The Swan Song block, originally planted in 1982 to Pommard-clone Pinot Noir, was once known as Pierce’s Elbow, a vineyard that we bottled as a single-block offering between 1998 and 2002. After that time, phylloxera, the root louse that devastated nearly every vineyard in Europe and California in the 19th century, took hold in the Pierce’s Elbow vineyard. The fruit from vintages henceforth found its way into the Estate and Reserve Pinot Noirs but wasn’t characteristic enough to make a single vineyard bottling (amongst other maladies, phylloxera deteriorates the quality of the fruit in the vineyard). For the 2010 vintage, Ben felt that certain barrels of Pierce’s Elbow were showing exceptionally in their twilight years, thus the “Swan Song” was born.
In the latest issue of Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar, Josh Raynolds described the 2011 Swan Song Pinot Noir as such:
Vivid ruby-red. Smoky dark berries and dried cherry on the nose, along with suggestions of fresh rose, anise and mocha. Silky and expansive on the palate, offering black raspberry and bitter cherry flavors that are sweetened by hints of cola and floral pastilles. Tightens up on the spice-tinged finish, which shows excellent clarity and persistence and sneaky tannins. 92 points.
Now, as the theme of the day goes, let’s rewind the clock to the 1999 Pierce’s Elbow. Both 1999 and 2011 had very similar growing seasons in that it was cold and wet for the majority of the year but the clouds parted in late September and allowed us to finish ripening and begin the harvest.
The 1999 opens with very earthy notes of saddle leather, clay, and venison jerky; the primary fruit characteristics have nearly faded, leaving us with the underbelly of Pinot Noir. Dark fruit and the signature huckleberry of Pierce’s Elbow/Swan Song emerge on the palate along with a lasting finish of red licorice. There are still substantial tannins in this wine, so a few more years of aging potential aren’t out of the question.
As the grip of phylloxera grew ever tighter and the yields dropped to almost nothing, we had to rip the vines out late last year. The 2011 Swan Song Pinot Noir will be one of the last ever produced from that vineyard and fewer than 25 cases remain. This piece of history is not to be missed.