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The Prisoner Wine Company’s Edgy Tasting Room Now Open in St Helena

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There’s food, wine, artisanal goods, and moody prison-themed decor

Matt Morris photo

The Prisoner Wine Company, creator of the number one luxury red blend in the country, has opened a one-of-a-kind tasting room off Highway 29 in Napa Valley. Having amassed a cult following for their innovative, yet extremely approachable blends paired with bold and provocative labels, the space opens just a few years after Constellation Brands purchased The Prisoner Wine Company for $285 million in 2016.

Aptly opening their doors with an unlocking ceremony versus the traditional ribbon cutting, The Prisoner Wine Company offers curated food and wine experiences in addition to The Makery, an immersive space that supports artisans in the local community.

Matt Morris photo

The Tasting Lounge

Most new wineries today go for the warm, cozy, and rustic-chic look, but not The Prisoner, which thrives on the unconventional. From the outside, the slate-colored building with an imposing and foreboding entryway exudes gothic vibes, but it’s much brighter on the inside, thanks to an 8 x 57-foot skylight in the vaulted ceiling (all the work of SF-based architect Matt Hollis).

“This brand is all about remaking the rules, so It made sense that the home of the brand should be non-conforming as well,” said Brigid Harris, Property Director of The Prisoner Wine Company. “As a result, we put a lot of thought into remaking the rules related to the look and feel of the tasting space, as well as the wine tasting experiences.”

Matt Morris photo

Blending industrial and futuristic elements, Napa designer Richard Von Saal made use of raw, refurbished materials, like reclaimed wood, rusted mirrors, and metal from the nearby Mare Island naval shipyard. In a sea of dark tones, red is the only pop of color. Without being too obvious, he sprinkled prison symbols throughout the space; if you look closely enough, you’ll notice shackles, balls, and chains in the fireplace and he designed a series of bar lights after the top part of the electric chair. Von Saal also drew inspiration from The Prisoner wine labels. Wired chairs, for instance, echo the Francisco de Goya sculptural painting etched on the Thorn label.

Matt Morris photo

Outside there’s a courtyard, aptly named The Yard, with additional tasting nooks, living walls, throne-like wicker chairs, and a bench built with materials reclaimed from the former Bay Bridge. A wood burning oven will serve up flat breads and grilled vegetables in the future. The Yard also has a gender neutral bathroom, one of the first to be found at a Napa Valley winery.

The Wine

You won’t find a big, juicy cabernet sauvignon here. Prisoner focuses on castaway grapes like charbono and chenin blanc, which are difficult to find in the cabernet sauvignon-dominated Napa Valley of today. In search of these somewhat-forgotten varietals, Prisoner partners with more than 80 small growers in Napa Valley, in addition to another 50 in wine regions within a two-hour radius.

“One thing that’s great about The Prisoner is there are no rules,” said Director of Winemaking Chrissy Wittman, who joined the team in 2016. “If you see something out there, a special vineyard or lot of grapes, we have the freedom to make wine out of it and put it in the bottle. It’s different and that’s what it’s all about, showcasing wines you don’t see every day.”

Matt Morris photo

The Prisoner offers three tasting experiences. The Lineup Tasting ($45, reservation not required, but recommended) takes place in the lounge or courtyard and features a curated selection of wines with a small bite. The Lineup rotates regularly, but as an example may include the Syndrome rosé, Snitch chardonnay, Eternally Silenced pinot noir, and Thorn merlot.

Those looking for a more elevated experience can make an appointment for a tasting in The Makery. The private tasting space doubles as an experiential showroom that supports local makers. For $65, The Makery Journey (reservation required) includes a tour of the tasting lounge, culinary garden, and The Makery, followed by a tasting of five wines. The Makery Experience ($125, reservation required) also includes a tour, but comes with a five-course food and wine pairing. Winery chef Brett Young curates a menu of bold flavors in dishes like a goat cheese agnolotti (with Tahitian squash, chanterelle mushroom, and smoked egg yolk) and A5 Wagyu beef rib eye.

The Makery

The Makery is a permanent rendition of The Prisoner Wine Company’s traveling Makery Experience, which launched three years ago. Held so far in six cities across the country, these one-night pop-up events bring local artisans together in one place. “When we began envisioning the first home for The Prisoner Wine Company, we quickly decided to bring that concept to life in the space,” said Harris. “The great thing about this concept is that we have the opportunity to engage with the local community and businesses that share the same passion for creating that we do.”

Matt Morris photo

One of the first things that greets you inside The Makery is a large skeleton, which upon closer observation is a unique, interactive art piece called Ash Dancer from featured artist Angelio Batle of Batle Studio. At the center of The Makery sits several geometric metal tables, which can be pieced together to form an industrial rendition of a farm table. There’s a large open kitchen at the far end with a pair of flat screens for getting a closer look at the action. The two stalls that flank each side are the maker spaces, where a group of handpicked local artisans display and sell their work.

Matt Morris photo

The makers will rotate quarterly, but for the opening months, you’ll find everything from delicate, handmade jewelry and all-natural, artisan soaps to jellies and salts made with The Prisoner wine. On theme with The Prisoner brand, St. Helena ceramicist Amanda Wright created a collection of black and gold pottery wares with punk rock features like zippers, spikes, and buckles.

The Prisoner Wine Company is open daily, 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.

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