The wines of Dave Phinney and Orin-Swift Cellars capture the imagination in a way unlike almost any we know of. It all starts some of the most intriguing and compelling labels and packaging in the business. These never fail to entice you in as to what lurks beneath the cork! From the now infamous and slightly macabre “Prisoner” (a brand no longer owned by Dave, though he remains as consultant) to the stark black and white photograph of rough-hewn fingers in his “Papillon”, Phinney, who designs and art directs all of his labels with the help of some historic artists and brilliant modern-day photographers (namely Greg Gorman), seeks to create a relationship between consumer and product that is indelible yet still full of mystery with each successive release. The wines themselves of course deliver on their promise as well. They are unapologetically full-flavored and intense, yet with a backbone of structure that holds it all in place. Dave is not afraid to mix vineyards, varietals and even appellations to create the desired alchemy for each and every wine. He is ultra strict with his selection, however, and will always de-classify a wine or even skip a release entirely if it is not up to his standards. The origins of Orin Swift began while Phinney was studying abroad at the University of Florence in Italy. Like so many other college students he was wondering what to do after graduation. Fortunately for Dave, his roommate at the time was from an old wine family in the Sonoma valley and put the germ of a dream in his head: ”Why not get into the wine business?” Dave had come to appreciate wine already and enjoyed the idea of being a part of what he perceived to be an honorable and honest profession. He returned to the States and tried to immerse himself in all aspects of the wine business, which was no easy task being in the middle of the desert at the University of Arizona. He ultimately found a professor in the agriculture department who was also interested in growing grapes. In the spring of 1997 the University planted a one-acre experimental block in the heart of Tucson, Arizona, a project in which Dave played an integral part. Equally important was the experience he gained while working at one of Tucson’s finest retail wine shops learning the hardest part of the wine business…selling the stuff. A few months later, he found himself with a degree in political science and working his first harvest for the Robert Mondavi Winery. Dave worked his way up from the low man on the totem pole and was hooked. The next year Dave started Orin Swift Cellars on a shoestring budget, “with two tons of purchased Zinfandel grapes and one pair of shoes” as his wife likes to say. Orin Swift has grown exponentially over the last few years adding Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and a blended white and red to the program. In addition, Orin Swift recently purchased forty-eight acres of raw land in the hills above Oakville and they hope to someday build a winery there. Never one to rest on his laurels, Dave also recently purchased some vineyards and a winery in the steep hillsides of the Roussillon, near Maury in the French Pyrenees. There he produces a red wine called D-66 made predominantly from 60-100 year old Grenache, with a small percentage of Syrah and Carignane from soils of schist, granite and limestone. Up to and during the harvest, Dave plays “flying winemaker”, often making several trips to France to oversee the project, all the while keeping tabs on his team in California! Dave swears up-and-down that he is done with his expansion plans for Orin-Swift, though it will be interesting to see if he can keep his creative juices under tow? Meanwhile, Phinney, despite his success and the broad visibility of his products, continues to maintain a discreet profile. He lives with his wife and children in St. Helena, CA, and is a generous supporter of several local charities.
The spirit of Palermo resides in an allegorical catacomb that stands to honor the past, cloaked in deference to the vine, and strives to artfully frame what the harvest yields every year. As time has passed, we have carefully assembled a diverse network of vineyards to work with, in an ongoing effort to challenge ourselves to make better wines. Palermo is such a result incarnate from our flagship Cabernet Sauvignon program, which includes Mercury Head and Papillon.
Orin Swift Palermo 2015 represents years of experimentation with different lots, varying grape maturity levels, complex French cooperage programs, and some proprietary intuition, which we simply refer to as “separate among equal parts.” These choice components have been faithfully blended for the third vintage of Palermo, Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley.