A Shake-Up at Screaming Eagle

Co-owner Charles Banks has left the cult Napa Cabernet winery and Jonata; his partner Stan Kroenke remains in charge
Apr 9, 2009

Charles Banks, who bought Screaming Eagle in 2006 with business partner Stan Kroenke, said today that he is no longer affiliated with the Napa Valley cult Cabernet darling or with Jonata, a winery based in Santa Barbara County. Kroenke, a real-estate mogul who also owns several major professional sports teams, is now the sole proprietor of both properties.

No other staff changes appear to be planned at this time. "I put a great team in place and [winemaker] Andy Erickson, [vineyard managers] Annie Favia and David Abreu will stay the course and do a wonderful job," Banks wrote in an e-mail. "Ownership's role will be to support them and I think Stan will do that very well. At Jonata, [winemaker] Matt Dees will never take his eye off the ball. He's simply the best."

"I think I did my job well enough that I'm no longer needed," added Banks, who had the means to acquire Screaming Eagle through his success as an investment manager and former president of San Francisco-based CSI Capital Management, for which he still serves as an advisor. "Sad to leave, but happy for what we accomplished and for the people I was lucky enough to work with."

The change in ownership was strictly a business decision, Banks said in an interview today. "I think that Stan wants to be the sole owner and proprietor," Banks said. "There's no back story. He is used to not having partners [and] he likes to do things his way. I went into this with my eyes open."

Kroenke heads Denver-based Kroenke Sports Enterprises, LLC, and owns or co-owns several professional sports franchises, including the NBA's Denver Nuggets, the NHL's Colorado Avalanche and the NFL's St. Louis Rams. He also runs the Kroenke Group, a private real-estate and development company. Banks' investment management clients have included NBA and NFL players, as well as movie stars and the rock group Green Day.

It's business as usual at both wineries, according to both Banks and Screaming Eagle winemaker Andy Erickson. "The bottom line is [his departure] is not going to have anything to do with either winery," Erickson said.

Construction of a new Screaming Eagle winery in Oakville is progressing, and there are no signs that the Cabernet has lost any of its allure, even though it now sells for $750 a bottle. It remains one of the most prized wines in the world, with a waiting list exceeding 5,000 people.

"People are still waiting and calling, even when the price went from $500 to $750," Banks said. But in terms of wine pricing, he said, "Things got out of whack. I wonder how many people can afford [such expensive wines] at today's prices." About 2,000 consumers purchased their three-bottle allocations of Screaming Eagle last year, but Banks acknowledged that many people who signed onto the waiting list years ago now "probably couldn't afford it."

Banks' exit comes nearly three years after he and Kroenke purchased Screaming Eagle in March 2006 from founder Jean Phillips, a soft-spoken, introspective vintner who faced a costly vineyard replanting and the need to build a new, larger winery. The sale price was not disclosed, though estimates ranged from $30 million to $40 million.

Screaming Eagle was not the first foray into the wine industry for Banks and Kroenke. In 2000, the two started a wine venture called Jonata (pronounced Ho-notta) on a 600-acre plot of land in the Santa Ynez Valley, in Santa Barbara County. Jonata currently produces nine wines from 83 acres of vines planted to Bordeaux varieties and Syrah; it also makes a Pinot Noir, which is sourced from vineyards in the Santa Rita Hills.

Banks said he would remain in the wine industry. "I love the wine business," he said. But he acknowledged, "It's not an easy way to make money, and many people don't understand that." He expects to close deals on two wineries in South Africa soon and said he will look for properties in California.

Screaming Eagle, though, was unique, he said. "We had one of the few properties where it worked both short and long term."

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