Joe Swick could mistakenly be thrown into the "deep natty" camp of trend chasing contemporaries: inaccessible, "weird for being weird", and a head scratching social media presence. Yet, engaging with Joe couldn't haven't been further from those assumptions.
I was connected to Joe via my dear friend Andrew Krell of natural wine app, Raisin (download it here).
It's fitting that Joe describes himself as "playfully refreshing" - it's very easy to judge, only to be quickly put in your place once his extensive experience, insight and thoughtfulness become evident.
Crafting what he describes as "naked wines" from the Pacific Northwest, Joe completed 15 harvests in the span of 9 years, equipping him with the intel and wherewithal for his current approach to winemaking.
LM: It's evident you're a playful guy, based on your labels and social media presence. Would you say this carries through to your wine? I find the wines I enjoy generally taste like the people who make them. What would you say your "word" or style is?
JS: I would say my style is playfully refreshing. My social media presence is definitely an alter ego. I'm very shy and not the life of the party. I'm very bad at making fake conversations with people. Not very good at kissing people's asses either. Not looking to ride coattails or "network" (schmooze). I feel like I get some flack for that. Comes off as standoffish.
LM: Lately I've been thinking the pendulum is swinging back somewhat to equilibrium - we all went a little too far with the whole "glou glou" thing, drinking wines while tasty, and smashable, were not that serious. Do you think a reckoning is due? Or do you think wine is taken too seriously as a whole?
JS: I agree that an equilibrium is coming. Wine drinkers are tasting real wine and realizing that the chunky/funky natty wines taste pretty gross.
I also feel that people are interested in this industry more for an image, lifestyle, social media boost than for a love of wine. The focus on what is inside the bottle has become less important. It is very much about branding and back story of the person/persons making the "wine". If I buy a wine that tastes like tomato soup and smells like old taleggio cheese, but it's made by a person who is really promoting their image.... and it's $60.00 That's a lot of money for something that I'm going to pee out later and it didn't even taste like wine. I drink wine because I think it tastes delicious and it moves me, like music does.
LM: Who are your inspirations?
JS: Artistically: Don Van Vliet.
Musically: John McLaughlin, Harold Budd, Robert Fripp, Antonio Sanchez, Ravi Shankar, Zakir Hussain, Oteil Burbridge, Com Truise, Tycho, Kirinji, Haruomi Hosono.
Winemakers/wines: Dirk Niepoort, Luis Seabra, Mario Sergio, Alves Nuno, Julien Labet, Julien Altaber, Alexandre Jouveaux, Renaud Boyer, Chave, Clape, PYCM, Lopez de Heredia.
LM: How did you come to making wine? Can you share your journey, and any changes you've felt in yourself along the way? What are some major lessons?
JS: I got into wine through a job at a natural food store when I was 21. I worked my first harvest in 2003 at Owen Roe Winery (at that time in St. Paul, Oregon). I was also taking Oenology/Viticulture classes at the local college. Between 2003 and 2012 I worked 15 harvests - Oregon, Sonoma, Victoria AUS, Tasmania AUS, Marlborough, NZ, Central Otago, NZ, Piedmont, Italy and Douro Portugal. (Owen Roe, Sineann, Penner-Ash, Siduri, Yarra Burn, Domaine Serene, Bay of Fires, Kosta Browne, Stefano Lubiana, Villa Maria, Felton Road, Niepoort, Ceretto and Luis Seabra.)
I worked for many different people in many different countries. It took me a long time to "get it". Cellar work. Working so many harvests helped me see many things. Good, bad, sad and beautiful. I still make a lot of silly mistakes, but interning for so long helped me see other winemakers mistakes (so that I didn't, once I started my own thing). Dirk Niepoort and Luis Seabra had the biggest influence on me as a winemaker.
LM: What's your opinion on whole cluster fermentation?
JS: I use whole cluster on almost all of my red wines and some of my white wines. I usually don't mix the two. Either the ferments are 100% WITH stems or 100% no stems. I like the aromatic component that it adds to a wine. Also, a little bit of natural carbonic action from the berries being intact. Lower fermentation temperatures. Longer ferments. A little tannin from the stems.
LM: What are some regions on your radar? Who should we be paying attention to?
JS: Regions on my radar- Columbia Gorge, Guadalupe Valley Mexico, Azores
Paying attention to- Colares, Bairrada, Madiera, Tras-osMontes, Dao, Portalegre.
LM: What's a favourite memory from your experience in the wine industry? Anything weird/unexpected/hilarious that has happened you're willing to share?
JS: It's a tie between my first harvest at Owen Roe and my times spent in Portugal. Both sentimental. Far too many weird, hilarious and unexpected things. Most of them I'm not able to share. Several wineries with pictures of the owners on the walls everywhere throughout the winery. Even in the restrooms. It was pretty intense.
LM: What's in your glass these days?
JS: Water, smoothies, tea, coffee, kombucha, la croix, makgeolli, sake, Rainier beer, De Garde beer. I like the Nebbiolo from Haarmeyer a lot. De Moor, Balagny, Binner, Claire Naudin, Viuma Gomes.
LM: What's next for the Swick brand?
JS: Next is planting vines and moving into my own space. I think we make too many wines. We need to cut down the grape varieties and focus on the ones we do best. It's hard to choose. We are looking at grafting over a new vineyard to some Aligote, Melon and/or Chenin Blanc. A lot of promising vineyards coming onboard in Washington County. The real north end of the Willamette Valley.
LM: What are your death row wines?
JS: 2011 Niepoort Vintage Port
2011 Quinta das Bageiras Garrafeira Tinto
1994 Quinta das Bageiras Garrafeira Branco
2005 Bucaco Branco
1992 Adega de Colares Ramisco
1977 Barbeito Verdelho Madeira
Find out more about Swick Wines here or follow along on Instagram @swickwines.