After a brief hiatus, Jean Phillips is weighing a return to winemaking. The former owner of Screaming Eagle bought a new vineyard a year ago, six years after selling her tiny winery and vineyard.
Phillips' purchase of the former Pillar Rock vineyard in the Stags Leap District immediately fueled speculation that she would start a new label. True to form, she remains as private as ever, yet she allowed in an exchange of text messages that she has wine on her mind, even if it's in the distant future.
When asked if she planned to start a new label, Phillips said, "No, but I believe in destiny, whatever that brings." Right now, she's "just trying hard to grow some outstanding fruit," and pondering a vineyard name, she wrote. "Any ideas?" she asked.
Despite making only a few hundred cases a year at Screaming Eagle, Phillips' wine became the focal point for what became known as California's cult wines. Aside from the wines being routinely sensational, and ageworthy, her donations to charity events around the world ignited some astronomical tenders, such as the $500,000 bid for a single large-format Screaming Eagle 1992, one of only two existing 6-liter bottles of the tiny winery's first vintage.
Phillips never sought the spotlight, and her prominence in the wine world clashed with her desire to be as anonymous as possible. She never imagined that her homemade wine from her vineyard in Oakville would ever amount to anything special. She only used a small portion of her 67-acre vineyard and her winery was really a tiny operation. Phillips employed Heidi Peterson Barrett as her winemaker, which elevated Barrett's profile, yet did some of the hands-on winemaking, such as pumping down the cap during fermentation, herself.
After selling the winery in 2006 to a pair of investors for what is now believed to have been $70 million, Phillips retreated to privacy until acknowledging, via a text message last year, that she had indeed bought Pillar Rock.
The thing that always impressed me about Phillips is that fame didn't change her. She remained true to herself even as the star power of her wine led the cult parade and pushed Napa Cabernet to its greatest heights.
Should Phillips return to wine, it will be on her terms. I know she understands that the lightning that struck once won't likely strike again, no matter how good her wine is. In a curious way, her isolation rivals that of Screaming Eagle's owner, Stanley Kroenke, a real-estate mogul who also owns several professional sports teams.
Whether or not Phillips decides to sell wine again, she does still have a Stags Leap District vineyard to name. Any suggestions?
Jason Thompson — Foster City, CA — July 18, 2012 12:26pm ET
Dan Cozzo — Rancho Santa Margarita, CA — July 18, 2012 12:41pm ET
Kerry Winslow — San Francisco, California, USA — July 18, 2012 12:47pm ET
John Petrick — Louisville — July 18, 2012 4:25pm ET
Richard Ross — St. Louis — July 18, 2012 9:54pm ET
John Wilen — Texas — July 19, 2012 2:48pm ET
Ramona Peterson — Chicago, Ill. USA — July 23, 2012 4:09pm ET
Marsh Moore — San Diego, CA — July 25, 2012 7:27pm ET
Tom Blair — Little Silver, NJ — August 11, 2012 8:54pm ET
Tom Blair — Little Silver, NJ — August 12, 2012 6:00pm ET
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