Swanson Vineyards. Serious whimsy. I visited three months ago when Sip Shoppe was just a promise, I just returned to experience the reality.
Swanson Vineyards hosts tastings in Rutherford, while they grow their grapes in Oakville. Swanson has always been different. Instead of following other Napa wineries by courting busloads of tourists to belly up to a tasting bar to drink glass after glass of wine, hoping to be the lucky winery to sell the drunken taster cases of the latest release; Swanson Vineyards keeps it cool and classy, intimate and special, serious but whimsical.
Swanson Vineyards hosts up to eight people at a time in Salon tastings lasting about an hour three times daily Wednesday through Monday. $60 per person buys a seat at a wonderful tasting of six wines, paired with caviar on a potato chip, artisanal cheeses, and other treats. The wines and food treats are served with just enough info for comfort. While structured seated tastings, by appointment, may sound formal, even stuffy, the folks at Swanson are able to deliver a fun and pleasurable experience, and the $60 tasting fee ends up seeming a great value.
As a supplement to the more formal seated Salon tastings, Swanson Vineyards built a less formal tasting room called Sip Shoppe, open from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, by appointment – which can be made at the front gate on a phone provided or by cell phone by calling 707 937-3500.
Tastings run from $15 – $25, and can be enjoyed in the carnival decorated Sip Shoppe or at any of a number of lovely seating areas created in the gardens crafted and maintained by owner Elizabeth Swanson.
Months ago, I thought that Sip Shoppe would provide a quick in and out tasting alternative to the seated Salon tasting. The reality was different during my visit. I brought Anne, a friend, and together we tasted our way through a number of wines, sharing different tasting selections, enjoying them with food treats. The day was beautiful, warm, colorful, fragrant, perfect. We were not in a hurry, and our hosts at Swanson Vineyards did not rush us. We spent over two hours on our Sip Shoppe tasting in the garden, and we were not alone savoring everything Swanson Vineyards offered.
Peter Godoff and Mindi Burnett were our hosts and are great representatives of Swanson Vineyards. Both are possessed of souls of the romantic; they are perfect extensions of the high quality, easily accessed, that make up everything about Swanson Vineyards.
Most of the wines I tasted have been previously and more fully described; but for the record, I tasted and loved:
2008 Swanson Vineyards Pinot Grigio Napa Valley $21 – Love at first sip. Smooth, grassy, wet stone mineral. Pear and nectarine.
2008 Swanson Vineyards Chardonnay Oakville $42 – Just 10 cases. Light Chablis style. Expressive. Lemon, apple. Crisp acidity.
2006 Swanson Vineyards Merlot Oakville $36 – Oak, cocoa dust, plum, berry, cassis. Smooth. Bought a bottle to go. I dearly love Swanson Vineyards’ Merlot.
2006 Swanson Vineyards Alexis Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville $75 – Larger tannin load than the Merlot. Blackberry and Leather.
2006 Swanson Vineyards Arsene (a fortified Port-like Petite Sirah) $75 – really delicious. Great balance. extreme sweetness without going over the raison-y edge.
2006 Swanson Vineyards Crepuscule Late Harvest Semillon $90/375 ml – Crepuscule is French for twilight. Unbelievable sweetness. Richly, lushly, ripe. OMG when paired with Danish Blue Castello cheese.
2007 Swanson Vineyards Sangiovese Oakville $75 – Oak and cherry. Bright lively acidity, balanced by fruit.
Clarke’s Bark (named for owner Clarke swanson – a chocolate bar with toffee, salt, and love), a fat and salty gorgeous triple cream Castello blue cheese, and warm pistachios are among the featured edible pairing treats offered with Sip Shoppe tastings.
In addition to the expected wine offerings, Clarke’s Bark candy bars, Alexis Bonbons, and Swanson wild American caviar can be purchased. Swanson Vineyards is also releasing event specific bottles of wine: Just Married, Merci, Mazeltov, and Really Expensive Christmas Wine are among the special ‘occasion’ label wines that will be available from $20 – $25 (The ‘Really Expensive Christmas Wine’ will have a $150 tag as part of the label but sell for just 1/6th the price – serious wine with a whimsical package).
Visit Swanson Vineyards’ new updated website (I am firmly convinced that the Jean-Phillipe Delhomme artwork on the front page has perfectly captured me – the bearded, cap wearing man engaging an attractive, taller, blonde woman) and take a look at Alexis’ blog while you are there.
I took more beautiful pictures at Swanson Vineyards than I needed for my story, and am including them as a bonus:
I loved these chairs against the doors; a little photo editing, straightening, cropping, and I would have a beautiful art print.
The day was beautiful, made more so by the lushness of the gardens
The groovy Mr. Peter Godoff
This wall lamp was my favorite shot of the day; again, a little cropping and another print.
DISCLOSURE: I was the guest of Swanson Vineyards, and arranged to taste at the Sip Shoppe through Julie Ann Kodmur, winery public relations specialist.