The Prisoner has easily become one of the most recognizable names in the vast world of wine. There are thousands upon thousands of different wines and winemakers in the world, yet Prisoner rose to the top of every wine list nearly 20 years ago and remains one of the most recognizable wines in existence. In fact, it was the first wine to go “viral”. So, where did it come from? How and why did it become so popular? The answer, in a nut shell, is Dave Phinney.
You are probably asking yourself, who is this Dave Phinney? And I thought we were talking about Orin Swift? Well, the answer lies in the question. Dave Phinney is the marketing genius, label artist and winemaker who started the wine label Orin Swift and created the blend of wine we all know as The Prisoner.
At only 45 years old, he has established himself as one of the premiere winemakers in California. His love of old vine zinfandel and bold, extracted blends has led to a serious cult following. After working harvest for Robert Mondavi in 1997, he boldly started his own wine company the following year. He purchased the best fruit he could find in Napa, regardless of the varietal, borrowed winemaking space from Mondavi, and began production on the two wines that would solidify his presence in the wine world: The Prisoner and Saldo.
In 2008, after achieving worldwide fame, he sold The Prisoner label, recipe and rights for a mere 300 million, and continued on in his love of winemaking under the Orin Swift label. In 2016, Gallo purchased the Orin Swift label, and Phinney is still the lead winemaker. He simply has WAY too many projects, including a newly-founded distillery, so instead of owning Orin Swift, he just consults to maintain the quality of his product.
On Tuesday, we will be tasting several wines from his most recent project, Locations, as well as favorites from the Orin Swift line. For the Locations project, Phinney has branched out from his native California and is making wines from many different wine regions and locations all over the world. The concept behind his Locations wines is to make wine that celebrates the uniqueness of each of these amazing wine growing regions. What’s so different about these wines is that Phinney is sourcing from the ENTIRE region. So, for example, the Location F (France) is made with fruit from ALL over France, not just the Rhone Valley or the Loire Valley. This is a huge deal, especially in Europe where winemaking laws are so restrictive. As expected, he is making his own rules while creating truly phenomenal wine. A true maverick in every sense of the word.