Get to Know Screaming Eagle
OCTOBER 6, 2021
Screaming Eagle is one of the smallest wineries in Napa Valley and has only been producing wine since the 1992 vintage. Yet, the wines command a price often reserved for older wineries and those in select locations. Before purchasing one of these expensive and sought-after wines, it might be helpful to know a little more about Screaming Eagle.
What is the Price Range for a Bottle of Screaming Eagle?
Screaming Eagle wine prices can vary based on vintage year, but you can expect to pay a pretty penny, anywhere from $3,000 to $7,000 for a 750ml bottle. Screaming Eagle has captured remarkable prices at auction; amounts usually reserved for extremely rare European wines.
What Makes Screaming Eagle so Expensive?
As one of the smallest vineyards and most expensive wines, many collectors want to know why Screaming Eagle commands such high prices. One reason is because of the limited supply. Only 500 to 800 cases of the Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon on average are produced each year. This is a minuscule amount when you think about worldwide demand. In fact, the first vintage, which was 1992, produced only 200 cases, which is quite limited for Napa Valley. Screaming Eagle was one of the original "California Cult Wines" and began making a name for itself with the very first vintage. Robert Parker, Wine Advocate rated the 1992 Screaming Eagle an impressive 99 points and has since given the wine a score of 100 more than once, calling it “the perfect wine".
The Screaming Eagle Story
Jean Phillips purchased the 57 acres of vineyards that now make up Screaming Eagle starting in 1986. She bought a parcel at a time and initially sold the grapes to local vineyards until she was encouraged by Robert Mondavi to use the grapes to make her own wine. She hired her first winemaker, the esteemed Heidi Barrett, to produce the debut 1992 vintage.
The vineyard and stone winery are located in the Oakville area of Napa Valley. The vineyard, which was replanted in 1995, is made up of a combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and now a small amount of Sauvignon Blanc, although the main wine is always made from predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon. In 2006, Jean Phillips sold the winery to Stan Kroenke and Charles Banks; Banks left Screaming Eagle just three years later, making Kroenke the sole owner. At that time, Andy Erickson, another notable name in Napa, was the winemaker. The current winemaker is Nick Gislason, who was only 26 years old when he began his career at Screaming Eagle.
Because the winery is small, there are no tours. Screaming Eagle doesn’t provide wine tastings either, due to the limited supply of each vintage. However, the vineyard does offer an interesting fact that wine enthusiasts will enjoy. A portion of the first harvest was aged inside a special barrel with an engraved top. That same barrel has been used for aging every vintage since and even the current owners carry on the tradition for good luck.
The Terroir of Screaming Eagle
Located in Oakville, in the middle of the Napa Valley, the vineyard is made up of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and a small amount of Sauvignon Blanc. Oakville is known for well-draining soils and sits in between the Vaca and Mayacamas Mountains. It is also recognized as the AVA (American Viticultural Area) with the greatest concentration of top Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Producers including Robert Mondavi, Heitz, Far Niente, Opus One, and Harlan Estate, among others. The soils on the Screaming Eagle estate include stones, rocks, gravel, clay, and loam, making each parcel unique. The vineyard includes various hills and slopes with ideal western exposure. The climate on the east side of the Napa Valley floor allows this vineyard to reach ideal ripeness, and harvest sooner than many other Napa wineries. The daytime heat ripening the grapes and the afternoon breezes providing a cooling effect. There are 57 acres in total and only 27 of those acres are used to produce the Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon, with the rest providing grapes for the other Screaming Eagle wines including The Flight and Screaming Eagle Sauvignon Blanc.
The first vintage of Screaming Eagle was sold at $75 direct from the winery. In just three years, the price increased to $125, which made it the most expensive wine in the state at that time. By the time the winery was sold, the price to direct customers on the mailing list was up to $300. When sold elsewhere, Screaming Eagle fetched prices closer to $1500 per bottle. Once the new owners came in, they raised the price to $750 for a bottle of Screaming Eagle, which was unheard of in the California wine industry. Prices continued to increase with new vintages and, by 2010, the price was $850 for one bottle. Even as the direct pricing went up, the secondary market continued to increase as well, rendering quite a profit for those lucky enough to cash in.
How to Purchase Screaming Eagle Wine
Screaming Eagle wines are primarily sold to customers on the mailing list, which has a waiting list a mile long. You can sign up for the waiting list online and hope to move to the active member list once there is a space for you and a current member falls off, which can take years, even a decade. A better bet might be to seek out private sellers at auctions, where you will compete with other interested parties to bid for your favorite vintage of Screaming Eagle.
Screaming Eagle as a Cult Wine
Screaming Eagle has cult status and was one of the original California cult wines, along with names such as Harlan Estate, Schrader, Scarecrow, and Sine Qua Non. These wines are known for their high quality, limited production, and premium prices. Wine enthusiasts are willing to pay a high price to own these wines, which are considered an investment, or a trophy wine. They are often collected and stored instead of being consumed. One of the unique features of cult wines is that when it comes to pricing, higher is often better. Some wines won’t sell at a lower price but will sell quickly when it is raised. They generally have a higher score from Parker, at 93 or above, and will score 100 on occasion. These cult wines command an even higher price in the secondary market.
Other Wines from Screaming Eagle
While the Cabernet Sauvignon-based wine is the most recognized wine produced at Screaming Eagle, the winery also has a second wine known as Second Flight. With a higher content of Merlot, the wine is quite different from the flagship wine and is sold at a lower price. The name was changed to The Flight in 2015 to ensure it didn’t leave the impression of being second-rate. This second wine may not command the same prices as the Screaming Eagle, but it started out at $225 per bottle and went up in just three years to $400. Of course, you won’t want to underestimate how much The Flight can sell for. For instance, the 2014 Screaming Eagle The Flight Cabernet has a list price of nearly $900. While not in the thousands, it’s still a quality wine that brings in top pricing. A third wine has also been developed, which is the Screaming Eagle Sauvignon Blanc, an extremely rare white wine from 2 acres and a tiny production of about 30 cases per year. Depending on the vintage, it can sell up to ten times the original release price of $250.
The Best Vintages for the Screaming Eagle
According to the experts, there is no bad vintage for Screaming Eagle, only those that are slightly less perfect. The years at the top of the list for vintages that have achieved perfection include the following: 1997, 2007, 2010, 2012, 2015, and 2016. You can expect to pay top dollar for any wine on this list. The original vintage, 1992, sells today at more than $7000 per bottle.
Tasting Notes & Serving the Wine
The Screaming Eagle wines are known for deep, complex layers, a velvety texture, and aromas and flavors of currants, blackberries, black cherry, and dark chocolate The tannins are soft and refined, but bold enough to enable the wines to age well for 10 to 20 years or more.
If you choose to serve the wine instead of holding it, keep it at 60 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure it maintains freshness. Decanting time can vary from 1 to 3 hours for young vintages to much less for the older vintages. This wine pairs well with meat dishes and Asian entrees.