Napa Wine Icon Dave Phinney Returns w/ ‘8 Years in the Desert’


Napa Valley is known for big, bold wines with big, bold names to back them up. But certainly none has been so bold before as to take the form of artwork on a skateboard deck.

As the founder of Orin Swift Cellars, Dave Phinney was known for thoughtfully produced, mixed and bottled wines like Machete, a juicy Petite Sirah that cuts you off at the knees, and Mannequin, a full-bodied Chardonnay whose label was inspired by a Nicki Minaj song. They were daring, and totally original.

Phinney departed from the wine business in 2010; but after eight years he’s back with the aptly named 8 Years in The Desert – a nod to the non-compete clause tucked into his buy-out from the The Prisoner. His underdog-to-top-dog Napa wine that eventually sold for $285 million was known for the label – a series of dark lines depicting a man, bent at the knees and chained at both sides, etched by Francisco de Goya – as much as its bold terroir. It’s been a top seller for years.


Above: 8 Years in the Desert Custom Skateboard Decks


Now, his 8 Years in the Desert is a collection of eight wines spanning from, as he explains it, a “blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Syrah and small percentages of other red varietals.” But the labels again figure significantly, featuring a stark, barren landscape with dry hills and a lone cactus – yet multi-layered with exposed photo negatives; the exposures range from blues and greens to pinks and whites, and appear bleached from the sun. They represent a progression in flavor and image from fully to partially exposed, and mimic the robust to lighter flavor profiles in each bottle.

Indeed, the wines create a complete story, and as Phinney puts it, “nothing has been spared on this project. The tank is empty; everything was left on the field. This is literally blood, sweat and tears.”

It should be noted that during his brief sojourn, Phinney stayed close to his Napa Valley roots with another passion project, one that saw him delve for the first time into the world of spirits. Savage & Cooke, a distillery and tasting room on Mare Island, produced a signature bourbon called Burning Chair, to rave reviews.

Still, he insists, “I look at everything through a winemakers eyes – making it all totally personal. Wine is at the heart of everything I do.”


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