XPAT – Spotlight – Interview with Claudia Schug Schuetz, Partner at Schug Carneros Estate Winery.
Claudia, a dual citizen of Germany and the USA, has experienced both worlds, only the other way around compared with most of us expats.
Born in California and raised in Napa Valley, she has the wine business in her genes! She learned about wine from one of the most respected winemakers in California; her father Walter Schug. Both of her grandparents were part of this education as well, who were highly accomplished winemakers in Germany, with the Staatsweingut Assmaannshausen in the Rheingau and the Weingut Annaberg in the Pfalz.
After earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics at Stanford University she moved to Germany in 1988 and lived for almost 30 years in North Rhine-Westphalia, where her ex-husband was from. There she started a California wine import and distribution business, worked as a wine educator, and served even as an international wine judge. From 2012-2017 she was California Wine Institute’s Trade Education Ambassador in Germany before she relocated to Sonoma in July 2017 to join her brother in managing her family winery, Schug Carneros Estate Winery.
Claudia, after having lived in California and Germany, would you consider California “A Dream Come True” for you?
YES! Even as a Californian, I am continually thankful for the privilege to live here.
How many years have you lived here in California?
24 years until I moved to Germany and then almost 1 year since I came back…
Which neighborhood is your favorite in the city you live in?
The center of Sonoma town, the town square, and park
Would you rather live somewhere else in California than where you live now?
No, never. Well, except maybe in a house with direct view and access to a Southern California beach… because I love the Pacific Ocean.
Do you speak a lot of German with your family?
I speak both languages fluently and often receive visitors from Germany. My daughter lives in London but I raised her speaking German. We speak a mish-mash when we’re together. That was also the case with my parents, but only after I moved to Germany. Before that, I preferred to speak English with them.
Did you discover new hobbies since you moved out here again?
I’ve always enjoyed performing music like playing trombone, which I played in the Posaunenchor (but haven’t yet found a band in Sonoma). I used to ski growing up in California, unfortunately, when I moved to Germany I only went skiing 2-3 times in 30 years! I hope I can take up that hobby again.
How was your transition back to living in California? Did you face some challenges?
Coming back to live in California wasn’t a big deal, however, I had to get used to healthcare and the insurance system. Besides, I find it challenging to find and choose new doctors, which has been on my list since I returned to California.
How did you end up in the wine business out here in CA?
The winery was started by my German immigrant parents. Their parents (my grandparents) were winemakers in Germany. Wine is definitely my passion so I am very lucky to have inherited it and be able to continue this legacy.
You returned to California to help your brother in the family winery. Comparing doing business in Germany versus the U.S. – what do you like better, find easier or worse over here than over there?
Being a mother and businesswoman in Germany was a challenge – the school schedule wasn’t reliable and kids were sent home at noon to have lunch. American schools are generally all-day with extracurricular activities scheduled right after school, making it easier for the caregiving parent to have a longer stretch time to do business or have a (part-time or full-time) job.
How do you find the work culture here in California compared to Germany?
Working on a vineyard site and winery which focuses on hospitality and tourism, I find that working at the winery in Sonoma is a lot more fun and enjoyable than working from my home office in Germany. I work with a fantastic team and am happy to come to work every day! Everyone is so cooperative, supportive and encourage each other to succeed! No hidden envy (versteckter Neid). You can openly celebrate success.
What field are you specializing in within the business of your family winery?
I have always felt comfortable in Marketing and Sales and never learned winemaking (I hated science in high school). So I am in charge of Export Sales, Marketing, Direct-to-Consumer sales and hospitality at our winery. Selling and marketing our own wine gives me great joy!
What do you love about California and what could you do without?
Love: The beautiful weather; the relaxed and casual atmosphere and its laid-back people; the fantastic service mentality. And I appreciate the anti-smoking laws.
Do without: The ridiculous drinking age of 21 and the strict laws about where alcohol can be consumed and served (i.e. not allowed in parks and at the beach…) but Sonoma is an exception – wine is allowed in the Plaza park!
Was moving back to California the right decision for you?
What role has luck played in your life?
I feel lucky to be healthy and feel young relative to my age. But I think that is the California mindset!
Do you have ‘Heimweh’ for Germany at times?
Yes, I do. I miss the fairly priced, high-quality food and beverages, i.e. bakery bread, German beer, and wine, and I also miss the public transportation system (trains, streetcars, busses etc.). I miss living in Europe with so many different cultures, foods, languages etc. in very close proximity.
So if Heimweh strikes, my advice is to search out good bread from artisan bakeries. Pubs around Sonoma serve Kölsch and Pilsener beers which I love… Buy a Raclette grill and invite friends, to introduce them to your culture and traditions. Participate in German clubs like German American Business Association or go to German festivities like the Oktoberfest. Speaking of which, we are having an “Oktoberfest” themed wine event on October 14th at our Schug Carneros Estate Winery. Tickets are still available!
What’s your special Expat Insider Tip for living in California?
Lighten up, relax, go with the flow! Enjoy the Californian friendliness and openness and don’t be suspicious that there might be a hidden agenda.
Three wishes. What would you wish for?
1) to keep my good health 2) to enjoy some really good friendships 3) to prosper in the wine business.
Thank you, Claudia, for your time and insight into your life. We much enjoyed speaking with you!
Want to check out the “Oktoberfest” at the Schug Winery? Here is more detailed information:
“Oktoberfest” themed Wine Event in Sonoma – October 14th from 12 – 2 p.m.
A few tickets are still available. (Event is complimentary for members of the Wine Club and only $25/person for non-wine club.)
Tickets available here and on Facebook
Schug Carneros Estate Winery
602 Bonneau Rd
Sonoma, CA 95476
ph: (707) 939-9363
Images: ©Claudia Schug Schuetz
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