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Screaming Eagle Founder Buys Pillar Rock Vineyard

Former cult Cabernet producer Jean Phillips acquires property in Napa’s Stags Leap District

Augustus Weed
Posted: August 17, 2011

Jean Phillips, the founder of Napa cult Cabernet phenomenon Screaming Eagle, is returning to her roots. After a 5-year hiatus from the wine industry, she has purchased the Pillar Rock vineyard in Napa’s Stags Leap District. Phillips told Wine Spectator that she acquired the winery’s 114-acre parcel of land but not the winery or brand. The price of the sale was not disclosed.

Ron and Teri Kuhn founded Pillar Rock and released their first wine from the 1999 vintage. The winery focuses on Cabernet Sauvignon, sourced from its 22-acre estate vineyard, which also includes some Merlot. The first vintages of Pillar Rock were well-received by critics but the winery had troubles with TCA taint in its 2003 Cabernet. Lab tests detected trace amounts of the chemical compound responsible for the musty aromas and flavors in corked wine.

Industry sources say that the winery was up for sale for some time before Phillips bought the land. She did not discuss her plans for the property, but it is unlikely that she will produce wines commercially. She told Wine Spectator she bought the vineyard because it’s “just a wild, wonderful place to grow grapes and, hopefully, old.” What will happen to the Pillar Rock winery and brand is still unknown. Ron Kuhn would not comment on the sale.

Phillips, a former real-estate agent, purchased a 57-acre vineyard in Napa’s Oakville district in 1986. She sold grapes for years before trying her hand at winemaking. In 1992 she produced her first wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon named Screaming Eagle. The wine was a hit and soon became one of the most celebrated, and expensive, wines in Napa. In 2006, Phillips sold the winery for an estimated $70 million to money manager Charles Banks and his business partner Stanley Kroenke. Three years later Banks left the winery, leaving Kroenke as the sole proprietor.

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