Schug Carneros Estate
2006 Sonoma Valley Merlot
California: Sonoma Valley
What we say
SECRET SAVINGS ALERT:
Subscribe to our Daily Dispatch (above) and you’ll always know what our Top Secret coupon code of the day is. Every day we issue a new members-only code that entitles you to have Ground Shipping included on orders of six or more and, sometimes, an added discount!
Mission Codename: Winefather 2
Operative: Agent Red
Objective: Return to Schug Carneros Estate Winery and secure an ample allocation of their Sonoma Valley Merlot, a wine crafted in a distinct European style.
Mission Status: Accomplished!
Current Winery: Schug Carneros Estate
Wine Subject: 2006 Sonoma Valley Merlot
Winemaker: Michael Cox
Walter Schug is, arguably, one of the founding fathers of California wine. When Walter came to the United States to make wines, he co-created, with Joseph Phelps, legendary California wines. Insignia was born, vaulting California – and Walter Schug – into the winemaking spotlight.
Some of our favorite California wines come from the Sonoma Valley viticultural area, a winegrowing region which straddles the Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley. The diverse region provides growing conditions which are perfect for Merlot. Schug Winery is a Wine Spies favorite and we are proud to bring you today’s very special wine. Read Agent Red’s tasting notes and mission report to learn more about this fantastic Merlot.
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – A reddish brown center gives way to wide bands of lighter garnet, rust and very slight clear rim with medium legs that move steadily down the glass.
Smell – Subtle, warm aromas of red cherry, cherry cola, dried cherries, blackberry bramble, dried leaves, faint coffee grounds and a hint of dark spice.
Feel – Tender, round and smooth on the attack, with a slight mid-palate tang and a juicy acidity that follows soon after.
Taste – Right up front, this wine leads with flavors of ripe cherry, cranberry, boysenberry and dried red cherry. Just beneath these, soft notes of red licorice, plum skin and a hint of spice round out the flavors.
Finish – Long, lingering and delicious with flavors that begin sweet and then go softly tart and dusky with a wonderful earthen minerality.
Conclusion – This is an Old World-styled Merlot, which shows off the growing skills and winemaking prowess of the Schug team. With gentle tannins and a juicy but subtle acidity, this wine is juicy – but it also has subtlety. Delicious red fruit, a soft earthiness and a tender feel all combine to make this a interesting wine that offers the drinker a great experience. Walter Schug pioneered winemaking in Sonoma County – and indeed in California – and today’s Merlot is an easy-drinking example of his years of experience and skill. Pair this wine with nearly anything and, most of all, enjoy!
With the 2010 harvest underway, we were unable to secure a new interview with Michael Cox, winemaker for Schug. The following is the most recent interview we conducted with Michael, in which he mentions Schug’s Syrah, and not the Merlot that we are featuring today.
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
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 RED: Greetings, Mike. We are thrilled to be showing your amazing 2006 Ricci Vineyard Syrah 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 detail 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: What we have here is our 2006 Carneros Syrah. It comes from the Ricci Vineyard. Dale Ricci is one of our main growers (along with Dave Iund and the Sangiacomo Family). One day he offered us a few tons of Syrah to see if we were interested. Given Walter’s history in producing the first varietal Syrah ever in California when he was Winemaker at Joseph Phelps over in Napa, Axel was keen to go and gave me the green light. I am a fan of Côte Rotie and Hermitage, so I was game to go.
RED: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?
MICHAEL: Well, if I am eating meat, a grilled pork loin with potatoes, if not a hearty mushroom paella. The wine has a lot of weight, but has structure to compliment it.
RED: Tell me, what makes the Carneros region so special?
MICHAEL: There are two main influences in Carneros – the San Pablo Bay and the wind of the Petaluma Gap. Being down on the bay, we have a milder winter – budbreak starts earlier here than the rest of Sonoma Valley (or even Sonoma County). It also means that a marine layer and/or fog is often around making a cooler morning. We usually doesn’t see the sun until after 10am, sometimes noon. The wind comes in the afternoons and is driven by the interior areas cooling down and sucking in the fog. There is a low gap in the hills between Sonoma and Petaluma where Hwy 116 rolls through. The wind is all funneled into that corridor which then opens up into Carneros. The wind shuts the vines down (losing too much water, the leaves stop transpiring) in the later part of the day. This has the effect of lengthening the growing season and slowing the accumulation of sugar. (Read: Alcohol). It allows us to make wines in which the fruit is foremost NOT oak and wood. Back to the wind, it is one thing for me to sit here and try to describe it, but if you spend anytime here you will understand. It is not breezy – it is windy. Stand on the hill at the winery and take in the expanse of Carneros down below. You’ll get it! Hold on to your hat, skirt and anything else you don’t want blown away!
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: Breaking in the two new harvest interns. We are bottling Carneros Chardonnay and getting ready to move Carneros Pinot Noir from barrel. Last minute repairs to items on the crush pad and generally prepping for the big storm of the crush. It may be a few weeks delayed, but it is like a slow moving mudslide. It is going to get us sooner or later/
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.
What the winery says
About This Wine:
This powerful yet elegant Merlot is crafted in the classic Bordeaux style that Walter Schug pioneered in California while winemaster of Joseph Phelps Vineyards (1973 to 1983). The grapes were sourced from the Ricci Vineyard and Sangiacomo Vineyards in the Carneros district of southern Sonoma Valley, as well as the Rancho Salina Vineyard in Sonoma Valley. These cooler microclimates provide the longer growing season necessary for Merlot to ripen slowly and develop maximum flavor. It has a spicy bouquet, deep color and exhibits full-bodied flavors of cherry, blackberry and spice. Try it now with grilled fish, pasta, lamb and steaks, or cellar it for 5 to 7 years.
About The Winery:
Founded in 1980, Schug Carneros Estate Winery is the showcase and life-long dream of one of California’s most celebrated winemakers. Walter Schug’s reputation blossomed during his tenure as Founding Winemaker for Joseph Phelps Vineyards in the 1970s, where he made California’s first proprietary Bordeaux-Style blend (Insignia) and legendary vineyard designated Cabernets (Bacchus and Eisele Vineyards).
Drawing on his long experience in the production of fine wines in both Europe and California, Walter set up his own winery with his wife Gertrud in the cool, marine climate of the Carneros Appellation. Here he could focus on the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay varietals that had always been close to his heart.
In 1995 Sonoma-born winemaker Michael Cox came on board at Schug. Trained in Enology at UC Davis, Mike worked in several Californian wineries before he was lured from Napa Valley to Carneros – Sonoma, to work with Walter Schug as his assistant winemaker. One year later he was promoted to Winemaker and placed in charge of the day-to-day winemaking duties, where he remains today.
Schug Carneros Estate Winery combines old world understanding and tradition with modern winemaking techniques. By using only the finest grapes available, and maintaining the best winemaking values, these wines have gained acceptance worldwide as true contemporary classics.
About The Winemakers:
Walter Schug, Winemaker – A native of Germany’s Rhein River valley, Walter Schug was raised in Assmannshausen, on the region’s only Pinot Noir estate. He marked his first harvest in 1953, apprenticing at all nine of the famed wine estates of Hessen, in the Rheingau region of Germany.
In 1959, after finishing his studies with a diploma in Viticulture and Enology at the prestigious German wine institute of Geisenheim, Walter left for California. He spent a year expanding his knowledge while working at a winery and taking extension courses at UC Davis. Two years later, he returned to California for good, with his wife Gertrud, to work as the Assistant Superintendent at California Grape Products Corporation. In 1966 Julio Gallo asked him to be the family’s Head of Grower Relations and Quality Control for Northern California. Gallo’s involvement on the North Coast led Walter to become acquainted with over 600 independent growers and several thousand acres of prime vineyards in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino County.
By 1973, Walter’s experience was sought out by Joseph Phelps to establish Joseph Phelps Vineyards in Napa Valley, and that year began his 10 vintages as Vice President and Winemaker for the new enterprise. Among Walter’s many contributions to the Napa Valley’s newly emerging fame were:
- California’s first proprietary Bordeaux-Style blend (Insignia)
- Legendary vineyard designated wines (Bacchus and Eisele Vineyards)
- The first varietal Syrah in the US.
- Pioneering late harvest dessert wines (Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Scheurebe)
By 1980, however, there was little market in California for Pinot Noir, and Phelps ceased production of the varietal. Reluctant to stop working with the grape of his childhood home and firmly believing in its future, Walter came to an arrangement with Joseph Phelps that he would continue his regular work at the winery, yet produce Pinot Noir under his own private label.
Three years later, Walter’s private project had grown to such an extent that he made the decision to leave Phelps and concentrate on the Schug brand. Since then the winery has grown from a 2,000 case production to 30,000 cases a year. In June 2003 Walter celebrated his 50th harvest, an achievement which very few in California can claim.
Today as Winemaster, Walter continues to oversee the production of consistently great wines, along with winemaker Michael Cox.
Michael Cox, Winemaker – A Northern California native, Winemaker Michael Cox grew up in Sonoma and spent time in both the Sonoma and Napa wine producing regions as a student. His local head start gave him an enviable background that most young winemakers find very difficult to achieve.
Mike first attended the University of California at Los Angeles, studying chemical engineering and working in a wine cellar during the summer. It was then that his love for wine surfaced and took him down another road. In order to become a member of the wine industry, he transferred to the U.C. Davis campus and graduated with a degree in Enology in 1991. Mike also took advantage of coming home from school each summer to work at Sonoma area wineries, gaining good solid experience every step of the way. He worked his way up through the cellars of two prestigious wineries, Hacienda and Dry Creek Vineyards, during and after he finished school. His first full Winemaker position was at DeMoor Winery in 1992. Mike likes to work closely with growers and prefers small production vineyards that contribute unique qualities to his blends. The Carneros grapes Mike works with at Schug offer unrivaled wine-making opportunities due to their unique diversity and complex, well-developed flavor characteristics.
In the cellar, his focus is on staying abreast of current winemaking developments. He favors progressive use of the newer technologies available to winemakers today, such as the Voll Tauchers, hydraulic punch-down fermenters that automate the process of gently punching down the cap during fermentation. Mike also has the impressive ability to manage the hundreds of separate lots stored in the cellars before blending, including the judicious adaptation of specific barrel coopers to specific vineyard lots, in order to emphasize the terroir.
As Winemaker, an important member of the Schug family team, Mike works closely with Winemaster Walter Schug and Sales & Marketing Director Axel Schug. Together their winemaking talents create the premium Carneros and Sonoma wines with the European flair that Schug is famous for.
BLEND: 95% Merlot; 4% Cabernet Sauvignon; 1% Cabernet Franc
VINEYARDS: 58% Ricci; 32% Sangiacomo; 9% Rancho Salina; 1% Horne
APPELLATION: Sonoma Valley
HARVEST DATES: September 28th through October 20th, 2006
SUGAR AT HARVEST: 24.8 degrees Brix average
FERMENTATION: 12 days in stainless steel tanks, pumped over three times daily
AGING / COOPERAGE: Aged 18 months in 20% new French, Hungarian, and American oak barrels
ALCOHOL: 13.5% by volume
ACIDITY: TA = 0.60 g/100ml; pH = 3.50
PRODUCTION: 1,851 cases (12 × 750ml); 7 cases (6 × 1.5L bottles)
RELEASE DATE: September 1st, 2008