Vineyards are often the stuff of dreams, the long sought after goals of some, or simply an inevitable plan for retirement. Joseph Swan started making wine casually even as a kid, perhaps as a rebellion against his tee totaling parents. Off and on throughout the years it was a passing hobby as Joe struggled through a passionate but somewhat unsuccessful career as an artist. Deciding his future lay elsewhere, he learned how to fly and began a teaching and eventually flying commercially. Occasionally throughout this time, Joe would touch down someplace long enough to make a small batch of wine from whatever grapes he could get his hands on.
After a full career as an airline pilot, Joseph Swan decided that winemaking was the way he planned on spending his later years and in 1967 he purchased a small property near the town of Forestville, California which he planted with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. He made friends of local winemakers and of staff at the UC Davis department of Enology. With their help and not a small amount of dedication on his part, he began making wine seriously under the name of Swan Vineyards.
While waiting for his grapes to mature, Swan began making Zinfandels with grapes purchased from various sources including the now famous Teldeschi Vineyard. Ironically, it was these Zinfandels that Swan became most well known for, rather than the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir which he eventually produced under the Joseph Swan label.
Joe passed away in 1988 leaving the vineyard in the hands of his daughter and his son-in-law, Lynn and Rod Berglund, who currently carry on winemaking un the Swan name. They produce no more than 4,000 cases of wine yearly, much of it in small lots from several vineyard designate sites.
This wine is a blend of fruit from three Russian River vineyards with Saralee’s vineyard making up most of the wine. Saralee’s Vineyard is located in the heart of the Russian River Valley, adjacent to Sonoma-Cutrer, and in addition to being planted with Pinot Noir, it also is planted with Pinot Gris.
Shining garnet in the glass, this cloudy, unfiltered wine has a heady nose of wet leather, figs, cranberries and tart plums. In the mouth it is smooth and round with gorgeous extracted flavors of cranberry and raspberry, balanced by a nice acidity, light tannins, and a long tapering finish which incorporates hints of that dark leather in the nose. This wine could have easily been overly fruity given the luscious flavors it contains, but the winemaker has kept that in check, resulting in a very nicely packaged experience.
The soft quality of the fruit in this wine makes it a perfect complement for a slightly salty, slower cooked pork dish that has some sweetness to it, like this brined pork loin with onion, raisin, and garlic compote.
Overall Score: 8.5/9
How Much?: $18
This has got to be one of the best values in small production, handcrafted Pinot Noir on the market. It is available at K&L and several other retailers in San Francisco as well as on the Internet through K&L’s website.