In this ongoing series, Sonoma Valley insiders share a special bottle from their personal collections and tell us the stories behind them.
WALTER SCHUG SERVES UP A CALIFORNIA PINOT NOIR HISTORY LESSON.
An American Pinot Noir pioneer. A Sonoma Valley legend. A world class gentleman and all around good guy, Walter Schug marked his first harvest in the famed wine estates of Hessen, in Germany’s Rheingau region. With a diploma in Viticulture and Enology from the prestigious wine institute of Geisenheim, Walter set out for California. And, well, the rest is Sonoma Valley history.
After a stint working for Julio Gallo, Joseph Phelps hired Walter to establish that now renowned winery. That was 1973, and by 1980, his love and incredible talent for crafting Pinot Noir led to creation of Schug Carneros Estate.
Walter’s accomplishments, and his many California wine firsts, are far too numerous to list. Besides, we’re here to learn about a very special bottle of wine. So let’s hear what Walter selected and why.
I went back to my California past. It’s a Joseph Phelps 1975 Heinemann Pinot Noir.
WHAT MAKES IT MEANINGFUL
I was the founding winemaker for Joseph Phelps Vineyards in the 1970’s. While there I made Pinot Noir from the Heinemann Vineyard. When Joseph decided to cease the production of Pinot Noir I agreed to buy the grapes from the Heinemann family to make a Pinot Noir under my own label. In my personal cellar I have one 750ml and two magnums left.
Well it’s 40 years old now, so it’s hard to know for sure. But in its day, the wine displayed the true characteristics of Pinot Noir in color, taste and mouthfeel – elegant, with great finesse.
I am the winemaker. Although I was much younger at the time.
The Heinemanns have since passed away. But their vineyard was always-well farmed and harvested at the correct time.
I was born and raised on Germany’s largest exclusively Pinot Noir estate along the Rhein river. The Heinemann family was also from Germany and they became dear friends of mine. When I eventually started my own winery in 1980, the first wine bottled by Schug Cellars was the 1980 Heinemann Pinot Noir. So, in some ways, this wine tells the story of my love for Pinot Noir, and my roots in Sonoma Valley.
Photography by Michael Woolsey