Swanson Vineyards — Wine and Food Together


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Joe Becerra

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Last week I visited three family-owned wineries that produce quality wines at the upper end of the price spectrum. I would recommend a visit to any three of these wineries and I am quite positive your experience will be memorable. This is the first of three blog posts on these wineries. I’ll start with Swanson Vineyards and follow this up with posts on Boeschen Vineyards and Corison Winery.

Swanson Vineyards is the most formal and elegant of the three wineries. The winery is hidden from tourists on Manley Lane, a small road that is off Highway 29 just north of Oakville. Almost all the clientele at Swanson is by word of mouth, and that provides enough visitors and wine buyers to make the winery about as busy as it wants to be. The tasting room, or salon as they call it, is open by appointment only on Wednesday through Sunday. There is a small adjacent tasting room for drop-ins, but the winery’s preferred way to taste their wines is for visitors to select one of the two sets of wine and food pairings. As you can see from the photo, the salon is wonderfully decorated and an exquisite place to experience the Swanson wines. We don’t do many of these formal food and wine pairings, but once in awhile, it is nice to give yourself a treat. We did the Harvey Tasting that features a tasting of six wines. We were greeted in the garden outside the salon with a glass of the 08 Swanson Rosato, a very dry Rosé wine, and we sipped that while we waited for the other guests to arrive for the 11am seating.

Michelle is our host for the day and she sits with us at a lovely table with great wine crystal and plates of delectable appetizers to be paired with the wine. We get off to a delightful start with the Chardonnay paired with a Mississippi caviar. This is followed by a Merlot that is out of this world. Even Miles, the character in the movie “Sideways,” would enjoy this Merlot. In several blind tastings this wine has been thought to be a Cabernet Sauvignon. The Merlot was paired with a cantaloupe-colored cheese from France called Mimolette Vieux.

The Alexis, a Cabernet Sauvignon, is the Swanson flagship wine, a beautifully-balanced Cabernet Sauvignon produced from vines located at the base of the Mayacamus Mountains in Oakville. Interestingly, this wine was paired with a bonbon made by Vosges Haut Chocolat of Chicago, a very nice match. The Alexis has a great aftertaste that lingers long after you have swallowed the wine, and it has none of those harsh tannins that are sometimes characteristic of a full-bodied Cabernet. The last of the six wines we tasted was a late-harvest Chardonnay. This wonderful dessert wine will pair well with just about any dessert. It was so tasty, I was forced to ask for a second taste.

The Swanson name is familiar to most because of the Swanson meat company. Although from the same family, the owner of the winery, W. Clarke Swanson, Jr. did not spend any time in the family meat business. He pursued other interests, including purchasing his Napa Valley vineyards in 1985. Clarke, always with an eye for perfection, hired the best and most famous of all Napa Valley winemakers, André Tchelistcheff, to begin his quest to make the best wines possible. What a way to make sure your winery gets off to a good start. Today the winery is on its third winemaker, Chris Phelps, who had done stints at Dominus for twelve years and at Caymus Vineyards for six years before arriving at Swanson. Total case production is around 25,000 cases per year.

The Good: The wines are all good. I thought the Merlot was the best bargain in the group priced at $36 a bottle. Beautiful winery, hidden from tourists.
The Bad: The tastings are somewhat expensive.

  • Joe Becerra

    Joe Becerra has been traveling to wine country and enjoying wine since 1965. He is a retired educator, and now have the time the opportunity to share his wine travel experiences through this Website.

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