walter in 1973 to start up his winery. He began from scratch and built it to an 80,000 case winery before leaving to start his own winery in 1983. At Phelps, Walter spent many years distinguishing 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 created Phelps’ memorable Insignia Meritage wine and established the winery as one of the top Cabernet Sauvignon producers.

His heart and soul were devoted to Pinot Noir though. When Phelps decided to drop Pinot Noir from their offerings in 1979, Walter felt compelled to follow his dream. Over the years that dream came to include Chardonnay as well. Now Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the two varietals upon which Schug Winery has established their reputation and livelihood. From the list of awards and medals their wines are winning these days, we’d say their future is well assured.