Huneeus Vintners, owner of Quintessa in Napa Valley and Veramonte in Chile, has purchased two brands owned by winemaker Dave Phinney's Orin Swift Cellars—The Prisoner and Saldo. The sale includes the brands and inventory, but Phinney will remain as winemaker and he retains ownership of Orin Swift Cellars and its other wines. The price was not disclosed.
"Even though it was a sale, it's more of a collaboration," said Phinney, who added that he's going to maintain control of production and winemaking long term. "It's two family-run businesses joining together," he said.
"What's important is that this is really a partnership and something we really want to build together," said Augustin Huneeus Jr. "Dave Phinney is a guy who has great projects, but more on the winemaking side. I think he wanted someone with a larger sales organization and someone with experience with big brands, and I have that."
Phinney founded Orin Swift Cellars in 1998, making wines in custom-crush facilities from purchased grapes. The Prisoner is a popular Zinfandel-based kitchen-sink blend (with small percentages of everything from Cabernet Sauvignon to Petite Sirah to Charbono) that consistently earns outstanding reviews from Wine Spectator, and has appeared on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list three times in the past four years. The wine costs $35 and production has grown to 70,000 cases a year.
Saldo debuted with the 2007 vintage. It's a Zinfandel from the broad California appellation, blending together grapes from highly regarded Zinfandel vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Contra Costa. It retails for $28 and has a current production of 39,000 cases annually.
This is the second investment in a year for Huneeus Vintners, who also purchased an undisclosed share of Flowers, a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir producer, in January 2009. Their main property is Napa's Quintessa, known for a Rutherford Bordeaux-style bottling that sells for $145 per bottle. They also make a Sauvignon Blanc under the Illumination label, and have a second Napa Valley Cabernet label called Faust.
Phinney said he's excited about the move because it will help The Prisoner and Saldo continue their trajectory of growth. "We have access to so much amazing fruit already. But with the current grape price situation, we have access to even more. We knew we'd have to grow to get this [additional] fruit," said Phinney, adding that he's "licking his lips" in anticipation of what grapes are available to purchase. Undoubtedly, the money from the sale will also help Phinney continue to build Orin Swift and its remaining labels.
Phinney retains Orin Swift, and the three other brands made under that label: Mercury Head, Veladora and Papillon. He owns 220 acres of land in Napa, and another 200 acres in Alexander Valley, which he plans to develop into vineyards for future brands. Phinney is also consulting winemaker for Napa Cabernet brands Cavus, Beau Vigne and Stanton. He also owns 200 acres of vineyards in France's Languedoc-Roussillon region, planted to old-vine Grenache. He recently built a 20,000 square-foot winery there, and the new label, called Department 66, will debut in 2011 with the 2009 vintage.
Huneeus also said he'd like to explore further projects with Phinney, possibly in Chile or Argentina. "I grew up in the wine business, and if you do, you're born with constructs—you never blend Zinfandel and Cabernet together. But [Dave] does. And I think he's brilliant, brilliant, brilliant."