Have You Spent the Last Eight Years in the Desert?

You might have spent Eight Years in the Desert, but there’s a good chance if you did you missed this great wine!

Have I tweaked your curiosity?

For those that don’t get the Eight Years in the Desert reference, I’m talking about Dave Phinney’s return to making Zinfandel after he sold The Prisoner. “But wait, Don” you may shout, “what does that have to do with this “great wine” I’m talking about now?”


Simple actually. Long about 2012, a foursome of friends decided to establish and begin production of a new winery called “The Crane Assembly.” As their website describes: “The Crane Assembly is centered around a unique eight-acre vineyard located in the gravel-rich soils of southern St. Helena. It is believed that George Beldon Crane, or simply G.B. Crane, first established grapes on this site in the year 1885, making it one of the oldest vineyards in the Napa Valley. Although records are scarce, it was most likely planted as a field blend commonly known as “mixed blacks”. This field blend traditionally consisted of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignan, and a smattering of lesser-known grape varieties such as Alicante Bouschet, Mourvedre and Valdiguie.”

“Of the eight acres in production, approximately four acres are Crane’s original plantings. This four-acre block has been continuously farmed for nearly one hundred and thirty years by a number of different people. In addition to Crane’s old vine section, there is also a 1.6 acre block of Cabernet Sauvignon, a 1.4 acre block of Petite Sirah, and two rows of Merlot. The vineyard is in close proximity to the Beckstoffer’s Dr. Crane Vineyard and their Bourn Vineyards.”

Okay, you’re asking me, but how is all this related? Crane Assembly was founded in 2012 by four long time friends in the Napa Valley – winemakers Dave Phinney (of Orin Swift fame) and Kevin Fox and business partners Bryan Sandoli and Darryl Browman (Darryl is the co-owner of Cavus Vineyards in the Stag’s Leap District). NOW does it make sense?

I happened to be introduced to The Crane Assembly a few years back, in fact upon their inaugural release of their G.B. Crane Cabernet Sauvignon 2012. What made me stand up and take notice when my rep came to me with the wine was who the winemaker was. Dave Phinney! He wasn’t constrained from making Cab just Zin. I was also aware of the Crane Vineyards and their pedigree. “Sign me up”, I yelled! Extremely allocated, I was able to only get two 3-paks in wooden bamboo cases. With a 96 Point Parker review, it didn’t last long. I may actually still have a bottle waiting for the right moment. Side note: That time might be at hand as my daughter (et sa fille) is joining me this week to celebrate Thanksgiving and something that, when asked, I answer “once a year.” You’ll have to figure that one out on your own.


But I’m not here to talk about their Cab, although I could and may do just that in a follow-up post. No, I’m writing this as I was recently pouring at a wine tasting where I had another one of their only three wines they produce. The Crane Assembly Disciples 2016. Why Disciples? The grapes for this wine are sourced from what could only be considered to be “disciples” of the original old vines of the Crane Vineyard. A blend of 76% Zinfandel, 13% Charbono, 6% Grenache, 5% Petite Sirah, I seem to recall a very similar mix in that first wine of Dave’s, The Prisoner. At least I remember that he used Charbono in the mix. I'm guessing that’s not by accident.

What a wine. The first sip sent me back to the early 2000’s (oh, if only I could), to memories of those first few bottles that I had. The Disciples showing a richness of dark fruit and luxurious style and spiciness that dances on the palate. Thankfully having a small amount left from the tasting, I was able to return home to relish the remaining few sips. Enough that I know I want more. That says a lot in my case as I am VERY PICKY about what I will buy for my own cellar any more.

So I’ve talked about two of their wines. What about number three? A wine they call “El Coco.” A slightly different mix of grapes, but still centered around, in this case, Old Vine Zinfandel. If you want to talk quality and consistency, the wine has received 95 Point scores for EVERY vintage produced from 2012 till 2016!


With the exception of the 2012 and 2013 Cabernet (Dave Phinney – Winemaker), all the wines have been the children of winemaker Kevin Fox, one of the four partners.

As a devotee of great wines, and if you are also, these are wines that are not to be missed. Availability may be limited as all of the wines are produced in smaller amounts. Going directly to the winery may be the only option, but don’t be too surprised if the wines are sold out and you may need to wait for the next vintage. Click here to go to their website.