Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Prisoner...

No not that Prisoner, which happens to be one of the best examples of mid-century British paranoia we have on record... I'm talking about the potable Prisoner, the one that comes in a corked bottle ready to put a dramatic spin on any quiet winter evening. A most unusual fat and philosophical wine that spreads like a gentle but insistent atomic cloud over the mouth with hidden corners of a child's stolen sugar cube and Tobasco mist in a burning forest. It is not a well-dressed sophisticated wine that arrives on time with drole tales to tell, no, it is a mad Rasputin of an intruder that will dominate your frilly food and hit on all the ladies in the room. You will hear the barking of dogs and shrieks of sirens in the distance. The fire in your fireplace will burn that much brighter with The Prisoner at your table.

Let me start off by saying that I am generally not a fan of California wines. They always seem to have the overbearing characteristics of prime time television. You can taste the laughtrack and the eagerness and above all you can taste the marketing. On the white side of the tracks, I can think of nothing worse than a sweet, cloying California chardonnay... not unlike the plastic cup of melted butter you get at Red Lobster with your dish. On the red side, there is a current mania for Pinot Noirs that sit in the glass like flat diet cherry coke mixed with notes of rubbing alcohol and Hawaiian Punch drained through an oil filter. Oh, and as if that's not enough, a California winemaker will always throw in an extra load of sulfites, just to ensure that you wake up the next day feeling like god himself drove a rusty tent peg through your skull.

But at the end of the day, you can not hold genius back no matter where it crops up. To that end, The Prisoner is one California wine that gets my full attention. It is the triumph of one ego, one vision, one mission to boldly go where few American wines have ever gone...

Here is the story (borrowed from vinology.com) ... The Prisoner is one of several new wines made by David Swift Phinney, a young man who never would have predicted that one day he would be a winemaker. A fateful trip to Italy during college as an exchange student stuck him with a roommate whose family was in the wine business back in the States. Apparently the two of them drank a lot of wine over a semester, and upon his return to the States, the 20-year-old Phinney gave up the dream of being a lawyer and instead focused all his energy into getting into the wine business after graduation. His initial foray into the wine world was writing research papers on grape varietals for a university agriculture department. Knowing that he wanted to be closer to the winemaking, he sent off a volley of letters to anyone and everyone he could think of in Napa asking for a job doing anything from working on the bottling line to answering phones. His efforts yielded only one reply. But one was all Phinney needed, and after that first stint helping out with the crush at Mondavi, he went on to lend increasing amounts of help at Opus One, and then Whitehall Lane, where he learned from winemaker Dean Sylvester. Now 31, he has his own label, sporting images from one of his favorite painters, Goya, and bearing the name of both his parents: Orin for his dad's middle name, and Swift for his mother's maiden name. He produces about 1400 cases of wine and makes a Sauvignon Blanc and a Cabernet in addition to The Prisoner.

Don't we owe our firstborn children to the Dave Phinneys of this world? Isn't it exciting to know that there must be a handful of visionary individuals lurking in every industry, and that it is only a matter of time before their talent juts above the treetops for all to see? Don't you love it when marketing fails and mediocrity is exposed by the mere existence of something indisputably unique?


Blogger pigatschmo said...

Since you don't like California wines, I'll have that shipment of twelve complementary cases redirected to my Japanese clients...

Did you ever get to watch "Mondovino"?

8:49 PM  

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