About this series: After years of loving (and semi-seriously studying) wine, I finally took my first trip to Napa and Sonoma this summer. It was a wonderful week of sunny days, cool nights, beautiful views, and beautiful wines. These are the impressions, discoveries, favorites, and surprises from my journey.

Part 1: Chateau Montelena, CADE, Pride
Part 2: Frog’s Leap, Heitz, Mumm Napa
Part 3: Y. Rousseau, Antica, Failla
Part 4: Stony Hill, Domaine Chandon
Part 5: Fort Ross, Gary Farrell

Day 7, Part 2 – Friday, Aug 5

We had no more appointments after Gary Farrell, but it was our last day in Wine Country, so …

Joseph Swan: No Fountains or Gardens, Just Great Wine

I looked on the map and noticed Joseph Swan was just down the road. I’ve enjoyed their pinots in the past, so I gave them a call to see if we could come by.

“Sure!” said the nice male voice on the other end of the line. “We don’t have the views they have up there at Gary Farrell, but we’ll be here!”

Indeed, far from a grand tasting room built with tourists in mind, this place is all business – a working winery where hard work gets done and great wine gets made.

Joseph Swan winemaker
Joseph Swan winemaker Rod Berglund supervises production of 2015 cuvee pinot noir

I had to search for the entrance, tiptoeing past hoses and presses and other pieces of winemaking machinery. When I figured out which door to go in, I found myself in the middle of production for the 2015 Joseph Swan cuvee pinot. I’m not kidding. Winemaker-owner Rod Berglund, along with a couple of his staff, was making wine before my very eyes.

Off to the side stood a small tasting bar and a cash register. The fact that they seemed almost like afterthoughts didn’t make the welcome any less warm, though. Once again, I got a private tasting … of eight top-notch wines.

What great variety too! In addition to one chardonnay and three pinots, I tasted two zinfandels, a syrah, and a lovely grenache blanc.

The chardonnay was refreshing in that it sees only neutral oak and even has a few floral notes.

Joseph Swan Bottles
Joseph Swan tasting bar lineup

The pinots ranged from the slightly smokey 2012 Trenton View Vineyard, which spends three weeks on the skins, to the much juicier 2011 Great Oak Vineyard with notes of dark berries and sour cherries, to the 2012 Trenton Estate Vineyard, made from the oldest pinot vines in the Russian River Valley.

The Trenton Estate spends 18 months in oak, 50% of it new, but it’s not overdone. My tasting notes read simply, “Yum. Classic California pinot … but in a good way.” Many of you will know what I mean.

The two zinfandels were both 2012s but showed very differently. I preferred the Zeigler Vineyard made from 90+-year-old vines. The wine sees mostly neutral oak, so the fruit isn’t overpowered by baking spices, as is the case with so many zins. The black pepper really shines through in this light, elegant wine.

Chatting with Berglund and the staff as I was buying a bottle of the Zeigler, someone referred again to the humble surroundings. “No gardens or fountains here,” he said.

I pointed out that there were plenty of things growing just outside the door. They might not be manicured gardens, but in my view, the rows of grape-laden vines were even more beautiful.

“Oh yeah,” someone else said, “I guess we do have gardens.”

Iron Horse: A Farewell Toast to CA Wine Country

We left Joseph Swan with just enough time to swing by Iron Horse Vineyards for a few sips of classic Sonoma bubbles.

Iron Horse
Toasting a great trip with Iron Horse Ocean Reserve

The sun-drenched outdoor tasting bar was crowded, but I still got a warm welcome from the friendly folks pouring  festive libations.

We tasted five sparkling wines, including the famous Russian Cuvee. This is the wine that Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev used to toast the end of the Cold War, or so the story goes.

My favorites of the flight were the beautiful 2008 Brut Rose, made of 70% pinot noir with a bright pink hue and refreshing strawberry notes, and the 2012 Ocean Reserve blanc de blanc – $4 from the sale of every bottle goes to the National Geographic’s Ocean Initiative.

It was a great place to toast a brilliant first trip to California Wine Country.

Cheers for now … but this Florida oenophile will surely be back!

Taking notes for MyWineBlog. It’s a hard job, but someone has to do it!

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