Inside The Prisoner Wine Company Tasting Lounge Experience in Napa Valley
Utilizing custom-built objects and repurposed materials, this may be one of the most dramatic, idiosyncratic tasting-rooms I’ve ever visited in Napa.
The smell of expertly seared A5 Wagyu filled the air as a graphite skeleton vibrated in the corner, leaving its million marks on a human-sized sheet of mylar film. Behind me was a selection of pottery by Amanda Wright, much of it inspired by a punk-rock clothing, with chains and buckles and zippers wrapping around housewares. And to the front of my plate were glasses of decadent red, white, and bubbly, some available across the country and others only being poured in this space.
The product of two years of planning and development, The Prisoner’s expansive new project occupies the space that once housed Franciscan Estate. But visitors who had the chance to stop by before the transformation may not recognize it anymore: Architect Matt Hollis and interior designer Richard Von Saal have transformed the 40,000 square feet into a wholly immersive experience inspired by the iconic aesthetic of The Prisoner’s labels. Utilizing custom-built objects and repurposed materials—200-year-old barn wood from an Ohio Mennonite community, for example, and steel panels that previous were part of a nuclear submarine—and a dramatic opening up of the space, with massive sky lights and custom art and furniture throughout, this may be one of the most dramatic, idiosyncratic tasting-rooms I’ve ever visited in Napa.
Straightforward samplings of the wine (“The Line-Up Tasting,” in keeping with the prisoner theme) are $40, by appointment or walk-in, and include wine, a bit of food, and a tour of culinary garden, vineyard, and The Makery, which is just beyond the tasting bar… where, of course, the wines are stored “in bondage,” their shackle-like holders suspended from chains. “The Makery Journey,” $65 and by appointment only, affords guests the opportunity to also purchase certain items from the makers-in-residence. And “The Makery Experience,” $95 Thursday through Sunday, includes a five-course small-plates pairing. The opening menu, created by Chef Brett Young, included that stunning Wagyu (seared on a screaming-hot rock sizzling with the rendered fat of the beef itself, and accompanied by a pickled-lime gomashio and shaved scallions), delicate yet hearty chevre agnolotti with Tahitian squash, chanterelles, and a smoked egg yolk), and more. Wines conceived expressly for the new space have been crafted by Director of Winemaking Chrissy Wittmann, including “Syndrome,” an excellent rosé, the Charbono-based “Headlock,” and more.
That small-plates pairing takes place in a dramatically long room, where four separate stalls off to the side house a rotating cast of local artists and craftspeople—the makers, as it were. They currently include culinary-bag company Aplat; Tsalt Seasoning, which utilizes The Prisoner’s wines, as well as other ingredients, to spice up pink-hued Mongolian salt; and more—which is why I enjoyed my lunch in the presence of that vibrating, jittering graphite skeleton.
It was the brainchild of artist Agelio Batle, whose works in that material explore the connection between the ancient life that ultimately turned into carbon, and the art that can be made today from it. The skeleton was set on a flat vibrating table lined with a massive sheet of mylar film, and with each jolt and shudder of the fabricated bones, it left a mark. After days or weeks or months, depending on when Batle believes it’s complete, the paper is removed, framed, and displayed for purchase. It is, he explained, a chance to create new life—his art—from a material that’s composed of the ancient remains of plant and animal life that passed hundreds of millions of years ago.
Conceptual, to be sure, but the finished product is magnificent. And with a few glasses of The Prisoner’s wines in your system, it all starts to make perfect sense. The overlapping of the worlds of art, architecture, wine, and food here is fascinating, and an excellent addition to the Napa Valley.