2016 Joseph Swan Pinot Noir, Great Oak Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County


Current stock: 33


We love Old School Pinot Noir and I doubt it will ever get any better than this nine-year-old classic! Joseph Swan is one producer whose bloodlines in Pinot Noir run as deep as it goes in California and whose pioneering work with the variety created perhaps its most valued clone and whose legacy helped create the success the Pinot grape now enjoys. Swan purchased his land on Trenton Road in the Russian River Valley in 1967 on the advice of his close friend and mentor Andre Tchelistcheff. Swan’s Pinots quickly became the benchmarks against which all others in the area measured their success- people like Joe Rochioli, Gary Farrell, Davis Bynum and the Martinelli family all looked on Swan as a friend and mentor and used cuttings from his vineyards to start their own. Swan’s successor (and son-in-law) Rod Berglund has carried on Swan’s becoming a great winemaker, he says, simply imitating Joe. Not much has changed in the Swan cellars over the past thirty plus years. Rod makes several delicious terroir-specific wines, all Russian River aristocracy. How about the Great Oak Vineyard? Located in the hills above the Russian River north of Forestville, this old vineyard is planted to several different Pinot clones. There are a total of five small blocks of Pinot scattered across the 46 acres of this very steep and hilly property. The very poor rocky soils and small production clones result in crop levels that are among the lowest for Pinot Noir anywhere in California. Rod harvests each plot separately when he thinks they are ready and ferments a good portion of the wine as whole clusters, giving them a good long soak before barreling down the wine for eleven months in older barrels. The end result is beautiful wine redolent of black cherries, lavender and now, after extended aging, plum and brown sugar. We loveitsbold, briary flavors and very impressive depth. It’s a brilliant snapshot into a Russian River Pinot Noir from an earlier era; back when the wine’s cinnamon-infused cherry perfume came solely from the fruit and the texture enticed more for its elegance while at the same time offering plenty of weight, presence and a Gevrey-Chambertin-like minerality. In short, it’s a gorgeous bottle of Pinot that will require no further aging to be a fabulous partner tonight with those herby lamb chops or that peppery steak you have planned. It’s a heckuva bargain!