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Dave Phinney, Orin Swift Cellars

Dave Phinney, Orin Swift Cellars

Submitted photo

Back in 1995, on a lark, David Swift Phinney took a friend up on an offer and went to Florence, Italy to spend a semester “studying.”

In Italy, he was introduced to wine and how it’s made — and Phinney was hooked.

According to the Orin Swift Cellars website, after university graduation, Phinney eventually landed a job at Robert Mondavi Winery in 1997 as a temporary harvest worker.

Phinney wrote that he decided that if he was going to work that hard, it would have to be for himself. So in 1998 he founded Orin Swift Cellars. Orin is his father’s middle name and Swift is his mother’s maiden name.

With two tons of zinfandel “and not much else,” Phinney spent the next decade making wine for others as well as himself and grew the brand to what it is today.

1. Which three people would you most like to have dinner with?

Ernest Hemingway, Pope Francis, Maria Montessori.

2. What was your first job?

Tying Christmas trees on cars for tips in L.A.

3. What’s the worst job you ever had?

Foot Locker.

4. What is the biggest challenge the wine industry has faced?

The consolidation of distributors.

5. Who do you most admire in the business world?

Ricardo Semler (CEO and majority owner of Semco Partners, a Brazilian company known for its radical form of industrial democracy and corporate re-engineering).

6. What is one thing you hope to accomplish in your lifetime that you haven’t yet?

Help provide free Montessori education to all.

7. If you could change one thing about the wine business, what would it be?

The cost of entry to young people starting out.

8. What’s something people might be surprised to know about you?

I dropped out of high school.

9. What was your childhood ambition?

To be a stuntman.

10. If you could be anywhere right now, where would you be?

With my wife and kids on Lake Willoughby (Vermont).

Phinney can be reached at 707-388-1973.


Business Editor

Jennifer Huffman is the business editor and a general assignment reporter for the Napa Valley Register. I cover a wide variety of topics for the newspaper. I've been with the Register since 2005.