Few things mark the passage of time quite so elegantly as wine. Every year, every vintage, carries with it a unique signature that captures the temperature, the soil, the quality and quantity of rain, and the hands that guide the process – from vine to wine. Each bottle can be thought to hold a piece of history, a legacy of the steps taken by the winemakers who created them. The wines produced by the Schug family winery perfectly embody that history.
Nestled among the hills southwest of Sonoma lies a fifty acre winery originally laid down by Walter Schug and his wife Gertrud in 1989. The vineyards there cultivate some of the finest Pinot Noir that California has ever produced. With the family proudly tracing its winemaking roots and traditions almost a century to the rich estates of Germany’s Rheingau, the Schug Winery offers more than just wine – they offer a taste of history.
Walter Schug was born in Germany in 1935, in a small town along the Rhine River famously known for its Pinot Noir. The vineyard he was raised on was managed by his father for more than thirty years, while Walter trained extensively at all nine of the famous wine estates of Hessen. It was during this apprenticeship that he met his future wife Gertrude.
He marked his first harvest in 1954, graduated with a degree in Viticulture and Enology from the esteemed Geisenheim German wine institute in 1959, and was married to Gertrude in 1961 after spending a year in California expanding his knowledge at UC Davis. They moved to California together, packing all they had into a Volkswagen Beetle and traveling across country to start their family.
Over the next twenty years, Walter gained a significant reputation among the wine growers of Northern California. He was sought and hired by Julio Gallo to be the family’s Head of Grower Relations and Quality control. Later, he was recruited by Joseph Phelps to establish his vineyards in the Napa Valley as Vice President and Winemaker.
Instrumental to the rapidly growing fame of the region, Walter created wines that had never before been grown in California: the very first Syrah in America and the first Bordeaux blend (Insignia). He also pioneered the production of Late-Harvest Rieslings and dessert wines in California, at a time when nobody else was doing so.
By 1980, Walter and Gertrud founded their own brand, bottling 1,500 cases of Pinot Noir under the Schug Winery label in their first year. Gertrud managed the family’s finances, while the three children, twin daughters Andrea and Claudia and their brother Axel, each helped out the growing family business.
Andrea, as a CPA, provided much needed financial advice during the initial onset of operations, while Claudia moved to Germany and established Schuetz Weinimport, to import Schug wines and distribute them throughout Europe. Axel worked as Sales and Marketing Director in the early 1990’s, and took over as Managing Partner upon his father’s retirement. Axel’s wife, Kristine Schug manages the duties as Winery Chief at the Schug Carneros Estates.
Today, the third generation of the family carry on in traditions dating back to the Rhine. Even though Walter and Gertrud have since passed away, they have left behind a legacy of pride and distinction helping to shape the future of California wines.
The Carneros appellation is a unique region, even in California. Rather than being defined by political or municipal borders, the Carneros was defined by its particular climate and soil. Located near the southern end of both the Sonoma and Napa valleys, a break between two mountains called the Petaluma Gap sends cool ocean breezes down across the Schug vineyards each afternoon during the summer.
This unique climate and weather affect the growth of the grapes by thickening their skin, giving a touch of spice and pepper notes to the finished wines. The morning fog and cool afternoon breezes also help to slow the maturation of the grapes, allowing them to develop more complex flavors. While these conditions might be considered restrictive to other growers, they are perfect for producing the family’s distinctive Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Making great wines is a way of connecting to the land and to the past. Shug Winery provides delicious blends and distinctive vintages to their customers, the future. By providing a clear industry focus on ecological conservation and natural wildlife preservation, the company continues its relentless commitment to supplying its customers with the highest quality wines, made under only the most exacting conditions. This is the pioneering spirit that brought Walter and Gertrude across the ocean, driving across the country to bring old world skill and technique, redefining an industry.
Shug wine stands, as it always has – a testament to tradition and craft. Their award-winning wines are an example of old world attention to detail, and a dedication to preserving the land for generations to come. Their vineyards in Sonoma Valley produce magnificent merlots and cabernet sauvignon, while their family Carneros Estate grows some of the finest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the region. Their winery also offers their Schug Cuvee Elizabeth Chardonnay, their Petit Verdot, the Sauvignon Blanc, and a Malbec imminently worthy of the name.
The results stand for themselves. Each bottling represents one season in the Schug family legacy. From the illustrious German wine estates of the Reingau to the cool wind swept Sonoma Valley of California, these wines carry with them the notes and tones placed there by tradition and nurtured by a singular dedication to perfection. Raise a glass, and taste a perfect blending of the past and future.