The Crane Assembly


Dave Phinney and friends go back to their roots

It is very rare in the wine world to rocket to stardom in a very short time. Dave Phinney started down this path when he launched Orin Swift in 1998 and its flagship wine, The Prisoner, a humble Zinfandel blend with a quirky, dark label and full-throttle flavor suddenly rocketed to the stratosphere of the wine world. From 2005 to 2009 The Prisoner was selected for Wine Spectator's Prestigious Top 100 list. Phinney, after growing the production from 385 cases to 85,000 cases, jettisoned The Prisoner wine label and few other wine labels to Huneeus Vintners in 2010 for an estimated 40 million dollars. Phinney retained his Orin Swift brand and continued making other outstanding wines under the Orin Swift label.  In April 2016, after increasing production of The Prisoner wine label to 170,000 cases, Huneeus sold its rights to Constellation Brands, one of the world’s largest wine companies, for a cool $285 million. It was only a short while later, in June 2016, E. & J. Gallo Winery came knocking and snatched up the remaining brands of Orin Swift for an undisclosed sum.

Flying under the radar, Dave Phinney and his friends set off on to a new project in 2012. This project remains a small, unique venture that is independent of connections to the big corporations. Dave, his two team members of Orin Swift, Kevin A. Fox and Bryan D. Sandoli, and another napa vineyard owner, Darryl Browman, set out preserve a bit of history deep in the heart of St. Helena. Old vines and field blends have always been at the core of Dave Phinney wines. In 2012, just before harvest, the team found what they were looking for and sealed the deal to purchase a heritage head-trained, eight-acre, vineyard site in St. Helena.

It is believed that George Beldon Crane, or simply G.B. Crane, first established grapes on this site in the year 1885, making it one of the oldest vineyards in the Napa Valley. These deeply-rooted historic vines are embedded in the ground that was formed over millennia as soil and gravel washed down from the Mayacamas Mountains via Sulphur Creek to the western flank of St. Helena. Although records are scarce, it was most likely planted as a field blend commonly known as “mixed blacks”. This field blend traditionally consisted of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignan, and a smattering of lesser-known grape varieties such as Alicante Bouschet, Mourvedre and Valdiguie. Heritage sites like this are few and far between and bring flavors that no amount of wine magic can reproduce.

Of the eight acres in production, approximately four acres are Crane’s original plantings. This four-acre block has been continuously farmed for nearly one hundred and thirty years by a number of different people. In addition to Crane’s old vine section, there is also a 1.6 acre block of Cabernet Sauvignon, a 1.4 acre block of Petite Sirah, and two rows of Merlot. 

Initial production off of the vineyard to begin with 'El Coco', a Zinfandel field blend. Later, a Cabernet Sauvignon was introduced off of the block. Fans of the original Prisoner and Mercury Head will be delighted to see what Phinney and friends have concocted off this incredibly historic plot.

In keeping with the dark, brooding fashion of the original The Prisoner label, El Coco's label was also inspired by a piece of artwork by Francisco Jose de Goya known as "Que viene el coco / The Boogeyman is Coming." El Coco comes in a unique bottle that is shorter and wider than typical 750ml bottles.


Dave Phinney
Dave Phinney
Country America
Region California Wine
Appellation Napa Valley

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