Episode 474 of I’ll Drink to That! was released recently, and it features Rod Berglund, who is both the owner of Joseph Swan Vineyards in Sonoma County, and the winemaker there.
Rod Berglund was encouraged to get into winemaking by Joe Swan, who would later also become Rod’s father-in-law. Swan is today perhaps the least well-known of the iconic California winemakers of the 1970s, but those who followed the Swan wines of that era counted them as being among the very best from Northern California. Rod explains in this interview what Swan was doing different from his contemporaries, and what made his wines stand apart. Swan’s use of French oak barrels (for which, Rod tells us, he was subject to some gentle ribbing from his friend Paul Draper), his embrace of techniques that were being used by a new generation of growers in Burgundy, his vineyard choices, and his severe approach to vineyard yields, all brought about wines that still impress decades later, when bottles are opened today. Swan, we learn, was in some ways a cosmopolitan figure, a former airline pilot who traveled to European wine regions with importer Kermit Lynch, keept abreast of winemaking developments in France, and frequently discussed technique with André Tchelistcheff. But in other ways Swan led a humble winemaking life, content as he was with a small production of wines he made in a converted metal shed, some fermented in an old dairy tank, others in old style redwood fermenters. It may be that this more quiet side of Swan, his refusal to lean in to promotion or expansion, has kept the legend of those old Swan wines more confined within the realm of connoisseurs today. At any rate, we come away from this episode with a strong understanding of the context for those wines, something that is added to by a segment at the beginning featuring Joel Peterson, who worked with Joe Swan in the 1970s. Peterson’s comments help set the stage for topics that Berglund expands upon later in the program.
I’ll Drink to That is the world’s most listened-to wine podcast, hosted by Levi Dalton. Levi has had a long career working as a sommelier in some of the most distinguished and acclaimed dining rooms in America. He has served wine to guests of Restaurant Daniel, Masa, and Alto, all in Manhattan. Levi has also contributed articles on wine themes to publications such as The Art of Eating, Wine & Spirits magazine, Bon Appetit online, and Eater NY. Check out his pictures on Instagram and follow him on Twitter: @leviopenswine