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Joseph Swan Vineyards


Joseph Swan was drawn into the world of winemaking from early on in his life. Legend has it that he was a keen reader and in his early teens he decided to experiment, after finding a recipe, with some rhubarb from his mother's garden. Joe had a career as an artist and as a pilot before he took early retirement and set up his winery, his life-long dream, in The Russian River Valley, Sonoma. In 1967 Joe purchased a small parcel of land outside the town of Forestville which contained 13 acres of old vine Zinfandel, fruit trees and pasture. The next year he produced his first old vine Zinfandel and shortly after began planting Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Sadly, Joe passed away in 1989 and now his daughter Lynn, her husband Rod Bergland and their family run the winery keeping Joe's visions alive.

Joe always believed less is more. He preferred low density vineyards and worked hard to reduce yields - often pruning to the extreme. In the early days he spent time in Burgundy visiting small-scale winemakers and farmers to learn their approach. Joe preferred their slightly restrained Pinot Noir style in comparison to the big fruit bombs of California. After experimenting with one vintage of Chardonnay by fermenting it in retired Bourbon Whisky barrels (yes, totally wild!) Joe decided to invest in French Oak barrels. He also invented his own pruning and training system but according to Rod it only really made sense in his mind and today the vines are cordon trained with spur pruning and VSP. Rod now uses a mixture of fermentation vessels but is still true to Joe's love of French Oak, usually avoiding new barrels. Fermentation techniques vary depending on the grape variety, harvest and desired wine style. In a recent interview (2018) Rod discusses his time spent as a young winemaker experimenting with various fermentations, something he now deems as invaluable, reflecting back on it as being one of the most important and formative periods of his career - being able to have a spectrum and choose where to place a wine upon it.

The Joseph Swan estate comprises of approximately 24 acres of vines split between three vineyards. These are mostly planted with Pinot, with a small percentage of Syrah and Chardonnay. The family no longer own Zinfandel vines but instead buy from the Bastoni family. The wines they produce from these relatively young vines are just captivatingly fine. Joseph Swan produced their first old vine Zinfandel in 1968. It is widely agreed that Joe Swan and Ridge Vineyards were the pioneers of California's fame for its Zinfandel. Despite this, Joe pulled up his old vine Zinfandel and planted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay - the cool climate vineyards being much better suited to these grapes. Today Joseph Swan Pinot Noir is some of the most elegant, quality driven and yet still affordable Pinot in California!

"Joe was generous but no fool He loved wine and food and had a very systematic approach to everything" Rod Bergland, 2018. An unbelievably cultured, intelligent and personable man. Joseph Swan Winery have been pioneers of the Californian wine history, remain influential in the present industry and I am sure have an essential place in its future. Their wines may be multi-award winning, but it is the culture, the stories, the memories, that sense of family and pride that are so beautifully expressed in their wines that keeps us coming back for more!