An Interview with Walter Schug and winemaker Michael Cox

One of California's pioneer's, and one of the reasons you're drinking California Pinot Noir today.


I recently visited the Schug Family Winery located in the Carneros district in Southern Sonoma County. While there, I had the opportunity to meet with winemaker Michael Cox and discuss both the terroir of Carneros and the winemaking at Schug, which works to capture and preserve everything that the vineyards offer each year. These short video snippets offer some insight into what is going on at Schug today, but more importantly capture the thoughts of Walter Schug, long a proponent of Pinot Noir in Californiaa man whose contributions to the California wine industry deserve to be better known.

Introducing Walter Schug

Born and raised on a wine estate in Germany, Walter Schug arrived in California in 1961 as a professional winemaker, having grown up in a winemaking household. I recently sat down with Walter and discussed both the past and the present world of winemaking in California's wine country.

The battles he faced were two-fold: making better wines and convincing the marketplace that there were better wines. The first took time and effort, but the raw materials available in California paired with the know-how of the post-Prohibition pioneer winemakers made that inevitable.

The second phase, educating the consumers, proved more time consuming, and elusive, putting Walter in a difficult position (solved for a time by shipping Pinot Noir to Germany—this in the late 1970s and early 1980s, an outside-the-box and rather ingenious solution to one of the challenges of the marketplace).

Winemaker Michael Cox in Carneros

We were intent on filming in the vineyards this day, as Schug Winery has an enviable position right up on the western border of Carneros. There were excellent views across the valley, but one of the major climatic influences of the region got the better of us! Wind literally lifted my camera up and threatened to blow us all over. I've left a little of that intro footage to better illustrate the winds we were facing, and that routinely affect the region, but saner minds eventually prevailed and we moved around the corner to film from the winery patio.

In the Schug Cellars

We moved inside after discussing the terroir of Carneros, and set up in front of a row of large foudres, or oak ovals that are a staple here at Schug. A bit of Walter's Germanic background coming through perhaps, but at the same time an unorthodox choice of ageing vessel that is ideally suited to the fruit of Carneros and the style of wine Schug is aiming for: elegant, balanced and fresh.

Walter Schug and the state of California wine

Walter touches on the state of the California wine industry, and discusses some of the influences that have played a role in the development of Schug wines, as well as in California in general.

Walter Schug and the way things were

Walter talks a bit about the early years in the valley, and how his connections in Europe helped to introduce modern equipment to an industry that needed to be rebuilt from scratch.

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