Joseph Swan Vineyards is legendary in the history of California Pinot Noir. The Russian River Estate is admired as one of the first successful California producers of Burgundian style Pinot Noir. Vineyards existed on the estate in the 19th century, but in 1967 a retired commercial airline pilot named Joseph Swan bought the property – then 13 acres and a few old buildings – and started making wine. Though Swan grew up in North Dakota where his family disdained alcohol, his flying career offered him unlimited opportunities to taste wine, and he became increasingly interested in winemaking and viticulture. For a few years Swan made Zinfandel from the old vines on his small estate. But winemaking master André Tchelistcheff, a friend and highly influential winemaker, convinced Swan to plant cool climate varietals of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and within a few years Swan was producing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Swan was firmly committed to small scale winemaking and old-world wine traditions, and the estate remained a limited production operation where Swan could be involved in every aspect of production. Swan died in 1989 but his daughter Lynn Berglund and son-in-law Rod Berglund own and operate Joseph Swan Vineyards. Rod is also the winemaker. The estate continues to focus on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, though it also produces small amounts of Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and other wines.
Russian River Valley AVA is named for the river that meanders from Mendocino County in the north until it finally runs into the Pacific Ocean north of San Francisco. The AVA is cool thanks to its proximity to the northern California coast and the river, and grape growers must learn to deal with regular fog. Nevertheless in recent decades the AVA has become one of the best in the state, meaning that its wines often earn excellent reviews and have considerable cachet. The AVA status was awarded in 1983 and today the appellation has 15,000 vineyard acres. Chardonnay is the most widely planted grape though Pinot Noir has also been very successful in recent decades. Russian River Valley Pinot Noir are known for being rich, lush and filled with concentrated fruit and berry flavors. Russian River Pinot Noirs are today considered some of the best domestic Pinot Noirs.
Zinfandel is a black-skinned grape, but 85% of the wine produced is made into a rosy “White Zinfandel.” Red Zin is far more complex and bold, while still being light-bodied. It grows in popularity as winemakers continue to experiment with new styles and blends.