Napa Valley was blanketed in smoke the weekend The Prisoner Wine Company opened its tasting room to the public. The devastating fire had just begun its trail of destruction 150 miles north, and the region’s usually crisp ocean air looked and felt more like something out of a dystopian thriller. It made approaching The Prisoner’s fortress-like new home downright eerie.
Located off Highway 29 in St Helena, the property had previously housed Franciscan Estate wines. But when its parent company Constellation Brands purchased The Prisoner in 2016, they showed Franciscan the door and completely transformed the traditional winery into something that would better suit its new acquisition—a brand born of a single bottle whose iconic label features a haunting Francisco Goya etching of a shackled man, illuminated from above.
An easy drinking, Zinfandel-heavy blend, The Prisoner was the flagship wine of Orin Swift Cellars, founded in 1998 by Dave Phinney. A decade later, The Prisoner Wine Company was established when Phinney sold the popular label (as well as Saldo, another red blend) to Huneeus Vintners, who eventually sold it to Constellation.
It’s been an unconventional journey from bottle to brand for The Prisoner, and its third owner wanted to give it an unconventional home as well. So, they hired architect Matt Hollis and designer Richard Von Saal who, together, reimagined the space with what they called a retro-futuristic feel, to showcase not only the 10+ wines currently in The Prisoner’s portfolio but also to create a space that celebrates local makers.
The renovated property houses The Prisoner’s Tasting Lounge, as well as The Makery, an adjacent event space with modular metallic furniture, four stalls for hosting a rotating selection of local crafters and purveyors, and an open kitchen where in-house chef Brett Young prepares wine-friendly pairings.
“The opening of The Prisoner Wine Company’s Tasting Lounge and The Makery reimagines the typical wine tasting experience by offering both loyal and future fans a place to immerse themselves in the brand in a new way,” says Brigid Harris, The Prisoner’s Property Director. “We hope all of our visitors come to discover the allure of The Prisoner Wine Company.”
While the winery provides a new way to experience The Prisoner’s wines, it’s also introducing a new way to experience Napa. To say the building doesn’t give off the typical whitewashed “wine country” vibes would be an understatement. The expansive, slate-gray structure’s dark windows, metal roof, and imposing entryway seem more fit for a post-apocalyptic princess or a high-class criminal who robbed a few cellars.
Inside, nearly every surface is black or gray, accented with reclaimed metal and timber. Prison references—like chains and handcuffs—are incorporated into the decor, and the only prominent pop of color throughout the whole space is blood red. That said, the interior is anything but bleak. Inspired by the composition of The Prisoner’s label, Hollis installed a nearly 60-foot skylight when he vaulted the ceiling of The Makery (formerly Franciscan’s wine library). The courtyard features rattan chairs, a living wall and gender-neutral bathrooms.
In stark contrast to the dark surfaces and cold metals that adorn The Prisoner Wine Company, the staff is friendly, the food is approachable, and the space somehow manages to feel comfortable and inviting—even with the penitentiary-themed props and life-size gyrating skeleton installation. Like the bottle that started it all, it’s a little ominous at first glance, but once you’re into it, you’re hooked.
The Prisoner Wine Company offers three wine tasting experiences, beginning at $45, as well as a customizable tasting in The Makery. Reservations are required for each.
Images by Matt Morris for The Prisoner Wine Company