In his short tenure as the public face of Screaming Eagle (see our news story about his departure), Charles Banks brought a refreshingly candid and enthusiastic air to an industry that can sometimes be aloof and arrogant.
Jean Phillips, Screaming Eagle’s founder, was also forthright. But she was shy and private and seldom gave interviews to anyone. She never lost sight of her own improbable success and as Screaming Eagle’s renown escalated she was less and less comfortable with the public’s adoration of her and her beautiful Cabernets.
In the end she decided to sell the winery at a crossroad. To fulfill its promise the 60-acre vineyard needed a massive replanting, which would cost a fortune, and it needed a new winery. In her wildest dreams Phillips never imagined that she would enjoy such an achievement.
When she sold the winery in 2006, I wrote that without Phillips, Screaming Eagle would never be the same. The vineyards might be improved, and the wines may even be better, but there will be no replacing her spirit and passion, which is what made Screaming Eagle's such an amazing story.
In stepped Banks, the new owner, and he immediately reached out to communicate his vision for the winery. He too was candid, forthright and didn’t dodge questions. Banks' passion was obvious. He knew the property was special.
“The thing about Screaming Eagle is it will be around past Stan Kroenke,” he said yesterday. “It’s an amazing piece of dirt. As long as that exists nothing is going to change. Unless you mess it up.”
So the lights dim on the Banks era and there are still two more vintages to be released under his tutelage. Winemaker Andy Erickson is one of the great young talents in Napa Valley and he’ll undoubtedly continue to make magnificent wines.
Kroenke has been behind the scenes until now, but everyone expects he'll stay the course. People who know him describe him as being very nice, gracious and a quick learner.
Our fascination with winemakers jibes with our star-worshiping culture. Though winemakers know that a vineyard anchors a great wine, for some wine lovers a winemaker's name or an owners passion—even more so than a vineyard's—has become an important seal of approval.
In that sense the only thing that can go wrong with Screaming Eagle is if the owner, or winemaker, messes up. I don’t expect that to happen. But once again this celebrated wine finds itself under the microscope of the world’s wine lovers.
Gregory Beall — Grand Marais, MN — April 10, 2009 8:19pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — April 10, 2009 8:31pm ET
Gene Keenan — san francisco — April 10, 2009 10:57pm ET
Eugene Kim — Houston, TX — April 11, 2009 9:59pm ET
Michael Buchmeier — Encinitas, California — April 12, 2009 12:58am ET
Jordan Harris — Niagara, Ontario — April 13, 2009 8:25am ET
Tom Glover — The Woodlands, TX — April 13, 2009 8:12pm ET
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