Swanson Vineyards is a small winery that is family run and operated. There are absolutely no signs for this winery even when you are in front the the winery itself, so be sure to get directions. They have one of the most intimate and personal sit down tastings you will find in Napa Valley. Many Napa wineries have a wine bar which of course separates you from the pourers – the more personal ones have a rectangular table that you sit at, but Swanson has a circular table which lends itself greatly to conversation and getting to know the others in your group. Their luxury tasting room is one of the more elegantly decorated rooms in the Napa area. Inspired by culinary salons in 18th-century Paris; this is old world elegance at its “new world” best. The “keeper of the salon” is called a Salonnier and Swanson’s very articulate Salonnier is first class.
Swanson was founded in 1985 by Clark Swanson and today they own 140 acres in the heart of Oakville, one of Napa’s prime Cabernet Sauvignon growing regions. Their vineyards are located next to several famous Napa producers including Opus One and Dominus. Course its hard to find any sub par vineyards and wineries in Oakville! Swanson farms as sustainably as possible returning any cuttings back into the soil, planting cover crops for additional nutrient load, and never using herbicides on weeds, rather removing them the old fashioned way, with shovels.
Choose from two tastings: the Harvey Tasting which provides an in depth look at their rarer wines with additional delectable delights included and their Jean Lafitte Tasting which explores their more well known wines. With both tasting, you will be treated to paired wines and excellent hand picked cheeses. Their Merlot is probably the wine they are most known for and comprises the bulk of their production. They are Napa’s largest producer of estate grown Merlot – the 2004 is a delightful wine, one that fills the palate with concentrated ripe fruit flavors; it has a smooth mouth feel and is well balanced showing sweet delicate tannins on the finish.
In regards to their Merlot, Swanson acquires new wood staves for the oak barrels and they age them outdoors in the elements on one of their local vineyard sites. When they have been aged properly they will take the staves to a cooperage to make the actual barrels. This is different from many wineries who purchase entire wine barrels. Its just one more attention to detail and part of the extra quality control that this winery takes. Their Alexis – named after the owner’s daughter is a popular well rounded elegant Cabernet Sauvignon. Also try the Pinot Grigio. If you enjoy lighter styled wines, their Rosato of Syrah is a dry wine that is one of the better ones we’ve tried of this varietal. This is the go to every day wine for pool and patio parties or pre dinner sipping.
Do you enjoy high quality ultra-premium sweet wines? Most Napa wineries who make a sweet wine just make one or two. It is always a treat to find a winery that has a special emphasis on sweet wines. Swanson has employed Marco Cappelli for over 20 years. He is now their dedicated dessert wine maker. For the first few years, the famed vintner and soils expert Andre Tchelistcheff provided additional winemaking expertise. As of press time they make 5 different dessert wines and all are made in very low quantities including the delicious Minuit Black Muscat. Out of the nearly 800 Napa winery reviews, this is only the second time we’ve seen this grape being used in Napa.
The Angelica is clearly the “crowd” favorite of their dessert wines we have tried over the years. This is one of Napa’s top dessert wines made from non or slightly fermented Mission grapes with the addition of brandy. Certainly the first churches to enjoy this grape as altar wine or miners in the gold mining camps never enjoyed such a rich wine as this from the Mission grapes. The grapes for this wine are sourced from a historic vineyard in Amador County first planted in 1856.
The latest release (at the time of this update) is a non vintage which spent 10 years aging in neutral oak and was bottled in December 2014. The sexy packaging (black box, elegant bottle, extra glass topped wine cork) matches the opulence of the product. Aromatically the wine is rich with notes of toffee, caramel, and black fig. This wine is perfect for those dessert lovers who crave complexity of flavor mirrored with sugar.
Some of their dessert wines are made from grapes that have Botrytis rot, which if you see these grapes when they are covered with ugly grey spores you might think twice about drinking the wine. Botrysized grapes are initially quite unappealing as they are covered in grey mold but in the end, they produce wines rich in aroma, flavor and color. This type of rot only occurs during some years when the conditions are right. Some wineries will artificially spread these spores, not Swanson. If this rot does not naturally occur in the vineyard, Swanson will not make this wine. The trick with these type of wines is to always ensure balance, avoid producing cloyingly sweet wines, and be sure they have the structure to age gracefully. Swanson does an excellent job with these considering their attention to detail in their vineyards and winemaking expertise.
If you think the Swanson name is familiar it is because their original business in the 1950’s was the Swanson frozen fast food dinners. Visit: www.swansonvineyards.com
NOTE: In 2015 Swanson Vineyards was sold to Vintage Wine Estate – a group that maintains a wine portfolio of various wineries in Napa, Sonoma and beyond.