Charles Banks looks at the wine business the same way he views a pro-sports franchise. Not a surprise when you consider that his partner owns two pro franchises and he has close ties to many stars and star athletes.
“I want a strong team that thinks Screaming Eagle is more important than any other individual [in the company],” he told me on Monday. “Screaming Eagle is not about any [owner’s name].” He has the attitude that the buck stops at his desk, and he will assume responsibility for whatever successes or shortcomings Screaming Eagle enjoys under his tenure.
As it is, he says, too many vintners have their egos too closely tied to their labels, and they aren’t very objective about their wines.
While wine is his passion, Banks wears several business hats. At CSI he manages assets for sports, movie and music celebrities. Among his clients are NBA stars Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan, NFL stars and brothers Tiki and Ronde Barber, and the rock group Green Day.
His partner at Screaming Eagle is Stan Kroenke. He is a real-estate developer and owns several pro-sports franchises, including the Colorado Avalanche of the NHL and the St. Louis Rams of the NFL. His wife, Ann Walton Kroenke, is an heir to the Wal-Mart fortune.
Both men take a long-term view of the wine business. “Stan and I are a perfect fit,” Banks said. “He has a commitment to excellence.” When Kroenke became a part-owner of the Rams, they won the Super Bowl, Banks said. When Kroenke purchased the Avalanche, the team won the NHL title.
“I don’t need the wine to pay my mortgage,” Banks said. “I’m coming into this from an investment view, looking at the long term. You can’t make great wine in a short time.” Nor can you expect quick returns.
Buying Screaming Eagle “doesn’t make investment sense,” Banks said. “We could have put our money in a lot of plans and got a better return.”
“This is a challenge to own something unique,” he added. “I’m not saying Screaming Eagle is the best, but it’s unique.”
As part of the new regime at Screaming Eagle, there will be some changes in staff. For one, Andy Erickson, 38, who was recently at Staglin Family Vineyard in Rutherford, is replacing Heidi Peterson Barrett as winemaker.
While Barrett oversaw winemaking, it was Phillips who set the pace and the standards, says Banks. He has great admiration for Barrett, but she has several clients (Paradigm, Revana and Amuse Bouche) and her own label, La Sirena. He wants a full-time winemaker focused exclusively on Screaming Eagle.
He has hired vineyard manager David Abreu to work with the vines and Erickson. Barrett will finish the wines she started, through the 2005 vintage, while Erickson learns about the vineyard and the Screaming Eagle style, Banks said.
Banks wants to refine the Screaming Eagle style and preserve its sense of place. “Terroir may be an overused term,” he said. But when he tasted a vertical of the wines recently, he found a common thread in the wines, which I’ve described as a rich, loamy currant character. The earliest wine, the 1992, appears capable of aging another 25 years or longer, and in many of the top vintages, the wines are exquisitely balanced.
Screaming Eagle’s “not an overripe, over-extracted wine, so we want to keep its freshness [and] its elegance. What we’re interested in, specifically, is to improve on a great wine. We want to improve the intensity, not the alcohol.”
As for production, Banks says it will likely grow, but very slowly and based on quality. “If we can find a way to make 50 or 100 more cases [a year], we would like to do that. But we might go the other way and reduce yields and make less wine.”
Once the new vines start to produce wines, Banks will evaluate quality. One way to look at wine prices and increases is to look what the owners do with the profits, he says. He intends to reinvest it in quality.
“The market will always reward greatness,” he says.
Part 1: Screaming Eagle's New Flight Plans
In my next post: Banks on Napa and beyond.
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James Laube — Napa, CA — June 21, 2006 4:48pm ET
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James Laube — Napa, CA — June 22, 2006 11:26am ET
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