The stories behind Orin Swift’s quirkiest wine labels

Eight Years in the Desert

With uneven ripening, high alcohol and a propensity to rot, Zinfandel isn’t the easiest grape to grow. This didn’t put longtime Zinphomaniac Phinney from making his first ever wine from it in 1999, of which he released 99 cases.

It wasn’t an easy ride – Phinney lost a third of his crop after spraying sulphur late in the year, while a heat spike fried the morning side of the vines. Finding his stride a year later, Phinney released his first vintage of The Prisoner, a blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet and Petite Syrah, in 2000.

Featuring a Goya etching on the label, the wine was an instant hit and grew to become an 85,000-case brand. In 2008 Phinney sold The Prisoner brand and agreed with its buyer not to make Zinfandel for eight years.

“Like a child who only wants to do what he’s told not to do, I began to plot my return. At the time 2016 seemed like an eternity away,” says Phinney who agonised for months trying to come up with a name and label worthy of his long-awaited comeback.

While waiting for inspiration to strike, Phinney wrote a book of short stories, the first of which was called Eight Years in the Desert. Without trying he’d found the name and label concept (a black-and-white desert landscape overlayed with pale pink sky) for his beloved Zin, which he’s enjoying working with again. “It’s a bit like riding a bike, only the bike is now a motorcycle and the rider has a lot more experience,” he says.

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