Update: Charles Banks never completed a deal for ownership in Evening Land Vineyards, he subsequently confirmed to Wine Spectator. Jamey Whetstone will not be working at the winery.
Winery investor Charles Banks is making two moves with the hiring of one winemaker. Negotiations are still in progress, but Banks and Napa winemaker Jamey Whetstone are close to a deal that will see Banks’ firm, Terroir Selections, acquire major shares in both of Whetstone’s wine brands—Manifesto and Whetstone Wine Cellars—for an undisclosed price. At the same time, Banks is hiring Whetstone to be the winemaker for Evening Land Vineyards’ Sonoma operations.
Adding to the investment group's growing portfolio of wine brands, Terroir Selections will reportedly take a 50 percent share in Whetstone Wine Cellars and a roughly two-thirds share of Manifesto. “Charles and I have been trying to figure out how to work with each other for 11 years,” said Whetstone.
The Terroir Selections group also includes South African brands Mulderbosch, Fable and Marvelous, New Zealand winery Trinity Hill, California's Sandhi, Leviathan, Qupé and Wind Gap, as well as Cultivate, which sources wine from multiple nations. Banks also co-owns Napa Valley's Mayacamas Vineyards in a separate partnership.
Whetstone got his start at Turley Wine Cellars in 1998, and spent time working at Domaine Dujac in Burgundy before founding Whetstone with his wife, Michelle, in 2002. He produced his first three vintages at Turley, before leaving in 2005 to grow his own label. The small brand produces roughly 4,000 cases of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Viognier and Syrah from vineyard-designated sites in Sonoma and Napa.
Bringing on Whetstone for Evening Land's Sonoma winery is the latest move at the Oregon-based company since Banks, sommelier Rajat Parr and winemaker Sashi Moorman were hired to manage it in February. Evening Land was the ambitious vision of Mark Tarlov, who planned wines from Oregon, Sonoma, Santa Barbara and Burgundy. But various disputes led to Tarlov leaving the company. The new owners, an investor group headed by Texan Steve Webster, are looking to Banks and team to turn a profit. “Evening Land was such a convoluted model and we’re trying to clean it up,” Banks told Wine Spectator.
Part of that was finding someone to focus on the Sonoma Coast operation and its 3.5-acre property, the Occidental Vineyard. Whetstone was already high on Banks' and Parr's list of prospective hires before the winemaker contacted Banks, looking for investment in his own wines. “Evening Land dovetails what I’ve already been doing on the Sonoma Coast, and further provides an opportunity to explore the different corners of the appellation,” said Whetstone.
Terroir Selections' management sees growth potential in Whetstone’s Manifesto label, which retails for $12 to $18, and is available at Whole Foods Markets nationwide. Whetstone founded it with partners Henri Gabriel of Advintage Distributing and Peter Roy, former president and COO of Whole Foods, focusing on sustainably farmed wines with a value-friendly price tag. “Manifesto fits into our vision that wine is a grocery, not a luxury," said Banks.
Whetstone and his wife will continue operating Whetstone winery, with Terroir providing additional capital to grow. “I can focus on wine and Michelle can focus on hospitality; it's a golden opportunity,” said Whetstone. “I’m just really fired up.”