I'm here today to make an important introduction: meet Mr. Joe Swick. If you are a fan of Oregon wines, you need to get to know his work as soon as possible. Many of you have already had one of Joe's wines, the non-vintage "Autre Monde" Pinot Noir he made with Chris Berg of Roots Wine Co. At twelve bucks a pop that wine flew out of here, making Joe a lot of friends in the process. But that was a "one off" project blending other winemaker's declassified wines. Joe makes his own wines using fruit he buys from prime vineyards in the Willamette Valley and Columbia Gorge and that's what I'm here to talk about today. But first a little bit about Joe's impressive resume.
Joe Swick, a proud graduate of Beaverton HS (just like Jimi Brooks and Ari Shapiro), has traveled quite a wine road. It all began with his job managing shipping and receiving at a downtown Portland Whole Foods market. With every box of wine he checked in he became morecurious. Winemaker David O'Reilly (Owen Roe) took notice and told Joe if he wanted to learn about wine he needed to "taste, taste, taste." He encouraged Joe to go out and try every different wine he could and that's exactly what Joe did. David also appreciated the fact Joe knew how to handle a forklift, so in 2003 he offered him a job as Owen Roe's sole harvest intern.
Each month Joe would spend his paycheck on new bottles of wine to explore. As his taste evolved, going from bigger, fruitier wines to wines from Burgundy and the Loire Valley, he had what he describes as his "uh-huh" moment: a bottle of2001 Bernard Dugat-Py Charmes-Chambertin. Joe knew right then he had to make wineand he knew what kind of wine he wanted to make. For Joe however, this did not mean heading straight to UC Davis.
Joe wanted to learn in the winery and vineyard so he devoted the next 10 years and 15 harvests to learning everything he could from a wide variety of winemakers. Stints at Owen Roe, Sineann, Penner-Ash and Domaine Serene led to a job with Adam Lee at Siduri in 2006. After that Joe stayed in California, working at Kosta-Browne from 2008 until 2011. The need to experience a new region led Joe down under where he spent three years making sparkling wines in the Yarra Valley and Tasmania. After that it was off to Villa Maria in New Zealand where he processed a whole lot of Sauvignon Blanc fruit over the course of two years. His graduate course in biodynamics came courtesy of a year at Felton Road in Central Otago.
That would normally be enough training for anybody, but Joe craved more. After he left New Zealand he spent time at Portugal's legendary Niepoort winery, followed by a stay at Cerretto in Piedmont. After all that, Joe Swick felt he was ready to return home to make his own wines. A few years ago he rented some space in the Willamette Valley and in 2013 the first vintage of Swick Wines hit the Portland market. Joe's wines beautifully represent place of origin and have the kind of lifted acidity, elegant touch and lower alcohol percentages you would expect to find in cooler French regions.
Joe Swick has the touch and his wines are a "must try" for any of you who are exploring Oregon. He's already made quite a name for himself in Portland and New York City, but I'm guessing after a few upcoming articles get published folks will be sending a lot of emails in an attempt to track down his wines. Now would be a great time to get in on the ground floor of Swick Wines and I have two great bottles to start off with!
2014 Swick Wines Blanc de Noir (20.00)
Joe Swick has had a lot of experience making still, white Pinot Noir while working at Domaine Serene (shhh, it's a trade secret), Siduri and Felton Road. Sparkling too if you count the bubblies he helped make at Yarra Burn, Bay of Fires and Stefano Lubiana. His first still, white Pinot Noir under his own label is made with fruit from Ken Cancilla's vineyard out by Gaston, Oregon.
Fortunately, Joe was more than willing to reveal this highly secret process. "You take whole cluster grapes and press them very gently. The wine was transferred into three neutral white french oak barrels to ferment on its original lees WITHOUT any lees stirring ever. Malolactic fermentation started in December and progressed along very slowly. It didn't seem like this wine wanted to finish malo. The wine tasted awesome. It was alive. There was energy and it seemed it was where it wanted to be. So I stopped malo to keep that laser like acidity. I bottled this directly from the barrel by hand. There was no fining, filtration or temperature control done what so ever on this wine." The resulting wine is a beautiful example of how good white Pinot Noir can be.
The Swick Blanc de Noir has a pale moonbeam color and a wonderfully floral set of aromas. There's Bing cherries, damson plums, citrus and white peaches for fruit along with a pronounced honeysuckle note. In the background there are scents of marjoram and a mineral note that's a cross between wet pavement and the white powder you find on every stick of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit gum.
The wine has modest tannins and a steely acidity that made me write down "frozen grapes" in my tasting notes. Flavors like apricot, lemon peel and Earl Grey tea dominate the palate and the minerality is just as pronounced as it was on the nose. This medium bodied (13% alcohol) white wine made from Pinot Noir grapes is great fun to drink. It is a steal at twenty bucks a bottle with six-packs at 114.00 and cases of 12 bottles available for 216.00. That's quite a bit less than you'll pay for the Domaine Serene version! Please keep in mind there are only 66 cases of this wine in existence so I wouldn't wait too long if you are interested in grabbing some for your household.
2014 Swick Wines "Sans Soufre" Pinot Noir (29.00)
This wine is something special. It's also made with grapes from the Cancilla Vineyard and it is like sipping the distilled essence of Pinot Noir. It's a pinot perfume one would happily dab on their pulse points and you would attract a lot of attention if you did.
It is a "no-sulfur Pinot Noir and it was bottled early in order to capture all the freshness of the grapes. Joe said he has two rules when making "naked wines" like this one: "first, the grapes have to be organically farmed and not irrigated. Making naked wines from a vineyard that has been sprayed with chemicals just doesn't make sense. Second, the fruit has to be in near perfect condition."
According to Joe, "of the five tons or so I got from Cancilla Vineyard, a half ton of it was Wadenswil clone. I fermented the Wadenswil separately in a half ton fermenter. None of the fruit was de-stemmed. It was foot trodden once pre-fermentation and only three more times during fermentation (by my beautiful wife Anne-Claire Nivet). After 30 days on skins, it was pressed into one neutral french oak barrel and a few glass carboys. The wine was racked off its original lees in late April and bottled without fining or filtration."
All I can say is "wow." This is like the kind of Pinot Noir I'd expect Adrian Ferrar to make. It has a darker crimson color (which surprised me given its 11.7% alcohol and "nothing added" make-up) with the tiniest cranberry-colored rim. The wine's aromatic set starts off with a burst of earth and bacon fat, followed quickly by black cap raspberries, oregano and a chalky quality I could sit and sniff all evening.
Joe's "Sans Soufrre" has a nice, lean palate with mild tannins and the kind of acidity that will wake you right back up after a long day. It has a slick, slippery mouthfeel and flavors like blackberry pixie dust, beeswax and saline. I loved this wine and even though there's only 25 cases to share with the whole planet, I'm keeping one for myself. I also wanted to share something that Joe wrote in an email. "For me this is the way (in a perfect world) every wine should be made. This is the real deal and about as pure as you can get." A lot of winemakers say that, Joe's "Sans Soufre" walks the talk. This is pure pinot power for the people, grab some before it's all gone.