Ever Tasted White Pinot? This Sonoma Winery Thinks You Should

A white pinot noir? Yes, you read that right, and you can taste it right now at this winery in Sonoma.

It’s no secret that you can drink well in Sonoma wine country. The area boasts an impressive number of grape varietals that thrive in this climate and produce excellent wines for every palate. Oenophiles have come to expect only the best from regional vineyards, but every now and then there’s a bottle that still manages to impress. Among them this year is a white pinot noir. Yes, you read that right.

Sonoma’s Schug Carneros Estate Winery just released its first new wine in 12 years. And it’s a white pinot.

“There aren’t that many producers (of white pinot noirs),” says winemaker Johannes Scheid. “It’s a little bit unknown. I think that’s why we made it.”

It was winery founder Walter Schug’s love of pinot noir that inspired him to create his own Sonoma wine label 40 years ago. Schug, who was raised on a German vineyard along the Rhine River that specialized in pinot noir, arrived in Northern California wine country in the early 1960s and quickly gained fame for his winemaking and pinot expertise. Today, 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.

Walter Schug, founder of Schug Carneros Estate Winery in Sonoma. (Chris Hardy)
Walter Schug, founder of Schug Carneros Estate Winery in Sonoma. (Chris Hardy)

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. The wine ($42) 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.”

602 Bonneau Road, Sonoma, 707-939-9363, schugwinery.com