When Dave Phinney sold Prisoner Wine to Huneeus Vintners in 2010, the $40 million deal included a non-compete clause prohibiting the winemaker to work with that grape on other brands for eight years. Huneeus grew the Zinfandel-based red blend brand further and later sold it to Constellation Brands for a whopping $285.
Over the those clause-cluttered eight years, Phinney wasted no time. Since The Prisoner sale he has created and sold his conceptual Locations Wine for a non-disclosed amount, as well as the Orin Swift brand–both to Gallo, and he remains the winemaker on both labels. Phinney also launched Savage & Cooke Distillery on Mare Island, off the coast of San Francisco, creating tequila, bourbon and American whiskey. The spirits portfolio has received positive feedback so far.
But most recently Phinney launched 8 Years in the Desert under the Orin Swift label, eight multimedia labels, containing blends of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Syrah and small percentages of other red varietals. Afterall, Zinfandel-based blends are what put Phinney on the map. The name is a nod and a wink to the innovator’s Zin-drought, and although Phinney admits he was well compensated for The Prisoner sale in 2010, he has missed the Zinfandel grape, and we think it has missed him too. “I chose to sign that deal. It was a good one, and I wear it like a badge of honor,” he told us.
Zinfandel is a moody grape and perhaps that’s why Phinney has done so well with it. He loves a challenge. To that end, during his time off from Zinfandel, Phinney conquered a list of other varietal categories, creating outstanding Grenache-based blends like Abstract, under the Orin Swift umbrella.
However, his return to Zinfandel with 8 Years in the Desert is an exciting one for Phinn-o-philes. The still-young winemaker is the first to point out that he has never chased trends when developing a brand. He started with a broad mainstream palate of his own, and therefore his predilections likely paralleled a wide demographic at the time. As his preferences changed over twenty-one harvests, the wine world’s did too. For eight years Phinney fans have awaited his return to Zinfandel-making, and here we have it, finally.
The 2017 8 Years in the Desert Zinfandel blend does not disappoint. It’s big but balanced. Pucker up, this one will make you salivate, literally. Think black fig, raspberry and forest floor. Aged in French oak for eight months, it winds up at 15% alcohol volume.
8’s 2016 California Red Wine First Edition Limited Release is dark in color and berry flavors, which are upfront but morph into dark coffee bean. An enormous wine for those who crave soft, drying tannins. 56% Zinfandel, 34% Petite Sirah, 10% Syrah, this one is aged for 10 months in French Oak, arriving at 15.7% alcohol volume.
If the goal was to bring Phinney closer to the mastery of Zinfandel, we can confirm he’s safely on his way or, perhaps, has already arrived.