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The Prisoner Wine Co. has a new home in the Napa Valley

Constellation Brands: tasting room to open to the public early November
by Kerana Todorov
October 18, 2018
The Prisoner Wine Co.'swinery opens to the public early November near St. Helena. Constellation Brands on Wednesday opened the doors of the winery - the former Francisccan - for a peak preview. Photo by Kerana Todorov/Wine Business Monthly.  

The brand The Prisoner Wine Co. has a permanent home – the renovated old Franciscan winery on Highway 29 near St. Helena.

Constellation Brands plans in early November to open the doors of The Prisoner’s new house, two years after the New York State-based public company purchased the label from Napa-based Huneeus Vintners for $286 million. The renovated winery, which features a fireplace filled with metal balls and chains in its tasting room, is the former home of the Franciscan brand. Renovations started about a year ago.

Chris Stenzel, president of Constellation’s wine and spirits division, on Wednesday unlocked the patina-finished steel doors and handed the padlock - and chains - to Napa County Sheriff John Robertson, one of the guests invited for a peek into the renovated winery before it opens. The building, which features a Teflon covered front-porch area, was renovated to reflect the brand’s unique image and style.

“This certainly transcends what consumers are accustomed to when visiting Wine Country,” Stenzel said.

Napa Valley Vintners and Chief Executive Officer Linda Reiff spoke about the new Napa Valley experience The Prisoner Wine Co. brings and Robert Mondavi, whose eponymous winery is now a Constellation property.

“Robert Mondavi started a beautiful trend here back in 1966 which was to open the doors and welcome people to come try the wines, learn about the wines, learn about the vineyards and the appellation and become fans of this valley,” Reiff said. That tradition continues, she said.

The best way to gain a fan for the wine business is an in-person experience, Reiff said. “What you’re doing here is helping us gain that next generation of wine drinker which everyone says is extremely important for any premiere wine region in particular Napa to be at the top of its game.”

Stenzel said the winery is more for the “modern consumer.” But the brand is for consumer of all ages. “It appeals to everyone,” he said.

The Prisoner brand produces 250,000 cases a year, Stenzel said. Sourcing includes vineyards from Napa, Sonoma, Lake counties and the Central Coast, according to Constellation. The company includes 12 wines, including five labels that will be only sold at the winery. There were five brands in The Prisoner's portfolio two years ago when Constellation purchased the label winemaker Dave Phinney had created in 2000.

For the past two years, The Prisoner wines have been produced at different facilities, including Bin to Bottle, Sonoma Valley Custom Wine and Starmont Winery and Vineyards.

Winemaker Chrissy Wittman said all The Prisoner wines will be produced at the winery on Galleron Road.

The renovations included a brand new crush pad with new equipment, including a new conveyer, sorting table and destemmer.

The fact The Prisoner will have its own tasting room remains surreal, she said. “It makes me smile ear to ear.”

She looks forward to see visitors relax, talk and have a good time. “I like to see people happy,” she said.

Architect Matt Hollis of San Francisco and designer Richard Von Saal of Napa were hired to transform the 1980-era Franciscan building into a winery whose iconic red blend features a label with a picture of a prisoner by Spanish artist Francisco Goya. The re-designed winery features vaulted ceilings, exposed trusses and skylights.

The public areas include the tasting room and an area known as “the makery” where visitors can sit to taste wine and eat bites prepared in an open kitchen under Chef Brett Young.

The “makery” – Franciscan’s old wine library - also features space for rotating artisans such as Emma and Sabrina Mann’s Soap Cauldron of Sonoma County and Tsalt Seasonings of Oakland, a company that produces gourmet salts from Mongolia.

The restrooms are gender neutral with (private) stalls. Visitors can relax at the tasting room’s counter or relax in the indoor and outdoor lounge areas.

“It’s fun,” Hollis said. “You do not come here and feel like ‘I have to put on my grown-up speak to talk about the wine. I can enjoy the wine. I can enjoy the environment. And I associate the two together.’”

Von Saal incorporated designed furniture for The Prisoner that can easily be moved. There is a bench built with wood salvaged from the Bay Bridge in the outdoor sitting area; tables made in part with recycled aluminum from Mare Island and shelves supported with beams salvaged from a 200-year-old Mennonite settlement in Ohio. Von Saal estimated about 40 percent of the materials used to design the new interior of the winery was salvaged.

“I wanted to create something that was retro futuristic,” Saal said, meaning “something of the past showing something of the future.”

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