David Phinney and His Next Act

So, you’ve sold two of your wine labels for a reported $40 million at a wizened old age of 37. Next? Enjoy life, raise your kids, travel? 

If you’re Dave Phinney, the answer is a big, “NO WAY!”

 In 2010, Phinney sold two labels (The Prisoner, an otherworldly zinfandel blended with other grapes that aren’t supposed to play nice with zin, and Saldo, a straightforward zinfandel from several California locations) to Quintessa.  

Then, rather than retiring early, he returned to running the other labels with Orin Swift

For most folks, $40 mil and making something like 16 different wines from grapes all over the world for Orin Swift would suffice. 

Phinney? Nope. 

Two years before he sold to Quintessa, Dave accepted an invite to visit Maury, France, located in the Roussillon winemaking area, about 40 miles north of the Spanish border. He fell in love and, of course, bought 40 acres and built a brand new winery on the outskirts of Maury. He dubbed the new effort, Department 66. 

He’s expanded since then — now he’s got more than 300 acres and is making tens of thousands of cases featuring the Roussillon star, Grenache, along with a supporting cast of syrah, mourvedre and carignan

Over the Memorial Day weekend, some family members and I tasted three of Department 66’s offerings. 

A few initial comments: First, WOW, what a relief to finally be able to get together with friends and family. 

Second, I’m the wine geek in the family (followed closely by my lovely bride, Terry). 

The rest of the folks resemble most wine drinkers — they have wine on occasion, have a basic understanding of what they like, and are happy to say whether they enjoy something or not. So, in other words, their impressions gave me how a normal consumer might respond to these wines. 

“Fragile” Rosé, 2017, grenache touched with mourvedre. Rosés are often forgettable, mediocre, meant for easy quaffing and not much else. Not so much Fragile.

Yessica (fiancée of Ted), Ted (son), and Hannah (wife of nephew Ian) all detected a floral aroma while others got something more like hints of strawberry and tropical fruit. Pink or salmon in color.

Overall, the verdict was quite favorable. Ian gave it a 90, saying it was light and easy to drink.

Nephew Danny wrote, “well-balanced, fruity, nice, easy finish, dry.” Maybe I was wrong — these guys seem to know more than they let on.

Overall score, 87 (tough crowd), but actually quite strong for $18. 

“Others” followed Fragile. 2015 vintage, so it’s had a little bit of time in bottle. It’s 75% Grenache, 10% Syrah and the balance carignan, mourvèdre and lladoner. 

Hannah’s initial visual and aroma impressions: “blackberry, oak, deep merlot color, dark not translucent.” On the taste, I got raspberry, coffee and blueberry.

Terry, Ian and Danny also got spices, particularly pepper. While I enjoyed it, Ian didn’t. This was Ted’s favorite, opining, “Easy finish, like church wine.” Overall score, 88. Pretty good for $25. 

We wrapped things up with 2014 “D66.” It’s 80% grenache, with 15% syrah, and this was the most expensive wine of the afternoon, at a suggested retail of $38.
In the D66, Terry saw a brick-red wine, with aromas of blackberry, raspberry and baking spices.
Danny sensed a “fruity, sweet smell.” A common refrain was, “I want to try this with a robust meal. I think it would really show off what this wine has to offer.” Well, I told them to deal with it.
This was Ian’s favorite: “Mix of woods and fruits, fuller body, earthy, rich flavor.” He gave it a 90. Both Terry and Danny got tastes of leather and spices.
This was also Hannah’s favorite (a good sign for the marriage with Ian?), finding it lighter and less acidic than the “Others.” The overall favorite, at score range of 90-91. 
Dedicated to the pursuit of exceptional wines