Presell Starts Now: 8 Years in the Desert

Aug 08, 2018

Dave Phinney took a break from Zinfandel and its challenges. It would end up being an eight year break. Eight years in the desert. It was never if but when would he make Zinfandel again. 


I guess you could say it all started with Zinfandel, although you could also say it almost ended with Zinfandel. It was 1998 and with the ignorant bravado that only a twenty-five-year-old can possess I decided to form Orin Swift Cellars. My goal was to never make more than one thousand cases. Oops! Back then I loved, as I do now, to drink Zinfandel. So, that’s where I started. I bought two tons of Zinfandel and took the first step of what I hope will be a lifelong journey in turning grape juice into alcohol. Truth be told, that first step was more like a trip or a stumble at best.

You see, 1998 was a tough, wet year, and no matter what I did in the cellar that first vintage, my baby, was just OK, and I’m not OK with OK. I sold the wine in bulk and tried again the next year. I went back to Zinfandel, this time farming it myself. It was literally trial by fire. I lost a third of the crop when I sprayed sulfur late in the year and a heat spike fried the morning side of the vines. What was left yielded my first commercial bottle of wine, the 1999 Orin Swift Cellars Zinfandel. Ninety-nine cases. I had finally arrived, although late and a bit hungover.

The next year, 2000, was another difficult year, much like 1998. Circumstances led me to basi­cally throw all my red wines together, most of which was Zinfandel, and I made a wine called The Prisoner. I made that wine for the next eight years, and then in 2008 I sold the brand. When I sold the brand I agreed to not make Zinfandel for eight years. At first I liked the idea. Zinfandel is notoriously difficult. It ripens unevenly, it is prone to rot, and it often has very high alcohol. Taking a few years off sounded good. But, like a child who only wants to do what he or she is told not to, I began to plot my return. I would have to wait till 2016, which seemed like an eternity.

I can’t tell you how many hours and brain cells I wasted obsessing over potential names and label art. I finally hit rock bottom on a warm summer night in Paris. I woke up, unable to sleep. I thought I had it. I wrote down my “genius” idea. Then went back to sleep. The next day I read what I written the night before and was embarrassed by its absurdity and obviousness. I decided right then to stop trying. I would stop trying and wait for something to happen, and in the mean­time, I would write a book. A short book. OK, a very short book.

The only reason I mention the book is because the title of the first story in it is Eight Years In The Desert. Just corny, enough, right? By accident I had solved for the name and label con­cept. Better to be lucky than good, much better.

It’s been great getting know Zinfandel again. It’s a bit like riding a bike, only now the bike is a motorcycle and the rider has more experience. For better or worse … one door closes and another opens up. As my wife likes to say, “when life gives you lemons swap them out for limes and grab the tequila.” I hope you enjoy the updated re-entry into Zinfandel, it’s been a long time coming!

Eight limited edition bottles will be released – one at a time – for the next eight years, every year in October.

Heady aromas of brambly raspberry, black fig and peppercorn dominate; time in glass exposes more – dark chocolate, fennel and high sierra forest floor. The palate is lush and opulent with blackberries, dark plums and currants. More flavors add to the quality of the blend – a visceral minerality and fresh Herbs de Provence. Fully integrated with puckering tannins, the wine bows out with finesse.

Our relationship with Zinfandel goes back 20 years. Orin Swift Cellars was started with two tons of Zinfandel in 1998 – perhaps the most important two tons we’ve ever purchased. Quite often, you learn more from your failures than you do from your successes. What we learned from those two tons is that there is neither a silver bullet nor alchemy once the grapes are in the winery. You can only make great wine from great grapes. This truism applies to Zinfandel more than any other varietal. Like golf or fly-fishing, you never truly master the game; you just have the good days and bad days. By incorporating Petite Sirah and Syrah into the blend, we’re able to mitigate some of the predictability. In the end, our goal every year, is to get closer and closer to the mastery of Zinfandel.

Eight limited edition bottles will be released – one at a time – for the next eight years, every year in October. In 2018 Label 1 will arrive.

 Presell orders start now!

Talk to your WW sales rep for more details.

Breakthru Beverage California South

6550 E. Washington Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90040

Breakthru Beverage California North

912 Harbour Way South
Richmond, CA 94804