Over the last year, I have received numerous questions from friends as to what is up with the wines of Orin Swift – questions like, “Why is The Prisoner on its own website now?” and “What are Location wines?”. Here is my attempt to sort it all out and to tell you of a few new projects coming down the line from celebrity winemaker, Dave Phinney.
It’s now 2015, and The Prisoner is no longer a baby. The first vintage that was released was 2000, and what first started out as a small production cult wine has now become a national phenomenon. Among the wine drinking crowd, The Prisoner name has almost the same brand recognition as Caymus, Duckhorn, or Michael David. But in the middle of all the confusing names like Orin Swift, The Prisoner, Saldo, or Papilon, stands the marketing genius, Dave Phinney. It all started with the creation of his winery named Orin Swift (combining his Grandfather’s first name with his Mother’s maiden name), which was designed to be a blank canvas for his wine creations. Wild, dark, brooding, and somewhat offensive, he used art for his packaging that mirrored the style of his wine. While studying abroad in Florence, Dave would frequent art galleries, and he fell in love with the likes of Francisco Goya. Goya’s, The Little Prisoner, is on the front of the bottle, The Prisoner – not so coincidental.
He progressed quickly, releasing new and almost obnoxiously-big wines one after the other. Saldo, another Zinfandel blend with a label-maker’s label, Abstract, a Grenache-based blend, Mannequin, a white Rhone blend, Mercury Head, a Cabernet Sauvignon, Machete, a Petite Sirah, and on and on. All the wines really appealed to wine lovers who had a taste for big extraction and high alcohols – especially Robert Parker, who as the scores have shown, loves that style. At the height of The Prisoner’s hay day, and almost as on cue, Agustin Huneeus enters the conversation. Agustin Huneeus is famous for his world class portfolio of wine, of which Quintessa, a high-end Bordeaux blend from Napa Valley, is at the top. Not only does he acquire the rights to The Prisoner, he takes Saldo with him as well… and Voila! – the birth of The Prisoner Wine Co. (which is now it’s own entity under the larger “Huneeus Vintners” portfolio of wines). Since The Prisoner Wine Co.’s inception, a white and two reds have been born: Blindfold – the white answer to The Prisoner, Cuttings – a Cabernet based blend, and the new Thorn – a Merlot. And don’t worry… the new talent is Jen Beloz. Even though she was mentored in the beginning by Dave Phinney himself, the wines might even be getting a bit better.
The latest weapon in Dave Phinney’s arsenal is Locations wine company. He wanted to offer a line-up of wines that were more affordable and could be enjoyed on a weekday night. All the wines hail from their individual countries or areas, and sport the very gutsy use of European bumperstickers for its packaging. E = Spain (Espania), F = France, I = Italy, CA = California, AR = Argentina, and a new TX coming from, you guessed it, Texas.