Winemaker bringing food to Northern California town without restaurants

Winemaker Dave Phinney — whose runaway wine hit, The Prisoner, sold for $40 million a decade ago — is branching into food.

But in a bizarre twist, his culinary foray may be met without competition because there are currently zero restaurants on the 23-mile stretch of land outside of San Francisco where he plans to start pairing fried chicken with wine and whiskey.

Phinney — whose sale of The Prisoner to Huneeus Vintners in 2010 resulted in an eight-year noncompete — planted roots on Mare Island two years ago with plans to develop the area, a designated federal opportunity zone, into a bustling center for business, living and having fun.

He and his partner, Memphis billionaire Gaylon Lawrence Jr., own 800 acres on Mare Island — once home to the first US Navy shipyard on the Pacific Ocean— including a Savage & Cooke distillery that produces whiskey, bourbon and rye aged in wine casks.

Phinney and Lawrence Jr. plan to eventually develop “a city of 75,000 people,” including tech, film and educational businesses.

But first, they need food.

The 120-seat eatery and bar will be located in the distillery and offer Phinney’s wines and spirits.

It will provide outdoor seating, including on a patio and a rooftop, as well as 2,100 square feet of indoor seating.

The menu will be focused on fried chicken because “that’s what the chef does best.”

“It’s the best fried chicken we’ve ever had,” Phinney said.

The menu, being developed by Phinney and Chris Blanchard, the distillery’s chef and Master Sommelier, will include two different styles of fried chicken and “soulful Southern sides that will pair well with whiskey-based cocktails served up at the bar,” said Lauren Blanchard, the distillery’s general manager.

“Fried chicken and whiskey are a natural match,” Lauren Blanchard said. “We want people to come to the distillery and have an incredible experience, from the whiskey to the food and architecture, and learning about the distillation process.”

It will also be the only sit-down dining in the area without crossing a bridge.

“There are food trucks, but no real restaurants now,” Phinney says of the plot of land on the San Pablo Bay. “Friends in the restaurant business say don’t get into it.”

“But this is a safe bet. It is an accoutrement to the distillery, so it is a little easier to rationalize from a business standpoint.”

Exterior of Savage and Cooke distillery. credit: Margaret Pattillo PhotographySavage and Cooke trio of products  credit: Margaret Pattillo Photography

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