Recently I had the chance to catch up with the owner of the only winery on San Juan Island. San Juan Vineyards has achieved some great acclaim in the past, despite being a small production winery. The key is that the winery relies on fruit from great vineyards in Columbia Valley. Their red wines have achieved Wine Spectator scores of 90 in the past. They also recently achieved a double gold medal for their Madeline Angevine, a German varietal that is planted on their estate. This is one of the few varietals can thrive in the cool, damp climate of Western Washington. Here is my interview with Yvonne Swanberg, who talks about the trials and tribulations of being a winery owner.
(Washington Wine Blog) I’m wondering about your background in wine and how you decided to start a winery? What are some of the experiences that you have had?-
(Yvonne Swanberg) First, I had no background in wine aside from enjoyment. I enjoyed wine from the other side of the counter i.e. and more in an analytical sense. San Juan Vineyards was the idea of my late husband and business partner.
I became involved by “default” starting to do the marketing, etc. back in about 1998. By 2002 I was at the vineyard full time doing everything except the winemaking process. All decisions were made by my husband and partner. Previous to being at the vineyard, I was part of our insurance agency and worked as an Agent and Marketing Specialist. My husband (Steve) and I started an independent insurance agency back in 1980. I still tell people that it was this business that financed San Juan Vineyards and made it a reality.
I lost Steve to prostate cancer in 2006, and then the struggle started. The Partner refused to be a working or financial part of the project, but still would not work to turn it over to me. Finally, a couple of years ago it was necessary to work through legal channels to rid myself of this situation as he also refused to sign a listing agreement for the sale of San Juan Vineyards. I finally prevailed in June of this year. So, I listed the property hoping to find a new owner that has the passion to take the project to a new level. There is so much potential for San Juan Vineyards.
(Washington Wine Blog) Your wine has achieved 90 plus scores from Wine Spectator in the past. How has that acclaim impacted your winery?-
(Yvonne Swanberg) Our wines have received many accolades over the years – mostly medals from competitions. The wines have never garnered Wine Spectator scores of over 90. And, quite frankly, I quit pursuing this some time ago. I like the judgings with the medals and they have spoken well for the quality of our wines. We are a destination winery, and we are known specifically for our Estate Grown varietals. I believe my Winemaker, Chris Primus, has a distinct way of making the best Siegerrebe and Madeleine Angevine available in the Puget Sound. These two varietals are the main varietals grown in Puget Sound AVA, and not found in other areas in WA or OR. The 2013 Siegerrebe, receiving three Double Gold medals, shows there was no equal in the Puget Sound.
(Washington Wine Blog) Can you talk about your head winemaker and his style of winemaking? –
(Yvonne Swanberg) Chris Primus, Winemaker. Chris came to work for me in 2006 right after my husband lost his battle with cancer. The previous Winemaker had decided to go back to the Columbia Valley. This turned out to be a “good thing”. His style for red wine is basically to produce a wine that is food friendly, and also is true to varietal.