De mystiek van Screaming Eagle

Cultwijn van 450 euro per glas

Het moest er eens van komen. Straks gaan ze aan het eind van m’n wijnleven vragen welke wijnen ik in mijn ruim acht verbruikte decennia het meest heb gewaardeerd en dan zou ie er niet bij zitten. Dus zonder naar Californië te reizen met een bevriend diplomaat in Berlijn toch een fles Cabernet Screaming Eagle open gemaakt. De Cabernet heet een ‘cultwijn ’te zijn, beweren wereldproevers. Staat gemiddeld wereldwijd geprijsd voor zo’n 2500 euro . Voor de punten-fetisjisten: Parker gaf de 2012 een niet te overtreffen aantal punten: 100. En Jancis Robinson MW gaf er 96 aan de jaargang 2006. Ik kreeg de 2009 in het glas, dat omgerekend 450 euro waard zou moeten zijn. Drink ik ‘het eraan af’? De wijn is kruidig, ademt eikenhout, is zacht van textuur, geurt naar koffie en klein zwart fruit, maar mist concentratie en diepte. Voor mij geen gouden medaille. En zeker die overtrokken prijs niet waard. Die is trouwens uitsluitend het gevolg van slimme ‘marketing’. Hou het aanbod beperkt, en laat de mystiek het werk doen, is de ‘policy’. Want we weten een heleboel niet over deze wijngaard. Collega W. Blake Gray verdiepte zich er voor Wine-Searcher in en ordende het onbekende rondom een wijngaard van 57 acres, waarvan 23 bestemd voor de Screaming Eagle :


‘I've tried for some time to visit Screaming Eagle, but its owner, reclusive Colorado multi-billionaire Stan Kroenke, doesn't do interviews. And its management has chosen not to allow an interview with its winemaker. But my editors kept asking for a Screaming Eagle profile, because many people come to Wine-Searcher looking for its wines. What's a writer to do?

I offered to write a 10 Things... article about Screaming Eagle, but they would all be from Wikipedia and the like, and if you're interested in the winery you probably already know them. This is a brand that makes its money through mystique. Everyone has heard of it, but few have tasted it. Keeping the brand mysterious is good marketing, so let's explore that with 10 Things We Don't Know About Screaming Eagle.

1. We don't know how much wine they make.

Scarcity is a big reason for Screaming Eagle's desirability. Originally the wine came from only a one-acre plot on a 57-acre (23-hectare) vineyard Jean Phillips bought in 1986. The debut 1992 vintage got 99 points from Robert Parker and because there was so little – only 225 cases – everybody wanted it; that's how California wine works. Phillips had the entire vineyard replanted to (mostly?) Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc in 1995. In 2006, when the brand and vineyard were sold to Kroenke and Charles Banks, Banks said the vineyard needed to be replanted again, though the goal wasn't to make a lot more wine. But 57 acres is a lot of land, enough to make thousands of cases of wine. And does anybody really measure how much wine Screaming Eagle is making?

2. We don't know how (or if) Nick Gislason's winemaking differs from his predecessors'.

Gislason is a wunderkind; he succeeded Andy Erickson in 2010 as Screaming Eagle winemaker at the age of 28. Much of what we know about him comes from a long interview in 2012 with a friend from the small town in Washington state where he grew up. Gislason said the 2011 vintage was the first that was "100-percent Nick", but 2011 was an aberration for Napa Valley, a rainy and cool year, the last before the drought. And Michel Rolland is reportedly still consulting, plus Gislason said Erickson still pops in now and then. Is Gislason doing anything new to put his stamp on the wines?

3. We don't know what Robert Parker would think if he tasted the wines blind.

Nobody can objectively review a bottle knowing that it is "Screaming Eagle." Many psychological studies show how our perceptions of a product are affected by knowing its price. Not only does Parker not taste blind; he apparently often tastes Screaming Eagle at the winery, with the winemaker. This leads to all sorts of bias, not the least confirmation bias, given that Parker is the man who first touted the greatness of Screaming Eagle. What if he put it in a comparative blind tasting of other single-vineyard Napa Valley Cabs? Would he still call it, as he did in 2012, a "perfect wine?"

4. Come to think of it, we don't know what Robert Parker's tasting notes for the 2012 Screaming Eagle mean.

Parker writes: "Made in the classic, iconic Screaming Eagle style that the original proprietress, Jean Philipps, first showcased in the early 1990s, before the winery was sold to Stan Kroenke, the inky/purple-colored, seamless 2012 possesses an extraordinary set of aromatics consisting of pure blackcurrant liqueur, licorice, acacia flowers, graphite and a subtle hint of new oak. Full-bodied, opulent and voluptuous, this profound wine is as prodigious as I thought it would be last year when tasted from barrel." Does Screaming Eagle have a classic, iconic style? What's the implication that it changed when it was sold to Kroenke? What's Parker trying to say?

5. We don't know why the Sauvignon Blanc is so expensive.

I've had Screaming Eagle Cabernet; it's good. I haven't had the Sauvignon Blanc because at $3900 a bottle on Wine-Searcher, it's crazy expensive. It was allegedly supposed to be a small treat for certain mailing-list customers and restaurants, and now it fetches more than the Cabernet. In the macro sense, we know why it's so expensive: scarcity, which is no longer an issue with the Cabernet, as you can order that and have it by next Friday (see point 1). But here's Parker on the Sauvignon Blanc: "There's nothing terribly special about it, and I can think of a dozen or so Sauvignon Blancs made in nearby vineyards that are richer, more complex, and just better wines at much lower price points." Why the hell do people pay $3900 for Screaming Eagle Sauvignon Blanc?

6. We don't know why Charles Banks left Screaming Eagle.

Banks and Kroenke bought it together, but then Banks left to build his own empire of wineries including Mayacamas Vineyards, Sandhi, Qupé, Wind Gap, South Africa's Mulderbosch and New Zealand's Trinity Hill. Banks didn't need the money from selling his share of Screaming Eagle. He told Wines & Vines in 2014: "We had a great run until my partner, Stan Kroenke, decided he didn't want a partner anymore." Perhaps Kroenke, estimated to be worth $6.3 billion by Forbes, made him an offer he couldn't refuse. Or perhaps Banks wanted to own a different kind of winery. If you look at those names that he bought, all of them are known for sommelier-friendly, non-blockbuster wine. Did Banks want to take Screaming Eagle in a different direction?

7. We don't know which of Stan Kroenke's "children" he likes best.

Kroenke, whose wife Ann is the daughter of Walmart founder James "Bud" Walton, owns the NFL's St. Louis Rams, the NBA's Denver Nuggets, the NHL's Colorado Avalanche and is the largest shareholder in the English Premier League football club Arsenal. He also owns some minor sports franchises and Land Report magazine ranks him as the US's ninth-largest landowner, two places above the Ford family, who made money on a successful venture in motor vehicles. Screaming Eagle isn't listed until the next to last paragraph of his lengthy Wikipedia page, and even then it's under "Other business."

8. We don't know how well the wine will age.

For what it's worth, the Wine Advocate, which is as bullish on the long-term potential of Napa Cabernet as any publication, says that every wine through the '99 vintage is now "Late" in its maturation process, which means "in the last third of the range."

9. We don't know why the eagle is screaming.

But we don't know why the caged bird sings either. "Screaming Eagles" is the nickname for the US Army's 101st Airborne Division, which took part in the D-Day landings. The designation is still in use for the division, which last year was dispatched to western Africa to help contain the spread of ebola. Red wine also has many medicinal uses.

10. We don't know if Screaming Eagle wines are worth the money.

It depends on how you're going to use the wine. Are you going to drink it with dinner, maybe a nice steak? Or perhaps in your den in front of a crackling fire? Then no, it's almost certainly not worth the money; there are plenty of wines you will like just as much at one-tenth the price. Are you going to give it to your Cab-loving boss while you're up for a big promotion? Or to a politician whose vote you want on crucial legislation? Or use it to lure your favorite Hollywood star to your table? Then it's probably worth it – assuming you get the job, he votes your way, and she doesn't turn out to be an impersonator in drag’.