Screaming Eagle is one of the Napa Valley’s original cult Cabernets. Right from the first release, the now iconic producer garnered huge scores and a fanatic following.
Screaming Eagle was founded in 1986 by Jean Phillips after she purchased 57 acres of land in the Oakville AVA of Napa. Initially grapes from the property were sold to other wineries in the region, but in 1992 Phillips arranged for one acre of Cabernet Sauvignon (just 80 vines) to be bottled under the Screaming Eagle name. Not released until 1995, the wine shot to fame when wine critic Robert Parker awarded it 99 points. Ever since, it has remained one of the region’s most in demand and most expensive wines.
The first winemaker was Heidi Peterson Barret before Andy Erickson took over winemaking duties and David Abreu became vineyard manager. Today Nick Gislason heads up the winemaking after joining in 2011 (aged just 29). Over its short history the vineyards have been replanted a number of times, once in 1995 and again in 2006 following the sale of the property to billionaire Stan Kroenke and Charles Banks. Today Kroenke remains the sole proprietor, after Charles Banks left in 2009. Kroenke also own top Santa Barbara wineries The Hilt and Jonata.
The vineyards total 48 acres, planted to 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. The site has an ideal southwest-facing aspect and is on a slope of mixed subsoils of gravel, mixed with loam and clay. These combined attributes see the grapes typically ripen earlier than the surrounding vineyards in the region, enabling a better consistency of ripeness at harvest. (Paul Roberts MS suggests these attributes make Screaming Eagle’s terroir behave much like a hillside vineyard as opposed to valley floor.)
Screaming Eagle always has high proportions of Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend. The winery introduced a second wine to the portfolio, initially called Second Flight in 2006. Since the 2015 vintage, it has been called The Flight and is the estate’s Merlot-dominant blend rather than – as often wrongly assumed – the estate’s second wine.
Production of Screaming Eagle remains small. Only the top grapes are kept for the wines, the rest being sold off, and annual production is typically between 700-1,000 cases of Screaming Eagle and between 500-800 cases of The Flight.
In 2012 the estate started to produce a white Screaming Eagle made from Sauvignon Blanc. The production remains small (just 50 cases were produced in 2012).