For more than half a century, the Swanson name has been recognized primarily for frozen food products, as in the famous TV dinners the family launched in 1953, which, at that time, was a groundbreaking innovation in the food business.Twenty-five years ago, the Swanson family chartered another innovative course, this time into the world of wine. Commencing in the mid-1980’s, they were one of the earliest producers of Napa Valley Merlot. Today, while its wines are extraordinary, the mission of Swanson Vineyards is straightforward: to celebrate the simple pleasures in life, made better with wine.
The Swanson Vineyards story began in the summer of 1985, when W. Clarke Swanson, Jr. purchased a 100-acre property on Oakville Cross Road in the heart of Napa Valley. He was fortunate to obtain the services of André Tchelistcheff, one of the 20th century’s most sought-after winemakers, as a consultant, and, in the bold business style long associated with the Swanson name, planted Merlot in the heart of Cabernet Sauvignon country. As the risk paid off with excellent, well-received wine (a “Cab-lover’s Merlot”), the Swansons, together with their winemaking team, continued to experiment, planting other lesser-known varietals such as Sangiovese, Petite Sirah, Semillon and Pinot Grigio.
Swanson Vineyards now operates under the helm of winemaker Chris Phelps, an expert in both Bordeaux and Napa styles. Phelps' wines are refined and elegant and at the same time remarkably approachable.
Born in the vineyard-rich region of Livermore, California, Chris Phelps fell in love with two things early on in life: wine, and the French language. So it was natural that he studied enology and French at UC Davis, and after graduation in 1981, entered the Institute of Enology at the University of Bordeaux.
In addition to participating in an intensive wine program, his requirements demanded practical experience, and he was fortunate enough to discover a landmark immersion opportunity, serving as winemaker at Château des Laurets in Puisseguin-St. Emilion during the blockbuster 1982 harvest.
During Chris’s Bordeaux experience, Christian Moueix (often referred to as “Mr. Merlot”) and winemaker Jean-Claude Berrouet became his mentors, an association which allowed Chris to work and live at Chateau Pétrus for a winter.
Chris was then invited by Moueix to join a new Napa Valley winery, Dominus Estate. Following six months of intensive training at Pétrus, Chris was named winemaker at Dominus, where he worked from 1984 through 1995, honing his skills with iconic Bordeaux styled, or 'Meritage' wines.
In 1996, Chuck Wagner of Napa Valley’s Caymus Vineyards recruited Chris for several winemaking projects, hiring him as full time red specialist winemaker in 1999. While there, he led the production of both the prestigious Caymus Napa Valley and Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon bottlings.
When Chris joined the Swanson Vineyards team in April 2003, it was an ideal partnership for both winery and winemaker. The Swanson family’s passion for innovation and history of consistently producing French-style wine from its Oakville vineyards posed an irresistible draw.
Since then, Chris has contributed a fresh, cutting-edge perspective to all phases of winemaking, from pre-harvest through blending and bottling. His style can be summarized as minimalist, in respect of excellent grapes. “If the fruit is picked when it is physiologically ripe and balanced, intervention through winemaking techniques is minimized,” Chris says. “My job as a winemaker is to form an honest interpretation of what a specific vineyard site in a specific vineyard is trying to tell me.”
We are thrilled to announce that our vineyards are now certified as sustainably farmed, both by Fish Friendly Farming and Napa Green Certified Land!
Swanson Vineyards owns 100 acres along the Oakville Cross Road in Oakville, located next to Opus One and Silver Oak Cellars. Swanson soils are part of geological history dating back to the formation of Napa Valley. Tectonic-plate movements and volcanic activity pushed up mountains to the east and west of the Napa River, while simultaneously displacing the ocean bottom downward in the southern part of the valley.
The soils on the valley floor are clay loam, alluvial in nature, laid down as sediment from the frequent flooding over the millenia. It is here that our 100 acres produce wines of great elegance and finesse.
It is to these soils that Swanson Vineyards' wines owe their wonderful aromas, flavors and complexities. The vines are further nurtured by the use of a variety of rootstock, clones, spacing and trellis systems, all selected to enhance the capabilities of the soil. The winemaker's challenge is to ensure that all the potential of our vineyards is captured and reflected in our wines.