Savage & Cooke Distillery Anchors Mare Island’s Historic Core

Savage & Cooke Distillery on Mare Island

Lisa Duncan Photography


A renown Northern California winemaker has set his sights on making Vallejo’s Mare Island a prime tourist destination, starting with the distillery he opened last year.

Dave Phinney made his name in wines, launching The Prisoner label and Orin Swift Cellars. After selling both companies, he opened Savage & Cooke distillery on Mare Island, naming it for two naval officers who had been assigned there.

His Ayate Tequila starts in Guanjuato, Mexico, and is finished there in Phinney’s wine barrels. His Second Glance American Whiskey and Burning Chair Bourbon also are finished in wine barrels, but in Savage & Cooke’s building of vintage bricks and sturdy wood floors.

Phinney will use grains and water from his own Northern California land to produce future whiskies. To eliminate water pollution, the distillery uses a closed-loop system.

“Dave has always been a spirits fan,” said Lauren Blanchard, Savage & Cooke’s general manager. Encouraged by distributors and friends, he found what he needed on Mare Island.

Lisa Duncan Photography

Savage & Cooke Distillery on Mare Island


As much as space and a central location, Phinney wanted a site with “heart and soul,” Blanchard said. Mare Island’s history and architecture showed him “it’s the right place,” she said.

Savage & Cooke’s products are distributed successfully in 35 markets nationwide. They’re sold regionally at certain Whole Foods, Bounty Hunter in Napa and in several Marin County sites. They’re served at high-end food and cocktail restaurants.

These are specialty beverages, ranging from $38 to $95 a bottle. “They are meant to be enjoyed neat or over ice,” Blanchard said.

This fall, Savage & Cooke is opening a tasting room, The Vault, in a former secret place used for wartime planning when Mare Island was a U.S. Navy shipyard.

From 1854 to its closure in 1993, it produced or repaired war ships, including 44 submarines during World War II, when the shipyard had had 50,000 employees. After the closure, Vallejo kept Mare Island’s historic structures and contracted with Lennar Mare Island (LMI) for development.

LMI, the Mare Island community and Vallejo welcomed the distillery, Blanchard said. “We’re thankful for that.”

Phinney believes Mare Island has the qualities to become a travel destination. “Dave has a lot of faith in the island. He has a strong belief the island can be successful,” Blanchard said.

Lisa Duncan Photography

Savage & Cooke Distillery on Mare Island

He’s secured seven buildings proposed for a winery, restaurant, bar, coffee company and places for fine leather goods, quality beef and artisan shotguns.

“Savage & Cooke is a major project,” she said. “Dave also has a tremendous track record of success.” Other entrepreneurs are watching, and some say they want to open businesses there, too.

It’s ideal for craft beverages, Blanchard said. Breweries and wineries have opened tasting rooms. Its waterfront, historic St. Peter’s Chapel with Tiffany stained-glass windows, arts community, museum and shoreline heritage preserve make it a place to discover.

“Mare Island is a place they’ve heard of, but they haven’t spent time on the island,” she said. “People will be pleasantly surprised.”

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