Dave Phinney, Turning the Wine World Upside Down

Dec 27, 2017


Like so many, I stumbled into the wine business. On a lark, I traveled to Florence, Italy to study abroad for a semester. While I was there I was exposed to, and fell in love with, wine. Back in Arizona, I had been studying Political Science and History with a post-graduate plan to attend law school…but after my time in Italy, the die was cast. I returned to the states, graduated from University, and four days later moved to the Napa Valley.

I had sent my resume to fifty wineries in the Valley and only one replied: Robert Mondavi. I showed up to my temporary harvest position interview wearing a suit and tie. They literally laughed at me, gave me a very basic math exam and asked if I could pass a drug test. A few weeks later I was hired.
I spent the harvest of 1997 working the night shift – the only Anglo on an all-Latino crew. When they realized I was there to work hard they took me in, gave me a nickname, and showed me the ropes. I loved it! But I quickly realized that if I was going to work this hard, eventually it would have to be for myself. The very next year I started Orin Swift. Orin is my father’s middle name and Swift is my mother’s maiden name.

The first vintage in 1998 was less than spectacular. It was a tough harvest, and I bought fruit from the wrong part of a great vineyard.

I learned first hand that, Experience is what you get when you can’t get what you want.
The truth is, when it comes to winemaking there are no silver bullets, no secrets. We as winemakers are only as good as our fruit source.
Our winemaking philosophy then was the same as it is today: find the best fruit from the best vineyards. Farm it right, harvest it right, bring it into the winery, and don’t screw it up.

Thank you for reading/listening to my story. I hope to see you soon. Dave

MC_Phinney011217_1600 (2)


Impressed by the wines and by the way the brand powerfully connects with consumers, E&J Gallo Winery was thrilled to add Orin Swift to their family of brands in June 2016. Gallo has long admired Dave Phinney and Orin Swift’s innovative blends and imaginative, thought-provoking labels.

Dave says he’s just as thrilled because now he gets to focus on his work in the vineyard, the cellar, and the creative packaging.

“I’m like a kid in a candy store,” he says. “I’m freed up to do all the things I love. That’s what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Dave also says he knows Orin Swift wines are in very good hands. “It’s important to me there’s good stewardship of the brand.”

“The philosophy at Orin Swift is to be humble and to overdeliver, and that describes Gallo’s philosophy too. There’s not a lot of flashes, just a really smart way of doing business. I know that selling wine is the hardest part of this business and we’re putting Orin Swift wines in the hands of people who know what they’re doing.”



Orin Swift now has increased access to better vineyards, more control of the farming practices and greater resources than ever before. “Orin Swift wines will only get better,” says Dave. “What I’m most excited about is working with the Gallo family and the targets we have way out into the future. I’ve sourced fruit from Gallo vineyards in the past and I know what assets they are.”

“We’re always challenging ourselves. We don’t have competitors – we compete with ourselves. We’ve never made a wine we’re completely satisfied with,” he says. “I’ll be shocked if, over the next 2-5 years, we’re making not just better wine, but appreciably better wine. 2016 is an important vintage and I’m excited about what the future holds.”

“If there’s any message I want to send,” he says, “it’s that I take what we do extremely, extremely seriously. I view it as a responsibility, and it would be disrespectful to the product, the company, and the consumer if I didn’t. I said this to Wine Spectator and I’m still saying it: This is going to be Orin Swift, no holds barred.”


“Moderately complex, though loaded with zesty, supple fruit and offering appealing notes of black raspberry, smoky beef and cracked pepper. Grenache, Syrah and Petite Sirah.”



“Moderately complex, though loaded with zesty, supple fruit and offering appealing notes of black raspberry, smoky beef and cracked pepper. Grenache, Syrah and Petite Sirah.”



Shards of minerality, white fig, and lemon zest dominate the palate, with beams of acidity following through the extensive finish.


A brooding hue and viscous consistency, powerful aromas of creme de cassis, boysenberry, and ripe cherries are complemented by a soft minerality and hints of dark chocolate. The entry is smooth with dark plums and a charred meatiness that floods to create a velvety texture that lingers.

Related Post