Jean Phillips sells Screaming Eagle

Jean Phillips sells Screaming Eagle

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Screaming Eagle — the internationally renowned and best-known of all California cult cabernets — has been sold to a California financier and his partner, the owner of two Colorado sports teams.

According to Wine Spectator Online, founder Jean Phillips sold the celebrated Screaming Eagle brand, winery and vineyards to Santa Barbara-based money manager Charles Banks and his business partner, Stanley Kroenke, a real estate developer and owner of the Denver Nuggets basketball and Colorado Avalanche hockey teams.

Terms of the transaction, which concluded last week, were not disclosed. Attempts by the Register to contact Phillips were unsuccessful.

According to Wine Spectator Online, Phillips, 60, who launched the wine operation in 1989, disclosed the sale of Screaming Eagle in a handwritten letter to the widely circulated consumer wine publication postmarked March 17.

Phillips wrote: "I have sold my beautiful ranch with my precious little winery. Someone made me an offer, and I thought it was time to slow down. As you know, the property deserves a real winery, house and vineyard redevelopment. I was right in the middle of that lengthy process when this option came along. A hard decision to make."

The very private Phillips had told Wine Spectator in an interview earlier this year about plans to replant her 60-acre property, located in the Oakville appellation near the intersection of Oakville Cross Road and Silverado Trail.

Banks, 38, president of San Francisco-based CSI Capital Management, told Wine Spectator that he was pleased with how Phillips had developed the operation and did not envision many changes.

The Santa Barbara-based money manager is also part owner of an 80-acre vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley that will release its first wines next year. In addition to the Colorado sports team franchises, Kroenke is also a part owner of the St. Louis Rams. According to Wine Spectator Online, Kroenke's wife, Ann Walton Kroenke, is one of the heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune, but the new owners of Screaming Eagle maintain their investment here does not involve the Walton family.

However, the new Screaming Eagle partners are investors in Meadowood Resort, site of the annual Auction Napa Valley. It was here in 2000 that a six-liter bottle of Screaming Eagle sold for $500,000, still an auction record.

First marketed in 1996 for $50 a bottle, the 1992 cabernet sauvignon was an instant hit. A 750 ml bottle retails today for $300 to those on the winery's highly prized mailing list. Should a consumer be able to find a bottle in a wine shop, retail prices are much higher. The popular local restaurant Bistro Don Giovanni features on its wine list a bottle of the 2001 Screaming Eagle for $1,200.

With production of around 500 cases each harvest, Screaming Eagle cabernet "is made by well-known cabernet specialist, Heidi Peterson Barrett," notes respected wine author Oz Clarke, in his "Fine Wine Guide."

"The Screaming Eagle 100 percent cabernet is highly concentrated and structured to age for a decade or longer. If you can overlook its high price and the hysteria surrounding it in collectors' circles, it is an impressive heavyweight cabernet. Every bottle is sold practically overnight to mailing list customers."

A former real estate agent, Phillips purchased the 60-acre Oakville property in 1986. At the time, she told wine writers she was so strapped for cash that she paid closing costs with a credit card.

Wine industry watchers speculate the sale of Screaming Eagle could have fetched as much as $30 million.

One industry expert, who preferred not to be identified, told the Register that most vineyards in a prime location like Oakville would sell for $150,000 to $200,00 an acre. Considering the notoriety of the brand, in line with a recent comparable vineyard purchase by Francis Ford Coppola for $325,000 an acre, a minimum purchase price could be close to $20 million.

"But then there's the cachet of Screaming Eagle to take into consideration," said the industry expert. "One thing for sure, she won't have to use her credit card anymore."

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