Charles Banks, the new owner of Screaming Eagle, has some lofty ambitions for his recent acquisition.
Here’s the flight plan for Napa’s Cabernet darling: The most important thing is to uphold the high standards set by Screaming Eagle’s founder, Jean Phillips.
“I don’t want to be the guy who screwed up Screaming Eagle,” Banks told me Monday in an interview in Napa.
The 38-year-old president of CSI Capital Management, based in San Francisco, laid out how the deal came together, his vision for the future of this celebrated Napa Valley estate and his thoughts about the future of California wine, including his new vineyard and winery venture in Santa Barbara.
This was the first time he has talked in detail about his acquisition and what lies ahead for the 53-acre vineyard and winery in Oakville.
Banks said he learned that Phillips, who is 60 and founded the winery in 1992, might want to sell. She was faced with an extensive replanting project and building a new winery, two daunting projects that would have taken another 15 years, Banks said. After they spent time talking about the wine business, and their goals, the deal came together quickly, Banks said.
According to Banks, Phillips didn’t want to sell her winery to a fellow Napa vintner, or to someone she competed with. That gave Banks, an outsider, an opportunity.
“I’m a huge Jean Phillips fan,” Banks said. Everything she promised, she delivered, he said. “She never once let me down.”
While terms of the sale were not disclosed, according to Phillips’ wishes, estimates from Napa Valley vintners ranged from $25 million to $70 million. We at Wine Spectator estimated $20 million to $30 million or more.
Under Phillips, the winery produced about 500 cases a year, which were sold in three-bottle boxes, for $300 a bottle. The winery has several thousand people on its list waiting for a chance just to buy the wine. In the auction market, the wine routinely sells for upward of $1,500 a bottle and is among the world’s most cherished collectibles.
Banks says he does not intend to increase production or raise the price right away. He said the first phase of replanting, some 22 acres, is underway and that any future decisions about the wine will be made as they evaluate the wines that come from the new plantings.
He said that both he and Phillips agree they could grow better grapes and make better wine. “The vineyard, there’s room for improvement,” Banks said. “You’ve [tasted] the wine, there’s room for improvement.”
“Somebody asked me about the pressure [of taking on a winery of Screaming Eagle’s stature],” he said. “All I saw was opportunity. There is room for improvement.”
But he won’t be selling any of the excess grapes, as Phillips did.
When word of the sale spread, every top-gun winemaker in Napa Valley – except for Helen Turley – expressed a desire to work on the wine, Banks said.
But he decided to use a different tack….
In my next post: The New Regime.
Michael Sautkulis — Norwalk CT — June 20, 2006 10:57am ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — June 20, 2006 11:44am ET
Bruce Schoenfeld — Boulder, Colorado — June 20, 2006 1:05pm ET
Michael Sautkulis — Norwalk CT — June 20, 2006 1:18pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — June 20, 2006 1:46pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — June 20, 2006 1:49pm ET
Arshavir Kouladjian — Los Angeles, California — June 20, 2006 3:18pm ET
Anthony Clapcich — June 20, 2006 4:26pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — June 20, 2006 4:48pm ET
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James Laube — Napa, CA — June 20, 2006 5:27pm ET
Brian Adams — Chicago — June 20, 2006 6:39pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — June 20, 2006 6:42pm ET
Chris Alexander — Moraga California — June 27, 2006 1:37pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — June 27, 2006 1:48pm ET
Chris Alexander — Moraga California — June 27, 2006 4:00pm ET
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