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Schug Carneros Estate Winery is situated on a 50-acre site in the Carneros Appellation, south-west of the town of Sonoma. Vineyards of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay surround the winery, while other grapes are bought in from highly respected and experienced growers.
The Carneros District lies at the south end of both the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. An area of low hills and flatlands, the region is profoundly affected by cool marine air from the bay and Pacific Ocean. During the summer, a ceiling of fog hovers over the Carneros vineyards in the morning, burning off as the day goes on. Specifically on the Schug Estate, the fog is replaced at midday by summertime winds that come rushing through what is known as the Petaluma Gap, a break between two mountains which creates a kind of wind-tunnel across the vineyards. The wind stress causes the skin of the grapes to thicken, particularly the higher Pinot Noir plantings, a characteristic that adds pepper and spice nuances to the wine.
On an ecological level, the Schug team is very concerned with finding the most environmentally friendly and efficient way of growing the grapes. Cover crop is an important part of the yearly cycle. In Spring, carpets of mustard flowers, California poppies and wild grasses cover the ground between the vines. Not only does this transform the vineyards into a colorful patchwork, but the benefits also include prevention of soil erosion, nitrogen addition, soil structure improvement, weed suppression and creating a habitat for beneficial insects. In addition, it reduces the vineyard work load, fuel use, and the necessity for pesticides.
Sustainable winegrowing practices at Schug also extend to creating habitats for varying species of birds, particularly raptors and owls, which provide direct pest control to the vineyard. There are a variety of nesting boxes set up to encourage these larger birds who control the numbers of starlings, rodents and rabbits. Other nesting boxes are in place for the small birds who eat harmful insects on the vines.
Both Walter Schug and winemaker Mike Cox have always been strong believers that the quality of the grapes on the vine is the key to making good wine. Outside of the estate, grapes are bought from growers with whom the winery has long-term contracts, thereby ensuring Schug’s control over quality and supply. Mike likes to work closely with growers and prefers small production vineyards that contribute unique qualities of clonal and soil varieties to his blends.