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VIDEO 045. WALTER SCHUG
March 25. 2012
When Walter Schug, who was born in Germany, moved to California in 1959, the wine industry was still in its infancy. The demand for Pinot Noir or Spätburgunder, as Schug knew this variety from Germany, was rather weak in the USA at the time. First successes for Schug as a winemaker at Joseph Phelps Vineyards he reached with the variety Cabernet Sauvignon. It was the first vintage of the now famous California flagship Insignia. Nevertheless, Pinot Noir was and remained the passion of Schug. And so it came to the foundation of his own good Schug Carneros Estate Winery. Here in today’s Appellation Carneros, southwest of the city of Sonoma, California, Schug cultivated the Pinot Noir and became the pioneer of this variety in the region.
Walter Schug, born in Assmannshausen in 1935, was already in charge of his first harvest at the state estate Assmannshausen in the Rheingau at the age of 18, that his father Ewald Schug was in charge from 1923 to 1959 and that mainly Pinot Noir from the location had Höllenberg in the yield – that was in 1953. He studied from then on viticulture and oenology in Geisenheim. After graduating Schug left Germany with his wife Gertrud and moved to California. Here he found work at the California Grape Products Corporation near Bakersfield, where he had previously completed a one-year internship.
The next job Schug received at E & J Gallo, where he was primarily responsible for the quality assurance of the grapes. His experience in wine production, especially the Riesling, which experienced a first hype in California, spread throughout California. So it happened that the Joseph Phelps Vineyards Schug aborted 1973 and immediately entrusted him the position as a chief wine maker. Mike Fischer, former CFO of Phelps and now co-owner and director of Global Wine Partners, recalls that Schug was a key player in the commissioning of new vineyards, including the vineyards of Las Rocas at Stags’s Leap and Banca Dorada in Rutherford, which today are the backbone of the Joseph Phelps Vineyards in terms of Cabernet production. “Walter was a valued employee responsible for the best harvests, and in principle he built all Phelps production over the long term,” says Fischer. And Graig Williams, now director of the Crimson Wine Group, and the Schug brought to Joseph Phelps at that time, says, “Walter was a very talented and experienced winemaker.”
Both Schug’s companions, both Fischer and Williams, testify: “Walter was able to look at a piece of land and knew if and what kind of grape was planted here, and he was always right.” At Joseph Phelps Vineyards, the influence of Walter Schug grew over the years. He also laid the foundation for the excellence of this estate and created the outstanding Insignia, California’s first Cabernet Sauvignon in the style of a classic Bordeaux, one of the world’s most famous wines from the Napa Valley.
At the age of 80, Walter Schug died. I feel really honored when I interviewed him in my small studio in Germany!
Wine region: California
Classification: A.V.A. Carneros
Variety: Pinot noir
PINOT NOIR HERITAGE RESERVE
Dark rubyred colored and transparent. Although shy, this Pinot indicates fleshy and elegant aromas. Loaded with red currant, sour cherry, raspberry and pimento. Discreet hints of roasted coffee. Velvet-like and soft on the palate. Dense to the core. Medium-bodied. Fine-grained tannins and a superb acidity. Long Finish. It seems to convey juvenileness. Just look at Walter! Best now through 2025.
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