Visit to Joseph Swan Vineyards – A pioneer in Russian River Valley

Introduction to Joseph Swan Vineyards

Joseph Swan Vineyards was founded approximately 50 years ago by Joe Swan who before that had a career as a pilot. In 1967 he bought some Zinfandel vineyards in the Russian River Valley and shortly after he started replanting some of these with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay by imported clones from France which in fact are some of the oldest Pinot Noir vineyards in the area. Joseph Swan Vineyards is a rather small estate in terms of volume, but it has had an important role in the development of the wine region. Joe Swan passed away in 1989 and since then Rod and Lynn Berglund run the estate in line with the principles established by Joe Swan.

A few short notes about how Joseph Swan Vineyards produce their wines:

  • They do not control temperature during fermentation and this results in a natural cold soak since the fermentation will not start immediately.
  • Approximately 30 percent of their grapes come from owned vineyards.
  • Approximately 20 percent whole clusters are used in the Pinot Noir wines.
  • They use 20-25 percent new oak for most of their single vineyard Pinot Noir wines.
  • Neither fining nor filtering is used.

Tasting notes for the wines from Joseph Swan Vineyards

The whites

2014 Joseph Swan Vineyards Viognier “Catie’s Corner”

Dominated by apricot both on nose and palate but there is also some pineapple and green melon. Oily texture on the palate and it does get rather intense and shows some warm alcohol notes. This is definitely food wine.

2014 Joseph Swan Vineyards Grenache Blanc Catie’s Corner Vineyard

Fresh notes of both green and yellow apples on both nose and palate but also with some peach and green melon. There is a fresh acidity that adds some direction to the wine.

2014 Joseph Swan Vineyards Chardonnay “Kent the Younger”

The nose is more forward than the palate, showing apricot, green and yellow apples and some slight tropical fruit notes. There is a slightly oily expression on the palate and the acidity is rather careful.

The reds

2013 Joseph Swan Vineyards Pinot Noir “Saralee’s Vineyard”

Very fruit driven Pinot Noir with cherries, raspberries and some rather ripe strawberries. On the palate the wine is very juicy and fresh and has a slight herbal note. The acidity is good and adds some energy. An easy to like Pinot Noir of good quality.

2013 Joseph Swan Vineyards Pinot Noir “Suicide Hill Great Oak Vineyard”

Very intense fruit aromas with raspberries, strawberries and cherries, combined with a cool and fresh acidity and some minerals. There is a herbal and minty element to this wine and some violet notes. Almost no structure. The wine has a unique coolness and a pure intense fruit.

2012 Joseph Swan Vineyards Pinot Noir “Trenton Estate Vineyard”

Brimming fruitiness with cherries, blackberries and raspberries but also some intense blue floral notes. On the palate there is a slight marzipan sweetness as well as some herbal notes. It will be very interesting to see how this wine develops with time. This is a wine with a very strong personality.

2012 Joseph Swan Vineyards Zinfandel “Zeigler vineyard”

Brimming high pitched fruit notes on the nose and a vibrant acidity and fresh fruit on the palate. Some herbal notes in the background. There is also a silky tannic structure. Surprisingly slim Zinfandel.

2012 Joseph Swan Vineyards Tannat “Matthew’s Station vineyard”

Intense black and red fruit with an abundance of cherries and blackberries. There is a good tannic structure and a slightly harsh acidity. This is a wine with strong personality.

2012 Joseph Swan Vineyards Pinot Noir “Trenton View vineyard”

Bright red fruit with a rather sweet touch. There are an abundance of cherries but also orange peel, marzipan and strawberries. On the palate the wine is rather sweet, juicy and with a very silky texture. The acidity is soft but good. This is a generous and forward wine but slightly one-dimensional at the moment.

Summary of impressions from the visit to Joseph Swan Vineyards

Joseph Swan Vineyards has an exciting range of wines, some of them from old vines and some

I did bring my assistant to this tasting…

from more unusual grapes like Tannat. In general, the wines of Joseph Swan Vineyards have an abundance of personality and the tasting never gets predictable.

Their Pinot Noir wines are characterized by an intense bright fruit expression, often with cherry and intense violet notes, that I find similar to what I sometimes experience in wines from Lafarge in Volnay. Despite the fruity expression the wines never get dense and heavy, but rather has a refined expression. They also seem very transparent to the vineyards and vintages.

My favorites from the tasting were the Trenton Estate Pinot Noir and the Suicide Hill Pinot Noir, but I also enjoyed the slim Zinfandel Zeigler and the pleasant Trenton View Pinot Noir.

 

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