Bob Swartley was a Master Engraver. The images on our labels are ones that he illustrated and then engraved. His work first showed up on antique guns—scrollwork as fine as a banknote. Bob taught himself how to engrave. He was 19, in school eight hours a day learning to be a gunsmith. The engraving he did at night. 7pm 'til midnight, six days a week, working until he lost the feeling in his fingers. In the early 60s he found himself at Griffin & Howe in New York as an understudy for Josef Fugger. When he eventually came back to California, he built a following for his work and left gunsmithing behind.
Even when he was semi-retired, Bob couldn't put the engraving tools down. He spent hours in our vineyards, returning over and over. He sketched, by pencil, and when he was nearly done he would show David. He used to say that was the only time he got nervous. “David studies it, hard; he's got a good eye for composition. He'll ask me ‘What about this? What about that?’ He hasn't had a bad opinion and he knows what he wants. I respect that.” In his Napa studio, Bob engraved alone, with magnifying glasses, a low power microscope and tools sharper than needles. It was low tech. One image could take weeks. He only used steel plates that he bought from Cronite, the same place that makes the printing press we use. The steel has a very fine grain—he never found any other like it.
Bob passed away on July 23, 2016. We lost a great artist, one whose skill, patience and love of the natural world may not be replaced. We also lost a great soul, a rare man of humor, quiet dignity and gentle spirit. We miss him, but feel blessed that our labels will carry his work so that future generations may appreciate his gift.