Chef Kristine Schug
Today Kristine Schug is the Winery Chef at Schug Carneros Estate Winery in Sonoma, California. Kristine has traveled a long way from working in restaurants while in high school and in the catering kitchen at Beringer Vineyards for two summers. Along the way she has worked at Domaine Carneros where she prepared her first professional lunch. According to Kristine, “Cooking for wine became my passion.” She creates many recipes many of which are shared on the Schug winery website.
Today Chef Kristine enjoys teaching and sharing her extensive knowledge with others. She caters for special events at Schug winery and writes for the winery newsletter.
Many thanks to Chef Kristine Schug for taking the time to respond to our questions.
Chef Kristine Schug
Schug Carneros Estate Winery
602 Bonneau Road
Sonoma, California 95476
June 2014 Interview
Wine Trail Traveler: What is your opinion on wine as an ingredient in a recipe?
Chef Kristine: Over the years, it has been my focus to bring out the best in SCHUG wines with recipes. I am of the opinion that wines can be an ingredient, but I prefer them in the glass- to then be enhanced by my recipes. It has never been a conscious effort, but I find that I mainly use wine in traditional sauces such as beurre blanc/rouge and stock based sauces. Rarely do I feature wine as a main ingredient in a recipe. There have been times when wine is a little too lean or “raw” in a recipe for my taste. Hence, I find myself cooking for the wines, not so much with them.
Wine in a recipe adds an element of acidity but it is not always the best choice for every recipe or wine pairing, surprisingly. Acidity is needed for balance in a recipe, but we chefs have a range of ingredients that offer this quality. There are citrus juices, vinegars, “verjus” (made from grape juice), etc. Developing recipes for wines with Carneros fruit as the source, I find myself reaching for citrus for white wine recipes and often times mushrooms, roasted red peppers (sweet, not hot) or tomatoes for red wine recipes.
Wine Trail Traveler: What wine varieties are the most commonly used in cooking?
Chef Kristine: For classic recipes we are often instructed to use sherry or Madera wines. These wines offer a wonderful nuttiness to recipes, but they are not always the best wines for every recipe if the recipe is meant to be paired with a specific wine. My experience with wines used in cooking has been with our own wines- typically I use a Chardonnay or Pinot Noir for sauces. Most any variety can be used in a recipe- let your imagination be your guide!
Wine Trail Traveler: When preparing a dinner, do you match the wine with the dinner or do you prepare a dinner to match a specific wine?
Chef Kristine: Most of the time I know in advance which wine I am going to be developing a recipe for, so that means I will be preparing the recipe for the wine. Once in a while I might have some ingredients in the garden I need to use and so I create a recipe and then choose the wine accordingly. I have been developing recipes for SCHUG wines for over 20 years so I always have a “ball park flavor profile” for the wines to at least start with. Then, I taste the wine to see what differences have shown up during the growing conditions from one year to the next. After that I decide which flavor family the recipe will be in.
Wine Trail Traveler: How many different wines should be paired with a three-course and five-course dinners? (Should there be a different wine for each course of the dinner?)
Chef Kristine: At SCHUG we would pair a wine with each course, and sometimes we even show multiple wines for each course. For example, we may offer a Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay side by side, to show how each wine responds to the course they are being offered with. For a main course we have been known to offer both current and older vintages of the same wine, Pinot Noir, for example. It is great for a guest to see the progress of a wine as it ages and to see how the younger and older versions respond to the food.
For entertaining at home, one can decide on the wines once the menu has been set. If there are wines already chosen, then the menu can definitely be created to showcase the wines. Depending on the formality of the menu a specific wine is very nice with each course. If the meal is lengthier, then repeating a wine for a second course might be less complicated and would even show the versatility of that wine with more than one course.
Wine Trail Traveler: What wines do you suggest for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner?
Our family loves to feature our Rouge de Noir sparkling wine at this most-favorite Holiday meal! It has wonderful flavors and aromas of 100% Pinot Noir and yet it is lighter bodied and bubbly, of course. The garnet color is so appealing and the food-friendly qualities of our Rouge de Noir make it such a nice choice for this menu.
We also love the versatility of a beautiful, crisp Carneros Chardonnay at the Thanksgiving table as well as the classic fruit and earth qualities of our Pinot Noirs. Thanksgiving recipes oftentimes feature roasted, browned flavors which really pair well with our Chardonnay and traditional turkeys can be slightly gamey- perfect for our Pinot!
Wine Trail Traveler: What is your favorite dinner to prepare?
Chef Kristine: It is VERY difficult for a cook to choose just one thing. Our family loves so many recipes! I would say, though, that I love to focus a dinner around my grill. I love the intensity of flavors I can get out of many ingredients when I grill them and I am exploring new ideas all the time. If I am not grilling, I love roasted ingredients. One of my family’s current favorites is a pasta with roasted cauliflower, roasted peppers, goat cheese, herbs and bacon. It’s fabulous and the colors just pop on the plate.
Wine Trail Traveler: We wrote a book A Wine Journey in which we discuss the different roads to wine. How did your wine journey begin? Did you ever have an interest in becoming a winemaker?
Chef Kristine: My journey to wine and food pairing began when I finished my education at UC Davis in 1989. I was living with my family in Napa, where I grew up, and got a job at the new Domaine Carneros sparkling wine facility. Even though I have no formal training I was the only member of the staff at the time who knew how to cook. My limited experience at the time was from summer restaurant work during school and some great experience in the catering kitchen at Beringer vineyards for two summers.
Over the first months of our opening at Domaine Carneros, we received a lot of VIP visitors from restaurants and distributors and the need for full meals at lunch time became greater and greater. I finally got up my nerve to offer to prepare a lunch for a small group and that was the beginning of 25 years of cooking for wine. I had a few restaurant jobs after leaving Domaine Carneros in the early 1990’s but cooking for wine became my passion.
By doing things over and over again and constantly being willing to try things in new ways, even at the cost of failures along the way, I have learned a tremendous amount about food and wine pairing. It is not just about white wine with fish and red wine with meat- there are endless combinations of flavors and textures still to be discovered.
There were times over the years when I considered trying to learn about making sparkling wine since I love and respect those wines so much. But, as a mother and wife, it was never a viable option. My plate has been very full over the years- pun intended.
I am proud of how much I have learned on my own and yet I see areas where others could learn valuable knowledge and tool of how to pair wines with food. I am always happy to teach and share what I have learned! Developing recipes for wine remains my passion to this day- it is a very satisfying way to work.
Chef Kristine's Recipes