Charles Banks is a relative newcomer to wine.
But the 38-year-old has deep pockets, knows his way around financial markets, appears to be a quick learner and has some refreshing insights and perspectives on the business, even as he cuts his teeth presiding over his new winery in Napa Valley, Screaming Eagle.
For one, he thinks premiere vineyard land in Napa Valley is, in many instances, undervalued.
That's a statement that would shock most, knowing that it’s not uncommon for the best vineyards to command prices in the range of $300,000 per acre.
Banks foresees a day, perhaps soon, when those prices could reach $500,000 an acre, and in time, even $1 million an acre.
Pillar Rock, a Stags Leap District property, is reporetedly asking $28 million for its 22-acre vineyard and residence (but no brand or winery, only a 6,000-case winery permit), which could put the vineyard land in that $1 million-an-acre range, according to those familiar with the deal. The property encompasses nearly 100 acres, but it’s mostly unplantable hillside.
There are people out there with that kind of money to spend on unique properties.
Had Jean Phillips put Screaming Eagle on the open market and sought the highest bid, it would have commanded an incredible price, Banks believes, and he might not have ended up as the owner. Though he won’t say what he paid, no one would be surprised if the 54-acre vineyard, winery and home site went for $30 million.
Banks also believes there are many underperformers and overpriced wines in Napa, not to mention Sonoma County and Santa Barbara. Few would disagree with that assessment.
But it’s invigorating hearing someone who has enjoyed great success in financial and real estate markets apply that perspective to wine.
Banks and his partner, Stan Kroenke, are not novices with wine. They own an 80-acre vineyard in Santa Ynez Valley, in Santa Barbara County, which is planted to Bordeaux varieties and Syrah. It’s called Jonata after one of the original Spanish land grants, Banks says.
The first two wines, from 2004, are ready to be bottled. One is styled after a Bordeaux Left Bank wine, a cuvée of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, with lesser parts of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. There is also a Right Bank blend, anchored by Cabernet Franc with lesser portions of Merlot.
“We see some real potential, especially with Syrah,” Banks said. He thinks Santa Barbara vintners still have much to learn about farming, and he has hired outsiders, including famed Bordeaux consultant Michel Rolland, to help refine both the growing methods and winemaking techniques.
For one, he thinks too many Santa Barbara vineyards are over-cropped, which means vines are being pushed to grow too many grapes to make great wines.
Banks said at Jonata the yields have been cut to roughly one ton per acre. The industry standard is more like three to five tons, even at the best sites.
Santa Barbara has, in my view, struggled with Bordeaux varieties, and Cabernet, Merlot and Franc have made some of the least interesting wines from this area. So it will be worth seeing if Banks can produce a Bordeaux-style wine that makes a compelling statement about those grapes’ potential in Santa Ynez.
In Oakville, home to Screaming Eagle, Banks is faced with upholding the quality of one of Napa’s superstar properties, one that emerged on the scene in 1995 with its first vintage from 1992. It became an overnight sensation and the price has risen from $50 a bottle to $300. The wine sells out each year and there is a waiting list of several thousand eagerly awaiting a chance to buy the wine.
“There are not many businesses where people want more than you have,” said Banks, but that’s exactly the challenge he faces at Screaming Eagle.
As he begins his reign, plans are underway to replant the vineyard, with the first 22 acres already done. There is also a plan for a larger, gravity-flow winery, and there is a new winery team in place.
It’s an ambitious undertaking, but one that Banks sees as an opportunity of a lifetime.
Ryan Dougherty — Napa, CA — June 22, 2006 5:26pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — June 22, 2006 5:58pm ET
Arshavir Kouladjian — Los Angeles, California — June 22, 2006 7:13pm ET
Joshua Masur — Redwood City, CA — June 23, 2006 12:06pm ET
Arshavir Kouladjian — Los Angeles, California — June 23, 2006 6:04pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — June 23, 2006 7:52pm ET
Gilbert Vasquez — San Diego — June 26, 2006 12:56am ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — June 26, 2006 4:28pm ET
Charles Banks — June 28, 2006 1:30pm ET
Peter Ventura — St. Helena — July 1, 2006 7:32pm ET
Mark Owens — Cincinnati, Oh. — July 3, 2006 12:00pm ET
Charles Banks — July 9, 2006 10:54am ET
Mark Owens — Cincinnati, Oh. — July 10, 2006 10:05am ET
Marilyn Eickenhorst — July 13, 2006 10:23am ET
Charles Banks — July 13, 2006 11:34am ET
Charles Banks — July 13, 2006 11:39am ET
Marilyn Eickenhorst — July 13, 2006 9:28pm ET
Charles Banks — July 13, 2006 10:52pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — July 14, 2006 5:31pm ET
Jason Bullock — July 15, 2006 2:38am ET
Jason Bullock — July 15, 2006 2:45am ET
Marilyn Eickenhorst — July 15, 2006 7:21pm ET
Mark Owens — Cincinnati, Oh. — July 17, 2006 11:58am ET
John Selman — Malibu — July 31, 2006 4:35pm ET
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