Schug Carneros Estate Winery in Sonoma has just released its first new wine in 12 years, nothing unusual in that, perhaps. However, this new drink is a white pinot noir.
Speaking of this surprising new addition to the region’s output, winemaker Johannes Scheid said:
“There aren’t that many producers (of white pinot noirs). It’s a little bit unknown. I think that’s why we made it.”
It was a love of pinot noir that inspired winery founder Walter Schug’s to create his own Sonoma wine label 40 years ago. Raised on a German vineyard along the Rhine River that specialized in pinot noir, Schug arrived in Northern California’s wine country in the early 1960s where he quickly became notable for his winemaking and pinot expertise.
To this day, his children carry on his legacy together with German-American winemaker Johannes Scheid.
“We are honoring my father’s lifelong passion for the noble and historic grape variety and building upon that with an innovative, modern expression of pinot noir,” says Claudia Schug, co-owner and Director of Communication and Education at Schug Carneros Estate Winery.
Claudia Schug had the opportunity to taste white pinot noir from several different wineries while living in Germany for almost 30 years and always found these wines intriguing. So when it was decided that her Sonoma winery should add another white wine to its portfolio, pinot noir seemed like the perfect choice: it was a grape varietal the winery already had access to and much experience making wine from.
The biggest challenge producing a white pinot noir is making sure there is no color in the wine. Vineyard staff had to work fast, while also being careful, when picking the grapes grown at Ricci Vineyards in Carneros. The fruit was hand-picked at night, quickly transported to the winery and pressed without any skin contact to preserve the pale color.
Just the pressure from the weight of the grapes against each other had the potential to add unwanted hues.
Free-run juice was then fermented in neutral French oak barrels and aged for five months “sur lie” (French for “on the lees,” meaning the wine is kept in contact with yeast particles, or lees, during the aging process). The wine was stirred just twice, using a technique called bâtonnage, to mix the settled lees back into the wine. The result: a white wine made from red wine grapes with flavors of wild strawberries, rhubarb, a hint of black cherry and white peach.
“I would say if you like pinot noir, you’ll like this one as well,” says Scheid.
Only five barrels, or approximately 1,400 bottles, of the winery’s 2020 White Pinot Noir were produced — most likely, it won’t last long.
Retailing at $42, the wine is available through the winery, but sales are limited to ensure availability for wine club members.
When asked if more white pinot noir might be in the winery’s future, both Schug and Schied quickly responded, “Definitely.”
“Moving forward, we want to experiment a little bit more,” says Schied. “We have some good wines in our portfolio so far but we always want to try and come up with something else, something new.”
For more information on Schug, head over to the brand’s official website.