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Exclusive: E. & J. Gallo Purchases Wine Brand Orin Swift Cellars

Wine giant buys Dave Phinney's popular brand; the winemaker will stay on-board
Dave Phinney will remain with Orin Swift as Gallo gives him new resources to tap.
Photo by: Katrine Naleid
Dave Phinney will remain with Orin Swift as Gallo gives him new resources to tap.

MaryAnn Worobiec
Posted: June 9, 2016

Winemaker Dave Phinney has a knack for making delicious, stylish wines with memorable labels and attractive price points but also for understanding wine's business side. Today, E. & J. Gallo announced that it has acquired Phinney's company, Orin Swift Cellars. Neither side would disclose a purchase price. The acquisition includes the brand, inventory and St. Helena tasting room. Phinney will remain at the helm.

"Dave has been really successful in making world-class wine, and we think we can provide resources for him to make even more outstanding wine," Roger Nabedian, senior vice president and general manager of Gallo's Premium Wine division, told Wine Spectator. Despite not owning its own winery facility, Orin Swift's current annual production stands at 100,000 cases.

Phinney has known the Gallo family for years, purchasing grapes and barrels from them. "I always had a high respect for [the Gallos]," Phinney told Wine Spectator. "You don't get to be Gallo by doing the wrong thing."

All signs point to Orin Swift growing after the transaction. "I look at this as a long-term decision," explained Phinney. "I get to continue to foster the brand along with Gallo and make it better, through their vineyards and facilities. I'm really excited. They have amazing vineyards and amazing facilities, and it's something we don't have. And they have an amazing sales force. We have great sales, but they wrote the book about it."

Phinney founded Orin Swift Cellars in 1998 when he created The Prisoner, a popular Zinfandel-based wine he made from purchased grapes. The wine grew rapidly, from 385 cases to 85,000 cases in 10 years, foreshadowing the popularity of red blends today. Zinfandel was blended with everything from Petite Sirah to Cabernet Sauvignon and Charbono, bottled with the striking image of a Francisco Goya sketch. The Prisoner appeared on Wine Spectator's Top 100 list multiple times. After he sold the brand to Huneeus Vintners, Phinney kept busy with Orin Swift.

Today the brand includes several different bottlings: Mercury Head, Papillon and Palermo are Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon labels, Mannequin is a Chardonnay-based blend and Abstract a red blend anchored in Grenache. Gallo will own all of those brands. "We have every expectation to continue these products and brands, and hope to innovate more," said Nabedian.

Phinney will retain D66, a wine made from old-vine Grenache on his 200 acres of vineyards in France's Languedoc-Roussillon region, as well as Locations, a value-oriented lineup of wines from around the world. Phinney also keeps his personal land holdings, including 250 acres in Napa Valley's Atlas Peak appellation, 250 acres in Alexander Valley and a minority interest in the 8-acre Old Crane Zinfandel vineyard in St. Helena.

Phinney described the opportunity to partner with the Gallo family as working with some of his wine heroes and make wine not restricted by grape or facility limitations. "I'm in the wine business—like so many people—because of the Gallos," he explained. "Together, we're going to make it better. This is going to be Orin Swift, no holds barred."

Charles Chambless
Stow, Ohio, USA —  June 9, 2016 9:48pm ET
Dave will make good money on this sale. Unfortunately, the quality of his wines will diminish as Gallo corporate sinks their fangs into his business.
Anton C Kowalski
Wichita, Kansas —  June 10, 2016 8:40am ET
OMG, Another corporate Hawg, gobbling up a great winery. I know Dave stays, but alas, by Gallo none the less. Is nothing sacred anymore? I was a retailer/owner for 20 years. Gallo makes and promotes corporate plonk and will never change. This is a true wine disaster. I've tasted the Huneeus Prisoner and it is not the same. Sorry.
Richard Annis
Saratoga Springs NY —  June 10, 2016 10:25am ET
Can Beat Them, Buy Them!!!
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  June 10, 2016 4:05pm ET
At least Schrader and Scarecrow haven't sold out to the man!
David Gigante
Anchorage, AK —  June 12, 2016 9:14pm ET
One of my must-stops in wine country. D66 is a superb red. And the Prisoner was legendary.
Allan J Sagot
USA —  December 6, 2016 1:34pm ET
I have always considered Mr. Phinney the best of the best. It is obvious Gallo agrees with me. Dave has the guts to put things together that nobody else even thinks of. His "non-Vintage" wines are spectacular and reasonably priced. Gallo made a fantastic move! Can't wait to see the results.

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