Director of Winemaking at The Prisoner Wine Company

In honor of The Prisoner Wine Company recently launching a new Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Carneros Chardonnay, we had a chance to interview the director of winemaking.

After being in the industry for two decades, it’s safe to say The Prisoner knows what they’re doing. Director of Winemaking, Chrissy Wittmann, helped us learn a little bit more about the wine company.

Chrissy Wittmann Headshot

Chrissy Wittmann

What are the flavor profiles of the Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon?

The Prisoner Cabernet Sauvignon is blended in the same unique style as our namesake Red Blend and the result is a wine with concentrated dark fruit flavors, culminating in a lush, full mouthfeel and lengthy finish. We blended a base of Cabernet Sauvignon with an unlikely mix of Merlot, Syrah, Malbec, Petite Sirah and Charbono. On the nose, you’ll experience aromas of black cherry and ripe plum, layered with vanilla and baking spice.

What are the flavor profiles of the Carneros Chardonnay?

The Prisoner Chardonnay is bursting with wonderful fall aromas like vanilla, crème brûlée and baked apple. Full-bodied and rich on the palate, flavors of pineapple and toasted oak integrate nicely with the balanced acidity and smooth finish. Our goal was to transcend what’s expected of a typical Chardonnay, so to make this wine more thought-provoking, we blended our base with small amounts of Roussanne and Gewürztraminer grapes.

The Prisoner Wine Company is a very unique name. What is the story behind this?

It certainly is! The brand name and flagship label were inspired by the classic Francisco de Goya sketch Le Petit Prisonnier, which was part of Goya’s series The Disasters of War, created to be a visual protest against the injustice and brutality of the Spanish War of Independence in 1808. Today, The Prisoner Wine Company continues to celebrate creatives challenging norms in their respective fields and is committed to making the wine industry a more inclusive space.

The Prisoner Wine Company Varieties, bottles on white

The Prisoner Wine Company Varieties

What makes your blends luxurious?

I feel our blends ultimately are so luxurious because of the quality of grapes we use, as well as the winemaking team’s care and attention to detail. We source fruit from our family of over 100 growing partners, which allows us to be very selective in our quality of fruit and gives us the opportunity to use more uncommon varietals like Charbono and Roussanne. Additionally, our brand is recognized for our thought-provoking and complex offerings, so during the winemaking process, we work to ensure we uphold this standard with every new vintage or release.

Tell us a little bit about the origin of the company.

The Prisoner Wine Company was founded by Dave Phinney in 2000, with his inaugural vintage of The Prisoner Red Blend selling just a few hundred cases. The wine is credited with resurging the luxury red blend category and we’re very proud to annually release a new vintage of the Red Blend and keep our tenure as the #1 luxury red blend. The Prisoner’s edgy, artistic personality and intriguing blend of varietals has created that of a cult-following among consumers, winning over wine novices and aficionados (plus, even some celebrities!).

What separates The Prisoners Cabernet Sauvignon from others on the market? Same with Carneros Chardonnay?

There is certainly no shortage of Cabernet Sauvignons or Chardonnay wines hailing from Northern California. However, The Prisoner Wine Company has never been satisfied with just releasing another standard Napa Valley varietal, so we challenge ourselves to make new wines to continue the legacy of The Prisoner and its intriguing personality. To ensure our Cabernet Sauvignon had complexity and layers we took a standard Cabernet Sauvignon base and blended it with small amounts of Merlot, Syrah, Malbec, Petite Sirah and Charbono. For the Chardonnay, we also wanted to do something different, so we blended our Chardonnay base with less common grapes like Roussanne and Gewürztraminer. 

What is the history behind the wine? Has it changed over the years?

The Prisoner was a trailblazer in the luxury red blend category, re-sparking interest in these blends and inspiring other brands to experience with their own blends. While the ethos behind The Prisoner Wine Company and the untraditional blending method of The Prisoner has stayed consistent over the years, the portfolio has expanded to include other thought-provoking blends. Today, our core portfolio really has something for everyone and includes: The Prisoner Red Blend, The Prisoner Cabernet Sauvignon, The Prisoner Chardonnay, Blindfold (white blend), Saldo (Zinfandel), Eternally Silenced (Pinot Noir), Thorn (Merlot), The Snitch (Chardonnay), and cuttings (Cabernet Sauvignon). As we introduce more wines to our portfolio, we hope people will recognize our signature winemaking and blending style in these new offerings. It’s been exciting to add to this renowned portfolio and have the opportunity to have more people than ever experience the allure of The Prisoner Wine Company.

The company offers live experiences online. What can the consumer expect to see during these live experiences?

We’ve taken the past few months as an opportunity to connect with people nationwide through new virtual experiences. I’ve had a lot of fun filming guided tastings and pairings, which are accessible on our website and social media. Additionally, we now offer virtual experiences where you and your friends or family can log on for a live tasting with me! For anyone interested in booking a tasting with me or one of our wine educators, consumers can expect an approachable overview of the wines with specific tasting notes, (to avoid anyone being nervous having not done a wine tasting before). Regardless of the wines you’re tasting, you’ll leave with new information on the vineyards, grapes, blending processes and how these illustrate themselves in the glass. Our goal is not to be too technical, but rather informative and fun.

Each bottle is different and unique. How does each bottle label get chosen? What is the meaning behind them?

The artwork for our trio of wines under The Prisoner label all pay homage to the classic Goya etching on our Red Blend. Each new wine label features a slightly different etching of the prisoner clad in chains, one in green (The Prisoner Chardonnay) and the other in blue (The Prisoner Cabernet Sauvignon). Beyond The Prisoner, the remainder of the portfolio features eye-catching labels that really personify the wines they adorn. Our goal is to choose evocative, artistic labels that will entice people to pick up a bottle and tell a story about the wine. For example, each bottle of Eternally Silenced is hand-dipped in wax, partially obscuring the mysterious figure on its label, a tantalizing tease of its unknown contents. After we complete a new wine, our team collaborates on a name and label design that embody the blend.

Do you plan to add more wine varietals in the future?

I hope so! I hope that everyone is as excited as our team about these new wines. One of my favorite parts of being Director of Winemaking at The Prisoner Wine Company is making intriguing new blends, so I hope to be able to share more unique wines and additional vintages to come!

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