"Can we buy this?" Dave Phinney asked, pointing to a Grenache vineyard clinging to soil so dense that it looked more like rock.
Phinney, a 38-year-old Napa-based winemaker, was riding around in a truck on a steep hillside in the southern French region of Roussillon. Neither of the other two men in the car, both of whom work for Phinney, seemed surprised by his question; they'd spent much of the past three years watching him amass 300 acres of vineyards in the Roussillon; small plots of vines scattered miles apart across the rocky hills.
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But 300 acres still isn't enough. Phinney has big plans for the new wine he's making, a potent old-vine Grenache called D66. He wants more of Roussillon's vineyards, the older and more difficult to work they are, the better. Phinney is a talented winemaker with a finely tuned sense of what Americans will drink; his first big success was a California Zinfandel blend called The Prisoner, which grew from producing 385 to 70,000 cases a year in the past decade. His presence in Roussillon, checkbook in hand, says a lot about the ongoing transformation of this ancient wine region into France's next wine frontier.