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Joseph Swan Vineyards Trenton Estate Pinot Noir Mini-Vertical

The legacy of winemaker Joseph (Joe) Swan has been well chronicled in the pages of the PinotFile (Volume 5, Issues 25 and 28, Volume 6, Issue 17). At the age of 45, in 1967, while employed as a pilot for Western Airlines, Swan bought a dilapidated 13-acre Zinfandel vineyard, barn and house on Laguna Road in the Russian River Valley near Forestville. The house had once been a general store and post office for the tiny town of Trenton that is no longer in existence. Today, this area of the Russian River Valley is referred to as the Santa Rosa Plains, an unofficial subdivision of the Russian River Valley AVA between the Laguna Ridges area to the West and the city of Santa Rosa to the East. The Santa Rosa Plains is only a few miles south of Westside Road and the Middle Reach subdivision of the Russian River Valley, but the climate here is distinctly cooler, foggier and wetter.

Swan searched Northern California for years before determining that the property he settled on was appropriate for fine wine grape growing. He retired from the airlines in 1968 and made Zinfandel from his property that year. The following year he began a replanting of the vineyard on the property, replacing the Zinfandel with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. It was Joe's friend, Andre Tchelistcheff, who advised him to plant Burgundy varieties on this cool site. This coincided with Joe Rochioli’s plantings of the famous East Block of Pinot Noir at Rochioli Vineyard and only five years after Charles Bacigalupi planted Pinot Noir on Westside Road near Rochioli Vineyard at the former Goddard Ranch. According to John Haeger (Pacific Pinot Noir 2008, p. 213), and confirmed by Rod Berglund, the budwood for the Pinot Noir plantings at Swan’s vineyard most probably came from Mount Eden (via France, Paul Masson, and then Martin Ray) through the Experimental Station in Oakville. Some nursery selections were also planted but later abandoned. Swan marked the most redeeming vines in his vineyard and grafted the nursery selections over from wood he deemed the best. The resulting vine mix was later named the "Swan clone" by Francis Mahoney, the founder of Carneros Creek Winery. An additional block of Pinot Noir was planted just south of the original planting in 1974.

Swan produced some very good and age worthy Pinot Noir from his plantings. The low-vigor soil at the site, Goldridge in type, has proven to be ideally suited for Pinot Noir and Swan’s vines prospered. The first vintage of Joseph Swan Pinot Noir was 1973, crafted with consultation from the legendary André Tchelistcheff who was a friend of Swan’s. Swan’s early Pinot Noirs, along with those of Davis Bynum, Dehlinger (who made his first vintage at Swan’s in 1975), and Rochioli, established the credibility of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Cuttings from Swan’s vines were eagerly sought after and became widely distributed to other vineyards as the Swan clone or Swan selection.

Swan was a Burgundian at heart and traveled to France every year seeking to improve his winemaking skills. His companion was frequently wine importer Kermit Lynch who was fluent in French and translated for him. Swan experimented with whole cluster fermentation, manual punch downs, and the use of new French oak barrels, techniques that were unusual for California winemakers in the early 1970s. Anything he saw or heard about in Burgundy, he would try at home. Swan passed away from cancer in 1989, but his legacy will include the popularization of the traditional, Burgundian winemaking methods in California that often eschewed the teachings of UC Davis (Swan was no fan of the teachings of Davis’s Viticulture and Enology Department), his search for better clonal material, and his openness to new ideas. He was married four times, had at least seven kids, and died without leaving a will.

Over the years, Swan periodically added new vines to his estate vineyard, including Dijon clones which he obtained from a French vigneron before the clones became available in the United States. After Swan’s passing, his son-in-law, Rod Berglund took over. Rod married Swan’s daughter, Lynn (her mother, June, was Swan’s fourth spouse), in 1986, and helped Swan with his last harvest in 1987. He has overseen the replanting of the estate vineyard, now named Trenton Estate Vineyard. In 1996, a 3.5-acre block planted to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon, was removed and replaced with budwood from other estate Pinot Noir vines, plus Dijon clones 113, 114, 115, 667 and 777. Today, there are twelve different clones in the 13-acre Joseph Swan Trenton Estate Vineyard (8 acres of Pinot Noir), including DRC suitcase clones given to Joe as a gift by an unnamed individual many years ago. In addition, Berglund has modernized the trellis system, changing from Swan's version of head training to a bi-lateral vertical curtain system. This resulted in a reduction and softening of the tannins in the resulting wines. Farming is organic.

The Joseph Swan Trenton Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir is the winery’s flagship bottling and has been produced annually since 1973 (but not designated as “Trenton Estate” on the label before the 1997 vintage). This wine was sourced entirely from the original 1969 and 1974 plantings until 2002, when some of the young vine fruit was included. Every vintage has come from the some piece of ground.

The Trenton Estate Vineyard Pinot Noirs typically are rich, tannic and rustic initially, not unlike many Burgundy wines. After several years, they become much more approachable, turning earthy, savory, and nuanced, still with significant structure, and never only about fruit. The wines will easily age more than ten years, as shown by this vertical tasting. A number of tasters have noted some volatile acidity in the aromatics of some wines contributing to their “character,” and I found this in the 2003 vintage.

In 2011, a vertical tasting of all 23 released vintages of Joseph Swan Trenton Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir (1973-2009) was organized in Northern California by Steve and Lisa Rigisich and attended by Rod Berglund: www.wineberserkers.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=44845&p=604290. In 2006, I attended a tasting of eight Joseph Swan Pinot Noirs from the 1970s and 1980s (PinotFile, Volume 5, Issue 43). The wines displayed remarkable retention of fruit flavors with pleasing secondary characters and bouquet. All wines were drinkable with varying degrees of pleasure. The Trenton Estate Vineyard wines have a common thread, according to Berglund, in that they have a readily definable character unique to the site (so-called "Trenton spice"), and the site produces wines that are not only age worthy, but actually benefit from aging.

Berglund’s winemaking regimen and evolution over the years is described in the Joseph Swan Vineyards Newsletter at www.swanwinery.com (Part Two, red wines, June 2011 Newsletter). The wines in the vertical tasting described here included 20%-25% whole cluster, were fermented with indigenous yeast to over 21 days, and aged at least 15 months in at least 66% new French oak barrels. The wines were not racked until blending for bottling.

The Joseph Swan Vineyards Newsletter has been published three times each year since 2010. A Chardonnay and Syrah are also produced from Trenton Estate Vineyard. The tasting room is at 2916 Laguna Road with the entrance on Trenton Road and is open Saturdays and Sundays from 11:00 to 4:30 (other days by appointment). Rod and Lynn are usually behind the counter at the tasting bar.

The Joseph Swan Vineyards label is one of the most timeless and iconic in the wine industry.

Note: Shortly after this article was published, Rod Berglund published an extensive, detailed history of Joseph Swan, his wines, and in particular Trenton Estate Vineyard wines. It is in the winery's February 2013 newsletter at www.swanwinery.com/0213_newsletter.php.

2001 Joseph Swan Vineyards Trenton Estate Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.1% alc.. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of black cherry, spice, forest floor and old book. Impressive retention of fruit intensity offering tasty notes of dark cherries, dark raspberries, cola, seasoned oak and a hint of white pepper. Soft in the mouth with some length on the slightly astringent finish. Fine the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Drink or hold. Very good.

2002 Joseph Swan Vineyards Trenton Estate Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., 383 cases. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Lovely bouquet of red cherries, beef, musk, old book and oak. Soft in the mouth with supple tannins, offering flavors of red cherries and berries with an earthy undertone. An elegant and relatively delicate wine showing its age. Fine the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, although the finish brings a little heat. Drink or hold short term. Very good.

2003 Joseph Swan Vineyards Trenton Estate Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc.. · Moderate dark reddish-purple hue in the glass. Throwing sediment. Aromas of seasoned oak, leather, wilted flowers, and nail polish remover (volatile acidity). Rich and saucy flavors of sweet red cherries and berries with a hint of spice. Clean and fresh with impressive intensity on the long finish. Tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the volatile acidity had largely subsided. Hold or drink. Very good.

2004 Joseph Swan Vineyards Trenton Estate Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., 327 cases. · Dark black-red color in the glass. Still vigorous with flavor and character, offering a ripe palate of black cherry fruit accented with spice, cola and earth. Well-balanced tannins with a velvety texture and a smooth, fulfilling finish. Tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the wine was still vibrant. Many years ahead. Hold or drink. Very good.

2005 Joseph Swan Vineyards Trenton Estate Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., 235 cases. · Dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of black cherries, dried roses, and carnations (slight volatile acidity). Plush and saucy black cherry and blackberry fruits with an earthy undertone. Well-structured, with bright acidity, a soft mouth feel, and a refreshing finish. Tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the wine was still churning out fruit-laden aromas and flavors. Hold or drink. Very good.

2006 Joseph Swan Vineyards Trenton Estate Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 268 cases. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Rather shy bouquet, offering scents of blacker fruits, marzipan, old shoe and brewed tea. On the ripe side with an array of flavors including black cherries, prune, cola, forest floor and spice. Showing some fruit age, yet retaining young tannins. Good acid spine and some length on the fruit-driven finish. Tasted the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the wine’s sappy fruit veered to the overripe side with a note of sassafras. Hold or drink. Good (+).

2007 Joseph Swan Vineyards Trenton Estate Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., 434 cases, $47. Large crop, yet yields still less than 2.5 tons per acre. · Dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Vibrant aromas of black cherries, spice and marzipan. Rich, fleshy and lush, with flavors of fresh, juicy black cherries and cola with an earthy undercurrent. Strikingly intense, yet has the structure and acidity to match. Tasted the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the tannins had softened, the nose offered intense dark chocolate notes, and the wine was simply great. Hold or decant if drink now. Very good (+).

2008 Joseph Swan Vineyards Trenton Estate Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 137 cases, $48. A challenging vintage. A spring frost led to a loss of one-third of the crop. Aged in nearly 75% new French oak. · Moderately dark reddish-purple hue in the glass. Fresh aromas of dark cherries, prune, allspice, sandalwood and forest floor. The cherry core is buried in aggressive tannins with oak evident on the very dry, astringent finish. Relatively dilute compared to other vintages. A little better the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. My least favorite of this vertical, but still a solid wine. Hold or drink. Good.

2009 Joseph Swan Vineyards Trenton Estate Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., 287 cases, $55. 40th anniversary of Joseph Swan Vineyards and the 30th anniversary of Rod Berglund’s first year of making wine. Aged in 66% new French oak. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. The most expressive nose in the lineup showing vibrant aromas of black cherries, dark plums, mushroom, cardamom spice and a hint of vanilla. Delicious earth-kissed core of dark cherries, raspberries and plums. Rich and full-bodied, with balanced tannins and acidity making the wine quite approachable now. Great the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Could drink now because the tannins are not aggressive, but best to hold for at least another five years. Tasted a couple of months ago, but I held the review for this feature. A 2013 All-American for sure.

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