Spring 2023 Newsletter
Looking Back, Looking Ahead
I recently received an email from our friends at Moshin Winery. I was shocked that they said that it was their first newsletter. Ever! They have been around for beaucoup years and were just sending out their first newsletter! For years I wrote one three times a year, but along the way I slacked and it has been a long time since I have penned one. I am going to try and get back in the groove and get at least one more out this year.
I am going to do it a little bit differently this time. I am going to lead with a request a couple of acknowledgements, some information on new releases and then the above titled article. That way, if you get bored, at least the part left unread won't be the wine information.
First, I have a request. Over the 55 years that Joseph Swan Vineyards has been around there have been a host of people that at one time or another were a part of the vineyard and winery. I was around a bit in the '70's and met some of them from the early era and of course all of them when Lynn and I took over operations in 1988 but time has a way of messing with memories. Before too much more time goes by I would like to assemble a history that acknowledges everyone's contributions. We still have a couple of copies of the mailing list from the early days so we have lots of names of possible customers, but we would like to acknowledge all of those that bought our wine over time. We have a lot of photos but don't always know who is in them. Every once in awhile I recall a specific time and person or have a flood of memories (usually while on the tractor or driving down the freeway with no pen in hand) but before the ravages of time take their toll I want to make sure that everyone that we can remember who ever helped us, as an employee or just a helping hand in a time of need, is acknowledged. So, if you, or anyone you know, ever lent us a hand with bottling, harvest, barrel tasting or in any other way, please send us a note. If possible, and if memory allows, let us know what year, or years, and what you did, Pictures would be great as well! Without so many helping hands over the years and the customers and friends who bought our wine, I wouldn't be here writing this newsletter, and, for that, we will be forever grateful.
Speaking of helping hands, I would like to acknowledge our two longest tenured employees, Regino Calderon and Cody Sapieka.
I doubt many of you have ever met Regino as he is much more comfortable in the vineyard than in the winery.
I don't know exactly how long Regino has been with us but I am sure that it was since the beginning of time! He was here with Joe in the early days. This was never a full time job for him, but would be here at various times throughout the year. When I first met Regino in 1987 I realized that his institutional memory of the vineyard was amazing. After Joe died I came to rely on him not only for putting together a harvest crew, but also for the year round vineyard work, as it was far more that I could do alone. We were taking care of several other vineyards in addition to the estate and he and his crew worked on them as well. They all worked for a west county apple ranch, taking care of the orchard and making and bottling apple juice, but their schedule allowed for them to work for us when needed. Over the years Regino's crew members changed, but I could always count on Regino to not only supervise them but to be my eyes and ears in the vineyard. He would always come to me to verify what I though needed to be done and offer advise and let me know if he saw anything odd. His work ethic was beyond belief. I used to have to go into the vineyard to make sure that the crews took breaks. I remember having Regino say to me, when they were pounding stakes for replant, that the two guys doing the pounding in the hot sun would get breaks, but he and everyone else didn't need them as the work wasn't that hard! I hated overruling him but did this time. I often had to go out at the end of the day and remind them that they had to go home at some point! His work ethic and his pride in what they did was evident every day that they were here. Time has a way of slowing everyone down and a long life of hard work is finally taking its toll on Regino. He has had some heath issues the last few years, but still comes to the vineyard to do pruning and other tasks throughout the year. He no longer has a crew but his niece, Anna is usually here with him. I asked him about retirement and he just smiled and said no, "what would I do?". Here is to Regino Calderon, who will be 89 years young this year!
Many of you know Cody Sapieka. Cody is a Sonoma State University Wine Business School graduate who came to us back in 2006. I had assumed that he would hang around for awhile before moving on to somewhere with more opportunities. Fortunately for us, that didn't happen as he has become mister essential. His interest in wine was not all that deep when he started but he was a fast learner. We found that he had great mechanical and building skills and could fix most anything. He is a great tractor driver as well and taken much of that task off of my plate. But the most visible part of his job is dealing with the wine club and our other customers and the countless emails that I would never be able to answer! He is not much of a social media person but does post an occasional cool photo on our web page. And, a few years ago, as if he did not have enough to do with harvest, aging, and bottling wines here, he partnered with one of our neighbor growers, Paul O'Neil of Solas Vineyard, to start a wine label, Villein. If you have not had the opportunity to try his wines you should reach out to him to get on his list. The wines are stunning.
Thank you, Cody, for sticking with us!
New and Recent Releases
2016 Chardonnay Kent the Younger
From Ritchie Vineyard but from a section of the vineyard with very rocky, unforgiving soils. It was planted to an old Wente selection and produced small clusters lf unevenly sized berries. Whereas the old vine Ritchie was built on power and intense fruit, these vines produced a more delicate (but still firm) style of wine. Aromas of citrus blossom intermingled with a bit of crushed oyster shell. The flavors lean more toward citrus than stone fruit. It is bright, fresh acidity that belies the fact that it was 100% barrel fermented, aged sur lies and underwent 100% malo-lactic fermentation. Still a youngster, even with 6 years of bottle age.
2019 Viognier Catie's Corner
White peach fuzz, honeysuckle, cardamom, kumquats and Buddha's hand. (How is that for exoteric!) It is fairly rich for viognier but still maintains excellent acidity. Excellent body and a long finish with flavors persisting.
2020 Grenache Blanc Catie's Corner
Pale straw color. Aromas of muskmelon, Asian pear and a touch of white peach. This grape is known for low acidity and sometimes flabbiness but that is not a problem in this vineyard as it always has a bit of zip to it. This is the only cuvee of grenache blanc we produced in 2020 as making an orange wine with skin contact presented too big of a risk from smoke taint.
2021 Rose's: 2021 Trenton View Pinot Noir Rose and 2021 Trenton Estate Syrah Rose
Rose's are usually thought of as wines drunk well chilled on a warm summer day while lounging around a pool or waiting for the burgers to come off of the grill. However, they can also be more serious wines that can easily take the place of many white and lighter red wines in pairing with a variety of dishes.
These two rose's, coming from adjacent vineyards are strikingly different, having been made from being made from two different grapes. The Trenton View Pinot Noir Rose is light strawberry pink in color. The aromas are also reminiscent of strawberries. It is bright and refreshing and, while a good summer quaff, has a more serious side to it. It's vibrancy and excellent acidity keep the fruit fresh and make it a wonderful wine to serve with simply grilled fish or lighter vegetarian dishes. The Trenton Estate Syrah Rose is darker in color and fuller and richer in the mouth, The aromatics are more of orange peel and mulling spices. Stylistically more like a Provencal Rose (not surprising since it is made from syrah) than the pinot noir rose.
2015 Pinot Noir Great Oak Vineyard
Located north of Forestville and the Russian River. The soils consist mostly of fractured rocks from the Franciscan complex, a melange of mostly sedimentary rocks that accumulated in oceanic tranches that were cemented to the edge of the continental shelf when subduction of the sea floor sent the solid material under North America. The age is approximately 80-100 million years older than our ancient sea bottom derived sandstone soils on Laguna Ridge.
2016 Pinot Noir Saralee's Vineyard
Like DNA, Saralee's is a vineyard in the Laguna Ridge Neighborhood of the Russian River Valley. Itsiting is more north facing so it ripens a bit later than many of the other vineyards in the neighborhood. It is planted to two selections of pinot noir, Calera and Swan and the finished wine includes some of both.
This vintage of Sls exhibits the elegance and restraint of cooler climate Russian River Valley pinot noir; delicious fruit-the bramble berry, dark cherry and sage keep us coming back for more
2017 Pinot Noir DNA Vineyard
DNA Vineyard is directly across the road from us and shares many of the traits of the Laguna Ridge Neighborhood with our vineyard.
Aromas of muddled red cherries with a slight hint of the signature neighborhood spice. It is not at all hard but firm with a density to its red fruit and minerality without chalkiness. While 2017 was a warmer vintage, this wines drinks more like one from a cool one with brightness and excellent acidity.
2018 Pinot Noir Cuvee de Trois
Although we have never labeled it this way, the Cuv?e de Trois is basically a reserve blend. It consists of some of each of our vineyard designated pinot noirs and is meant to speak to the RRV as whole, blending the various vineyard components into a harmonious expression of what makes this AVA so special.
This year included all of the usual suspects but with the addition of a vineyard located in the Sebastopol Hills neighborhood. This addition added a bit more than usual raciness to the finished wine, coming as it does from the coolest corner of the AVA.
Faded ruby color. It dances between earth and fruit with flavors of red (plum pit, along with darkish berries, black tea and loam), seriousness and playfulness. It is firm and balanced with all of the components in harmony and should drink well for another 5-10 years. This is our number one selling restaurant wine and has been on wine lists round the world!
2019 Pinot Noir Saralee's Vineyard
Strikingly dark in color for Saralee's. Aromas of black raspberries, cherries and wild strawberries with hints of cardamom and black tea. It is more structured and tannic than is usual for Saralee's but the tannins are round and silky. Our usual descriptors for Saralee's usually include "pretty. This year it is more striking and beautiful than pretty!
2021 Valdiguie Teldeschi Vineyard Dry Creek
Garnet red in color. It is just a glass full of deliciousness with aromas of Persian mulberry and juicy fruit. It drinks a lot like a cru Beaujolais but to compare them would do a disservice to both. It is sad that it has become a n almost forgotten grape. It was once widely planted when it was known erroneously as gamay or Napa Gamay but lost out of the more popular grapes such as cabernet sauvignon, especially in the north coast.
2018 Zinfandel Banfield Ranch
This vineyard is an oddity for old vine zin in that it is almost 100% zinfandel from the 1880's There are only 2 or maybe 3 other vines in the block.
Crimson red, almost like a dark rose. Wild blackberry w/hints of huckleberry. It is definitely a cool climate zinfandel in that even with elevated alcohol it shows no signs of raisining or over-ripeness. The tannins have a gentle grip, which, along with the nicely balancing acidity should allow it to age with grace for many years.
All of these new releases are available to acquire through our website at SwanWinery.com
We don't have any major events in the works but starting this month we plan to open at least one library wine as a bonus wine each weekend. We have been tasting random wines from the library and while we have found many hidden treasures some of the most impressive have been older white wines including a number of the pinot gris we used to make from Saralee's Vineyard and later Trenton Station. The Ritchie sauvignon blanc was perhaps the most stunning of the white wines we opened but there were plenty of others. The red wines have also shown beautifully. We probably won't decide what to open until each weekend but if there is something that you are particularly interested in, let us know if you will be by and what you would like to see and we will take it under consideration.
With the recent COVID restrictions, in order to be open, we had to move tasting outdoors and implement a reservation system. We are still doing outdoor tasting, if weather allows, and still have the reservation system in place but are now opening back up to drop-ins without reservations. However, due to staffing limitations, if we are very busy, preference will be given to those with scheduled reservations. You can book a reservation through our website at Swanwinery.com.
Looking Back, and Ahead!
Since Lynn retired a few years ago, the question of when I am going to retire has often come up. More recently the question of succession has also been coming up as we do not have any children to carry the winery forward. We have also been approached several times by very interested buyers. My answer to all of them has been why retire when I am living the dream! Hard work, struggles sometimes, especially when Mother Nature throws a fit in the form of fires, floods and killer frosts, but at the end of the day, each and every vintage is like the next chapter in a never-ending novel and I can't wait to turn the page to see what comes next. Granted, selling would give us the opportunity to explore other interests and we might be able to find someone that will allow me to hang around, but the biggest worry is that somehow the legacy would not be carried on. When I came to help Joe Swan finish the 1987 harvest I had no idea that he would fall ill that winter and I would end up having to take over the winemaking with the 1988 vintage, and that Lynn and I would be taking over the winery upon his death in January 1989. The first few years were incredibly difficult. The winery was never really meant to be much more than a very small boutique operation that covered its expenses but not much more. We needed to increase production to a point that it might be able to support us. We had no employees other than a part time vineyard crew. We had no money other than what was generated by wine sales and sales had dropped off. Joe sold almost all of his wine to a loyal mailing list but with his death we lost about half of our customers. That was understandable as Joe was the winery, and, to many people, his passing meant the end of the line. Those that stuck with us included many of the most senior on Joe's list. Joe had been selling some wine wholesale through Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant. It was the only non-European wine that Kermit sold and we expanded that to keep things going. While we had a functioning building (we still use the tin shed!), the equipment was old and undersized. The only fermenters were one old stainless steel dairy tank and some open top redwood fermenters There was a press that barely held a half ton of grapes, a large number of wooden picking boxes that needed constant repair (some had more nails than wood), a tiny pump, an odd rotary bottle filler, a one-bottle-at-a-time corker, a single bottle foil spinner, a one-label-at-a-time label gluer and some other useful, but undersized things suitable, just barely, for Joe's 1200 case production. If we were going to make it work we had to increase production and upgrade everything. One of the first things we needed was a forklift! Moving large heavy objects by hand was getting a to be more that a bit tiring. We continued to use the wooden lug boxes for some time, but, gradually, the newer ones that were not build for the ages like the old apple and grape boxes Joe had inherited when he bought the ranch, were no longer repairable, and we converted to 35 pound capacity yellow lugs with air circulation holes. They were commonly known as FYB's, which, to me, meant Fantastic Yellow Boxes. To most everyone else it stood for something else. We would transport them to and from our various vineyards with our '46 Chevy flatbed truck and dump them, one by one, dump them into the stemmer crusher.
When it came time to bottle, I would rack the wine into our one existing tank, a 630 gallon bottling tank that we still use today. It stood on a homemade wooden platform just outside of the winery door that would allow us to gravity feed the filler. It took three of us to fill and cork We would rinse and gas the bottles, put them on the circular, rotating filler, take the bottles off and adjust the fill level using the Joe method, which was to visually check the level, and, if was too full, give it a shake to lower it to the proper level! The bottle would then be put on the corker and a foot peddle pressed to cork the bottle. The cases were stacked and then loaded into our van using the one hand-truck that we had and taken to the barn on the other end of the property, for storage. I often forgot the hand truck and had to go back for it. The next step was labeling. Each case had to be dumped out. We put foils on the bottles and one at a time spun them down with our little spinner. We then put a label, one at a time, through our Potdevin label gluer and carefully positioned the label on the bottle. Repeat operation. Usually about 600 times in a day. The cases were then restacked until release. In between all of this was the usual monitoring, topping, and racking the barrels. When not at the winery I was usually on the tractor, either here or at one of the other vineyards we managed at the time. Lynn would collect the checks, go to the bank and then promptly send the money back out to pay the bills. Three times a year I would write a newsletter. I almost always had something that I thought was interesting to convey, so it was more about telling stories, philosophizing or explaining grape growing and winemaking techniques, and less about actually selling the wines! For many years neither Lynn nor I paid us much beyond enough to put food on the table, but my desire to preserve what Joe had started was enough recompense.
Through all of the tough years there was always one constant and that was the steady stream of customers and friends, old and new, that would show up from time to time to lend a hand. Without that, I doubt we would have been able to continue. As it was, I worked at least part of the day for all but two days a year, Christmas and my birthday. Lynn worked crazy hours helping out until she came to the conclusion that she was better suited to doing graphics such as designing the newsletters and label upgrades as well as taking re of some of the paperwork and paying the bills, which allowed me to devote most of my time to the vineyard and winery.
Slowly, over time, as funds would allow, we began to replace the aging and outdated equipment and increased our production. We replaced the old redwood tanks with open top stainless-steel fermenters, first one 4 ton capacity and then more. They were much easier to keep clean and sanitary and didn't require the once a year wax painting that Joe had done to keep the interiors sanitary. They could even be stored outside which created room in the winery for more barrels. The mini press was replaced with a larger (though still relatively small) modern press, The stemmer crusher with a destemmer without crusher rollers so we could treat the grapes more gently. The little juice/wine pump with a larger more gently pump I nicknamed the Volkswagen as it was about as heavy and cost almost as much, but again allowed for much gentler handling. We also purchased a bottling line that allowed us to fill with precision, cork, foil and label all in one pass, but still with only three people! Other things were replaced and upgraded as well and, at the insistence of one of our growers, Saralee Kunde, we replaced the FYB's with half ton picking bins. She even offered to buy us a bin turner to feed the de-stemmer if we would do it. Her motivation was a mishap in her vineyard when the tractor driver made a sudden turn a little fast and sent a trailer load of our FYB's full of pinot noir onto the ground. After picking up all of the grapes she joked that we would have a lot of terroir in her pinot noir that year. I was a little sad about giving up the FYB's at first but my back sure thanked me!
The winery wasn't the only thing that needed major upgrading. The vineyard was in need of some major changes. Joe had planted it over several years beginning in1969. The blocks had differing spacing and those vines closest to the winery, largely chardonnay, were struggling due to lack of water. The soil in these blocks was extremely shallow, sometimes only 12" to sandstone, and the vines would usually begin to lose their leaves before the grapes were ripe. We installed drip irrigation for about ? of the vineyard but even that would not bring the those vines back to full health. We made the decision to replant those two blocks, replacing them with pinot noir and a small amount of syrah in 1996. We changed the row orientation and tripled the vine density. We then began converting the old vines from the tall head trained method that Joe had developed to a modern VSP system that gave us much more consistency.
Along the way, our neighbor, Tom Dehlinger convinced us that we needed to be open for visitors, at least on a limited basis. I told him we had no place, no time and no employees. He then asked me how many times I had been out on the tractor and had to get off and walk to the winery as someone had driven in. It was usually a customer that was coming to pick up their wine. His argument was that if we were open a couple of days a week we could lessen the disruptions the rest of the week. Of course he was right. He then said that he had a small tasting bar that they no longer used (he had a larger one made) and that it would be mine for a few bottles of wine. We set itup in a corner of the winery and opened on Saturdays and Sundays. Best decision we ever made! Most of the folks coming by were old customers but we also saw new people, many of which are still with us today. Lynn helped out a lot but she soon tired of listening to me say the same things over and over! Winetalk was never really her thing sosoonit was just me. On cold rainy winter days we would often only have one or two visitors but we never had a day with none! but we never had a day with none!
The biggest change of all occurred when we hired our first employee. It allowed us the opportunity to take an occasional day off and for me to concentrate on the tasks that I thought most important. Over time we had many employees. Most had little or no prior winery experience but by the time they moved on they had loads!
Today we still have a small staff but the winery is in much better shape due to all of their efforts as well as the upgrading of our facilities and much better equipment. It is a far cry from Joe's days but we will never be showcase winery with row upon row of stainless steel tanks, optical sorting tables and state of the art heating and cooling systems. We still make wine in "the tin shed" but have been able become much more efficient over time. We maxed our growth out at about 5000 cases as that is what our facility will allow and have no desire to go beyond that.
What the future brings is anyone's guess but the one certainty is that as long as my blood runs warm and my passion runs deep, you will probably find me here.
-Rod Berglund, aka The Rodfather