By Rick Riozza

Ask anyone in the real estate biz and they’ll repeat the title of this piece (okay—maybe not in the plural so much, but certainly in the singular).

And since vineyards are indeed real estate, location is indeed everything.  When the Europeans first came to California—from the early Spaniards to the later Italians, Swiss French, and Germans, they all picked out some very relevant “terroir” in and around Napa/ Sonoma and other of our famed wine regions & locations.

Enter now abruptly: Dave Phinney—previously and somewhat currently known as Orin Swift, actually had entered the wine game back in 1997.  A California native, he became a vigorous vine enthusiast when he traveled to Firenze and came back to work the harvests at Robert Mondavi.


The very next year, he started his own Napa Valley brand (Orin Swift Cellars), purchased some terrific Napa grapes and then figured out what to do with them.  Clearly he had a mind for grapes and business for he readily created a rich, seductive wine that became the darling to many a fruit-forward following who love bombastic wine. But it wasn’t just big fruit—it owned some fine complexity and acidity.

The wine became The Prisoner: an unusual blend (at the time) of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Charbono.  Phinney played around with a lot of inventive blends using only the best quality grapes he could fined.  Many of you folks will remember his other original brands such as Mercury Head, Papillon, Machete, Saldo and many more.

It’s been said that “He’s the man, the man with the Midas touch.” And he’s been very smart and fortunate in wine opportunities. Perhaps never before have we seen such a perfect storm of quality grapes, expert winemaking—and slick packaging.

So after his quick rise in wine biz—he immediately sells his company, takes his 300 million and buys vineyard properties in France, Spain, Italy, Greece, and other parts world-wide. Interestingly, E & J Gallo company ended up with Orin Swift Cellars for which Phinney is one of their winemakers!

But back to the locations that Phinney purchased around the globe.  Producing top quality wine from these regions, he calls this new brand Locations.  You recognize these bottles of wine because they have a big capital letter of the country the wine is made from: F for France; I for Italy; and Ewait for it! España (Spain).

On this international ambition quest, Phinney states, “I created Locations based on a simple concept – make the best possible wine from a given country or location. This simple concept ended up being pretty challenging to put into action. I traveled the world, explaining my concept to some of the worlds’ finest vineyard owners, eventually turning skeptics into believers, and secured some of the best fruit to make the wines. In the process, I’ve had a lot of fun, visiting incredible vineyard sites and meeting amazing people, while challenging each other to make the best wine possible.
“Throughout the world of wine there are distinct and highly-prized geographical areas where soil and climate interact to produce grapes that uniquely express their sense of place through wine. These prized vineyard areas are situated within appellations of the old (primarily Europe) and new (mostly the rest of the world) but are rarely combined in the art of blending, due to local laws and restrictions. These local laws and restrictions make it almost impossible to express true winemaking freedom.
“I seek out high-quality vineyards, and forward-thinking growers, across appellations to create a wine that proudly represents the best viticultural parcels of that country or location. Our quest is for old vines with low yields, to bring out the best of a specific vineyard and area. We then combine these parcels to craft a wine that pays homage to the country of origin; a wine that makes all of us proud.”

And now—some reviews of the Locations line-up:  Bottle prices hover around $25.

Locations CA stands for the California blend—The red wine is made from Petite Sirah, Barbera, Tempranillo, Syrah, and Grenache. The wine is a deep purple that opens with ripe black fruits. Dense and rich, there are hints of chocolate, blackberry compote. The finish has tangy acidity and soft, succulent tannins.

Locations F for the French blend—Opaque with ruby accents, the wine is intensely perfumed with aromas of vivid berry, warm spice, plum, kirsch, lavender and subtle oak nuances. The entry is juicy and penetrating with rich flavors of ripe blackberry, racy currant and blueberry that generously coat the palate. Easy drinking, the finish is long and clean with just the right amount of polished tannins to keep the fruit in focus. Extremely well-balanced, this delicious red is ready to open and drink now.

Locations I is an Italian red blend made from Negroamaro, Nero d’Avola and Barbera! (Sounds Sicilian to me.) The wine has aromatic notes of black cherry, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, balsa, and evergreen. The silky-smooth entry is met with a textured mid-palate of velvety fig, blueberry jam, and soft oak. The finish has a hint of sea salt and fades out slowly.  How about a Sicilian dish here—such as Pasta alla Norma.

Locations E—This Spanish red blend is a delicious full-bodied bottle of Garnacha, Tempranillo, Monastrell and Carinena grapes. Aromas of dark berries and smoke. Will pair wonderfully with grilled meats, roast chicken, roast pork—and turkey burgers, if you can find a really good one!  Cheers!