Schug Carneros Estate
2003 Heritage Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
California: Sonoma County: Sonoma Valley
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Mission Codename: The Time Travelers Wine
Operative: Agent Red and Agent Sparkle
Objective: Visit with legendary Winemaster, Walter Schug, and together, hand select a special wine for our Operatives
Mission Status: Accomplished!
Current Winery: Schug Carneros Estate
Wine Subject: 2003 Heritage Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Winemaker: Mike Cox and Walter Schug
Backgrounder: To most wine aficionados, winemaster Walter Schug needs no introduction. Mr. Schug’s pioneering work with Joesph Phelps and Insignia is the stuff of wine legend. Today, Walter Schug’s own winery, Schug Carneros Estate, makes wines that are as good or better, but made for folks like you and us Wine Spies. Do Schug wines really stand up to the $200 per bottle for an Insignia Cabernet Sauvignon? Read Agent Red’s tasting notes and intriguing mission report befow for the full story
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – Deep garnet with a heart of inky dark ruby. Slightly murky through the middle with deep concentration of color maintained all the way out to the edges of the glass. When swirled, the surface of this wine settles – but the center spins and spins, finally leaving behind legs of mixed size and spacing
Smell – Deeply aromatic and perfumy with bright blueberry, dark cherry, violets and cassis, tempered against licorice, mild spice, soft oak and dark chocolate
Feel – Initially wet and light at the front of the palate, then medium to full-bodied, drying and lush with mouth-coating and supple medium tannins that gradually give way to follow-on flavors
Taste – A balanced palate of dark mixed berries, cassis and cherry – against natural cola, Italian salt licorice and soft oak
Finish – An long and clean finish that eases downward slowly and smoothly, while revealing new flavors – with pronounced cherry – as flavors tapers off
Conclusion – Agent Sparkle and me reviewed this wine together. One sip had both of us swooning over it! With a rich boldness of dark flavor that is held in check by lighter fruits and earthen goodness, this wine is a beautifully balanced treat. This is a beautiful wine that is built for maximum enjoyment and easy drinking, without sacrificing any complexity or character. Mr. Schug’s lifetime of experience absolutely shines through in this superb Cabernet Sauvignon – a wine that gives its Napa rivals a true run for their money. And, speaking of money, given the choice between this wine and a bottle of Insignia, I’ll take this one – and still have enough money to buy several more bottles of today’s great wine
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 manm 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!
ROASTED SALMON FILLET WITH CRISPY MEDITERRANEAN TOPPING
6 six ounce salmon fillets
1/4 cup melted butter
2 cups fine toasted bread crumbs
1/2 cup pureed roasted red bell peppers
2 Tb. finely chopped sun dried tomatoes
2 Tb. finely chopped kalamata olives
1 tsp. each: finely chopped fresh rosemary, thyme, parsley and basil
1/3 cup chopped cooked bacon
2 Tb. minced onion
Cabernet Sauce (recipe below)
Place a piece of aluminum foil onto a baking sheet. Arrange salmon fillets onto foil, skin side down. Now mix all remaining ingredients together in a large bowl. Keep mixing until topping is evenly distributed and clings together when a handful is squeezed together. (If mixture is too dry, try adding a little more melted butter. Add more bread crumbs if too wet.) Now squeeze a small amount of topping in your hand and place it on top of a piece of salmon. Add more topping until the top of the fillet is completely covered with about 1/3 of an inch of topping mix. Cover remaining pieces of salmon the same way. Place salmon fillets in a preheated 425 degrees F oven for approximately 15 minutes or until fillets are cooked. With a spatula lift each piece of fish from the foil (the skin should stick to the foil) and place onto a hot serving plate. Drizzle a spoonful of sauce over each piece and serve immediately. Serves 6 delightfully when paired with Schug Cabernet Sauvignon!
1/2 cup beef stock
1/2 cup Schug Heritage Cabernet Sauvignon
1 Tb. butter
salt and pepper, to taste
1 Tb. chopped fresh rosemary
In a small saucepan, bring stock and red wine to a boil. Lower heat and reduce volume by two-thirds. Whisk in butter, salt and pepper and chopped rosemary. Use within 30 minutes or butter will separate.
Wine Spies Vineyard Check:
The location of the gorgeous Schug Estate winery can be seen in this satellite photo.
What the Winery Says
About This Wine:
From 1973 to 1983, Walter Schug made some of the most memorable Cabernet Sauvignons and Bordeaux-style blends in California history while Winemaker for Joseph Phelps Vineyards in the Napa Valley. His own Bordeaux blend exhibits the same finesse, intensity and ageability that have made his earlier wines rare and valuable collector’s items. This complex wine has dense color and structure and features bright aromas of violets and blueberries, with ripe fruit flavors reminiscent of cherries, chocolate and cassis. Nicely integrated tannins and oak give it a rich texture and a long and elegant finish. It pairs with rich meats and cheeses, however this wine will continue to improve with additional cellaring.
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.
Fermentation: Up to 12 days in stainless steel rotary fermenter
Sugar: 24.4 Brix
Varietal: 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc