2021 Winter Newsletter

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2021! A Miracle Vintage! No Fires, no Smoke, no Drama! 

Although the year is not over just yet, we are already referring to it as a miracle! After a non-existent rainy season last winter and spring that extended the drought, the weather, for the most part remained mild.  Spring came early to our vineyards as the lack of rain allowed the soil to warm early, triggering an early bud break which brought with it the risk of killing frosts which could have greatly reduced the potential crop. But the weather remained mild and, despite the low water content in the soil, the vines early growth looked quite healthy. The next big worry was the weather during bloom. Too cold, too hot, too much wind or too much rain would mean that fewer flowers would set, resulting in a lower crop. But, once again Mother Nature showed us some mercy, with near perfect weather allowing the flowers to set fruit. Over the course of the summer, despite the lack of rain, the vines continued to look very healthy and happy. All stages of growth had been accelerated, at least by calendar standards, but the growth cycle was very much apace with normal. I engaged in my usual round of wishful thinking, hoping harvest would be delayed until after Labor Day, but when I added up the days since fruit set had occurred it was clear that we would be in for an early start. As is turned out it was only early on the calendar and the fruit ended up being on the vine for a bit longer than “normal”. The longer hang time resulted in more depth of flavor and darker color in many of the red grapes, combined with excellent acidity due to the slightly cooler days and nights. The only negative (if you absolutely had to find one!) was the smaller cluster size and resultant lower tonnage but I will take a smaller crop of excellent quality over a larger crop of lesser quality, or as was the case in the fire ravaged vintage of 2020, almost no crop at all. And, to start next year’s crop off on the right foot we have received more rain to date than all of last year! For the first time in three years we actually got rain in October. They say the drought is no t over but for the first time in a long time the ground is saturated and the streams are running. We have a long way before the ponds and reservoirs are full again but if we have anything near a normal year from here on out, the vines should be very happy indeed when they awaken from their long winters nap.

New Releases

We have been bit a little haphazard of late with new releases. With the outbreak of Covid, our long-time model of releasing wines three times a year became unraveled. In addition to sales here at the winery, we sell our wines in a number of states as well as in several foreign countries. No two markets sell exactly the same wines, but in all of them a large proportion of the wines find their way onto restaurant wine lists.  With the general shutting down of the economy and the temporary, or, in some cases permanent, closing of many restaurants, there was a great deal of uncertainty. With things slowly returning to a more normal state-of-affairs, we are going to try and get back on a more consistent release schedule.  We will also be gradually working towards releasing wines a little earlier. In addition, we are evaluating our practice of holding back quantities of most of our wines for our library. After bottling up to 30 wines per year for some time now, we are running out of storage space.  We have also come to the conclusion that, try as we might, we have not been able to find a way to drink all of these wines! As much as we love our wines there, there is a vast world of wine out there that we have to keep abreast of, to say nothing of the wines we have bought over the years that are in the cellar and begging to be opened.  In addition, the winemaker dinners that many of them were earmarked for have been greatly reduced. The result is that we have wines from prior releases that continue to evolve and gain complexity, including some library wines, that are available. If you have a favorite wine hat you would like to revisit and it is not on our website, please let us know. There is a chance that we might have it available.
Holidays. The best thing about the holidays is that it is a time for dinners and gift giving, Might we suggest a few magnums? Not only is a magnum impressive on a table, it allows everyone present to share a glass from the same bottle. For me this reinforces the theme of sharing. As for gifts, bottles of wine are almost always appreciated but magnums take it to the next level. We do not bottle magnums of all of our wines and sometimes bottle none at all, but we do have on our magnum wall, some pretty some pretty cool wines.
One in particular stands out. When we tasted the 2016 Trenton Estate Pinot Noir prior to bottling we knew that it was going to be a special wine so went a little overboard. If you would like to grab a few we are offering them at 10% less than the price of two bottles.
Tasting at the winery. Due to Covid we had to shut our tasting room down and move tasting outside. We also had to go to a reservation system. We loved being outside but the monster storm a few weeks ago wreaked havoc on our sunshades and sent several pieces of furniture into the neighboring vineyard. We have cleaned things up and will, weather permitting, resume outside tasting.. Otherwise, tasting will be inside the barrel room. We will be continuing tasting by appointment only Friday-Sunday. Appointments are available through our online reservation system and can be booked on our website. We can sometimes take visitors that do not have a prior reservation if space allows so please feel free to give us a call at 707.573.3747 and we will fit you in if possible. If you just wish to pick up wine that you have purchased we also ask that you reserve a wine pick up only reservation on the site. This allows us to pull your wines and have them ready for you. This is especially important if you are picking up wine that we have been holding for awhile as we do not keep all of our wines in stock at the winery.
For the next couple of months, in addition to our usual tasting flight, we will be pouring at least one library wine. We hope to see you here in Trenton in the very near future1

A Special Review

Not only have we been a bit haphazard with our releases, we have been very bad at getting wines out to critics for review. Often this is because they often are focused on a vintage that is still 2 or 3 years from release for us but it is often just because there are so many reviews and scores that they have a very short shelf life and unless you have someone monitoring them and immediately getting the word out they have minimal effect.  However, once in awhile one comes along that is especially gratifying. In August, Rusty Gafney, who publishes an online pinot noir newsletter reviewed some of our wines. I am not sure how he came to have the Pentagon as we did not send samples to the press, but I am glad that he found it. He had already named our Trenton Estate Vineyard as one of the California elites. If you have never read his newsletter and are a fan of pinot noir you should do so. The amazing thing is that it is free. It is a labor of love for him. You can find this issue as well as ones going back many years at https://www.princeofpinot.com.
His review:
 2016 Joseph Swan Vineyards Trenton Estate Vineyard Pentagon Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
12.7% alc., 2 barrels, $100 (sold out). This one was only produced in one other year - 1997 - when it met the criteria for a separate bottling. Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Seductive aromas of cherry, rose petal, spice box and sandy loam. The wine creates quite an impression on entry with a jubilee of well-spiced black cherry flavor. Very soft like the hair of an angel, with great purity of fruit flavor. Highly congenial at this age with immersed tannins and an extremely generous and lengthy finish. The wine packs plenty of flavor but leans more toward elegance than power. My notes say, “Fantastic!.” This is one of those wines you can still taste and remember where you drank it years later. My highest scoring Pinot Noir ever! Score: 99
He did say that the wine was sold out. While technically correct at the time we did hold back a handful of cases and are making it available to our mailing list. It will be on our website and available to purchase until we decide that we simply must keep some for ourselves!

Cruise. Twice Delayed but finally Happening!

In 2019 we were planning on joining with Rich and Amber Moshin on an amazing cruise along the Danube River from Hungary to Germany. Then came Covid. It was rescheduled for this year but again postponed. The third time is going to be a charm. It is now scheduled for April of 2021. One of the highlights will be a special tasting that we will not be able to duplicate. Rick and I each select 8 wines, two from each of four decades, of our respective Estate pinot noirs. The last word we got from Food and Wine Trails, the company that put this together, was that the cruise line was still holding a few cabins for us but that they would be releasing them to the public shortly. If you have any interest please contact Food and Wine Trails. The cruise information is at https://www.foodandwinetrails.com/cruises/swanandmoshin2022.
The also produced a little video with Rick and I that can be found at https://vimeo.com/645415207.

The New Releases


2017 Chardonnay Ritchie Vineyard

Ritchie Vineyard has always been known for its voluptuous wines and this one is no exception. Harvest from the older vines is often delayed. When sampling the grapes as harvest nears it is almost as if they are telling you to be a little more patient. The numbers are great and the flavors are nice but it often takes a bit of a longer wait before the hallmark Ritchie richness is apparent.  It was barrel fermented in French Oak, about 1/3 of which was new, in order to tame some of its voluptuous fruit, and bottled after 14 months of aging on its lees.   Bold, rich, ripe aromas of baked spiced apple and Asian pear lead to flavors echoing the aromatics with a complement of grilled hazelnut. A wine to drink on its own or to pair with poached scallops, grilled chicken or even pork tenderloin. (with ginger and toasted sesame?)

2017 Pinot Noir Cuvée de Trois

The one constant with this wine each year is that it consists of a blend of each of our vineyard designates and nothing else. Our intent is to craft a wine that marries all of the best elements of the vineyards and the vintage. A little lighter in color than the fairly dark and lush 2016, it also has a bit higher acidity. All of the usual C3 elements are present however, including a potpourri of red fruits, flowers and a bit of forest floor. The term “food wine” has been so overused that it has lost most of its meaning but this wine actually fits the bill which why it has been a constant on restaurant lists far and wide.



2018 Pinot Noir Saralee’s

Our 2018 pinot noirs, by and large, were darker and more structured than the 2017’s. Saralee’s, however, bucked the trend. It is fairly pale in color but the aromatics belie the pale color. A fruit basket of red fruits and pretty floral aromatics lead to rich but elegant flavors and texture, echoing the red berries and cherries. It is quite rich and long with just enough acidity to keep it focused and bright. Saralee’s has always produced some of my favorite pinot noirs. While I love the depth and power of many other vineyards I find myself seduced by the elegance, restrain and simple beauty that wines produced from this vineyard exhibit.



2014 Pinot Noir Great Oak

Great Oak, due to poor soils and low yields, has generally yielded wines that need additional time before release. Often dark and tannic when young, with enough bottle age they begin to shed their youthful armor and emerge as very complex and often rather elegant wines. The 2014 was very tense when young and took a bit longer to emerge from its shell. At this point in time the youthful tannins have finally been resolved. The wines color has lessened considerably over the last few years and has begun to take on a bit of a brickish edge. It is far more complex than it was a couple of years ago, and now exhibits a lot of baking spice notes and hints of tea that were not present when young, joining the dark red fruits of its youth. Based on how prior vintages of Great Oak have evolved, I expect this wine to be around for some time to come but it is in a very nice place right now. 


2017 Zinfandel Zeigler Vineyard

We have been working with this vineyard for over 30 years. Planted in the early 1920’s, time has not particularly kind to the vines. The total number of viable vines has shrunk over the years and with it fruit production. In 2017 we were only able to harvest enough fruit for three barrels of wine. The classic profile of Zeigler over the years is blackberry fruit along with a noticeable black pepper spice note. This year is no exception but it also possesses a bit more elegance and refinement.





2017 Zinfandel VHSR-Redux

This little patch of vines is about a mile south of the winery ripens quite late for zinfandel in our area. Since it is from the Laguna Ridge Neighborhood it is a bit cooler than the Santa Rosa Plain where Zeigler is located. It also shares the fine sandy loam Goldridge soil that our vineyard has whereas Zeigler is on a mixture of old alluvial deposits underlain by a dense hardpan. They do share one characteristic and that is the ripe blackberry aromas. VHSR-Redux lacks the black pepper character of the Zeigler however but in 2017 it has a bit more weight.
Both are lovely examples of old school zin with plenty of fruit but a distinct lack of jam and oak.

2013 Syrah Trenton Estate

We have been making syrah from our Estate vineyard and Great Oak for over 20 years now. The vines were planted at the same time with the same clone and using the same vine spacing, but the wines have always been very different. Great Oak has been the denser, more tannic and more gamey of the two while the Estate has been a bit more elegant with notes of lilacs and violets. This year was no exception. The Great Oak is still a bit of a beast but the Estate is almost pinot noirish in a good way. The usual plums have been joined by a hint of blueberry, joining the bright red plums and floral elements. Syrah is a grape that has a reputation for producing wines that are dark, powerful and sometimes monochromatic but when grown in cooler climates such as France’s Northern Rhone Valley or right here in the Russian River Valley, they can produce wines that, while retaining the intense flavors present in the grape, can also show some elegance. I hate to say it but this wine is almost pinot noir-ish!
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Joseph Swan Vineyards | 2916 Laguna Road, Forestville, CA, 95436 | www.SwanWinery.com
"There are few more civilized pleasures than good company, good food, and good wine - Joe Swan "
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