The Prisoner Wine Company was founded in 2000 by Dave Phinney, a winemaker with a flair for entrepreneurship. In the late 1990s he founded Orin Swift Cellars, which quickly earned compliments for its Zinfandels and other big, flavorful wines. Part of Phinney’s business model is a creative approach to labels, and his Prisoner labels were inspired by the etchings of Francisco Jose de Goya, a Spanish artist who documented the ravages of war. In 2010 The Prisoner Wine Company was purchased by Agustin Huneeus, a long-time wine industry executive who owns Quintessa in Napa Valley, among other wineries around the world. In 2016 Constellation Brands bought The Prisoner from Huneeus Vintners. Prisoner wines are made from grapes sourced throughout California. Jen Beloz is winemaker. Beloz worked at Ravenswood for a decade before joining The Prisoner Wine Company. Though the company makes several wines, its namesake wine is The Prisoner, a blend inspired by the tastes of the Italian immigrants who first made wine in Napa Valley. The Prisoner is generally a blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah and Charbono. Wine Advocate notes that Prisoner wines “are distinctive, creative blends of exceptionally high quality…. that deliver lots of hedonistic joy and satisfaction.”
Napa Valley AVA is the most famous winemaking region in the United States and one of the most prestigious in the world. With nearly 43,000 acres of vineyards and more than 300 wineries, it is the heart of fine wine production in the United States. Winemaking started in Napa in 1838 when George C. Yount planted grapes and began producing wine commercially. Other winemaking pioneers followed in the late 19th century, including the founders of Charles Krug, Schramsberg, Inglenook and Beaulieu Vineyards. An infestation of phylloxera, an insect that attacks vine roots, and the onset of Prohibition nearly wiped out the nascent Napa wine industry in the early 20th century. But by the late 1950s and early 1960s Robert Mondavi and other visionaries were producing quality wines easily distinguishable from the mass-produced jug wines made in California’s Central Valley. Napa Valley’s AVA was established in 1983, and today there are 16 sub-appellations within the Napa Valley AVA. Many grapes grow well in Napa’s Mediterranean climate, but the region is best known for Cabernet Sauvignon. Chardonnay is also very successfully cultivated, and about 30% of the AVA’s acreage is planted to white grapes, with the majority of those grapes being Chardonnay,
Zinfandel is a black-skinned grape, but 85% of the wine produced is made into a rosy “White Zinfandel.” Red Zin is far more complex and bold, while still being light-bodied. It grows in popularity as winemakers continue to experiment with new styles and blends.