Located on a country road off of Highway 29 in Rutherford, the Swanson Vineyards tasting salon is not an easy find. The under-the-radar nature of this wine country gem ensures that you will not encounter bus tours that unload by the hundreds, and you will not jostle for position at the tasting counter. What you’ll experience is a magical, Franco-inspired Eden that transports. From the lush garden setting, to the French chanteuse singing to the accompaniment of her antique barrel organ, to the gorgeous, full-bodied wines, a Swanson wine tasting experience is unique.
Eschewing quantity over quality in both their wine production and their reservation-only wine tastings, Swanson provides for its guests a reprieve from the Valley frenzy that exists right outside their artisanal iron gate. One of Napa Valley’s leading Merlot producers, Swanson offers two types of refined tastings, each by appointment, where guests enjoy storytelling, wine insights, and a convivial atmosphere. Their sip shoppe tasting is the more informal experience ($25/flight, daily between 10:30am – 4:30pm by reservation only) and showcases sips of Swanson Vineyards’ Merlot, Pinot Grigio, and Cabernet Sauvignon, plus a daily surprise sip paired with warm pistachios. The sip shoppe is also a retail space, offering playful and sophisticated original finds in clever packaging. A Saturday afternoon garden booking includes an authentically French serenade.
The salon tasting, held in their beautiful 19th-century Parisian-inspired parlor, is limited to eight guests. Seatings—at 10:30am, 1pm, and 3pm, $65/person—are led by a skilled salonnière, and include a bite of caviar, a plate or artisan cheeses, and a bonbon. Fanciful French-inspired paintings by renowned California artist Ira Yeager adorn the red walls. The atmosphere is refined, relaxed, and indulgent. Both the salon and the sip shoppe are visions of some of America’s finest talents: retail genius Andy Spade, renowned illustrator Jean-Philippe Delhomme, interior designer Thomas Britt, illustrious chocolatier Katrina Markoff of Vosges Haut Chocolate, avant-garde florist Torryne Choate, and Yeager.
Swanson, most known for its Pinot Grigio, Merlot and Alexis Cabernet Sauvignon, was founded in 1985 by W. Clarke and Elizabeth Swanson, a seventh generation New Orleanian. Elizabeth’s familiarity with Southern hospitality and the craft of graciously bringing diverse and fascinating callers together for stimulating conversation is the inspiration for the Swanson salon tasting experience.
In its three decades, Swanson Vineyards has been guided by winemakers at the top of their game. It was Andre Tchelistcheff, expert on terroir, viticulture, and grape growing, who recommended that Swanson turn its focus from Cabernet Sauvignon to Merlot. Marco Cappelli, protégé of Andre, then became Swanson’s winemaker for its first 17 vintages. Chris Phelps led the winemaking team from 2003 to 2015, and now Scotland native Robin Akhurst takes the helm, continuing the Swanson tradition of producing wines with elegance and finesse, and with little intervention. If you’ve been dreaming of either a Parisian vacation, or simply a more intimate Napa Valley wine tasting experience, Swanson Vineyards is a must. C’est magnifique.