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Wine is an emotional experience--at least it can be, if the conditions are right. The tasting room at Schug Carneros Estate Winery, however, seems designed to squelch passion in any form. It appears tacked on to the winery like an afterthought and, like a home office, is strewn with various awards, photos and plucky signage all awash in fluorescent lighting.

While not unfriendly, the attendant on the day of my ill-fated visit was utterly indifferent to my presence. On my worst days, I may inspire antipathy, but never apathy.

"Am I the first one here?" I asked, trying to gauge if perhaps the place was just warming up. It was 11am, after all.

"No," he responded flatly before robotically pouring my tastes.

OK. A vending machine would have been more charming.

I would even have preferred a little condescension, for at least that takes some effort. Nada. Tasting at Schug was not unlike clearing a fix-it ticket--it was purely procedural and cost nothing. Even the minor sting of paying for the experience would have improved it. At least I could have felt ripped off, which would have added some kind of emotional cast to the proceedings.

Wine, like the ink blots on a Rorschach test, is ripe for free association, but when one's psyche is suppressed by utter banality it's hard to pen even the vaguest note. To wit, the 2003 Pinot Noir, Carneros "Heritage Reserve" had a muted, suppressed quality like someone had put a pillow over its face. If I had put a pillow over my face, it might have tasted better. I began to feel like one of those "cutter" kids who carves up his arm just to "feel something."

As I was considering doing bodily harm to myself, a construction crew comprising cast rejects from Straw Dogs passed by toting power tools that had better teeth than they. They sneered at me and I sneered back--but, you know, in my own way, while staring down at my shoes. Ah, finally an emotion, a sense of threat! But it was too late, I had already hastened through the rest of the tasting and was speeding down Carneros Highway before one could say veni, vidi, vici.

Surely your experience will be better. Schug Carneros Estate Winery, 602 Bonneau Road, Sonoma. Tasting room open daily, 10am to 5pm. No fee for tasting. 707.939.9363.


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