Screaming Eagle Winery

Karen Frazier
Red wine pour

Screaming Eagle is a reclusive and private boutique winery in Napa Valley's Oakville AVA and just off the Silverado Trail near the junction with Oakville Crossroad. In the 1990s it became the darling of those conspicuous consumers addicted by its allure and the status of owning and drinking a Screaming Eagle. The winery began inauspiciously from a winemaking experiment by a real estate broker. It was made in a rubber garbage can, tasted and endorsed by Mondavi staff, and named Screaming Eagle out of the unfettered audacity to make the best wine possible.

Screaming Eagle's Startup to Fame

Jean Philips, together with Tony Bowden, founded the winery in 1986 when they acquired a plot of land with less than 60 acres planted in vineyards, predominantly in white varietals. Over time, they pulled these out and planted Cabernet Sauvignon, a small amount of Merlot, and Cabernet Franc for a Bordelaise blend. In the beginning, they sold all grapes to other wineries around Napa Valley. Philips began experimenting with making wine on the side. She solicited winemaking advice from veteran scientist-winemaker Richard Peterson and his daughter, Heidi Peterson Barrett. In 1992, Philips held back one acre of grapes for the first vintage and the cult of Screaming Eagle began.

Heidi Peterson Barrett

It takes a cult winemaker to make a cult wine. In Screaming Eagle's case, that would be Heidi Peterson Barrett. When she joined Jean Philips at the winery, she had already built a stellar reputation as the winemaker at Buehler Vineyards and had crafted the Maya at Dalla Valle Vineyards, another cult wine. With her success at these wineries, Ms. Barrett created a heavyweight reputation for herself. She currently consults with other wineries such as Amuse Bouche, Jones Family, Barbour Vineyards, Paradigm, Showket, and Revana. Her past clients include Grace Family, Vineyard 29, Hartwell, and Oakford Vineyards. Her winemaking strategy is to combine traditional and modern scientific methods to make wine, as well as maximizing an estate's potential to create a balanced and high-quality wine. Results count, and it would be hard to imagine Screaming Eagle's success without Ms. Barrett.

Wine's Pedigree

Year in and year out, a Screaming Eagle scores high by Robert Parker, even hitting the 100-point rating on occasions ('92 and '97), and rates from the mid-to-high 90s in Wine Spectator. Typically, the winery produces around 500 cases made from grapes from the Screaming Eagle section of the vineyard. It's a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with minor amounts of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Screaming Eagle ages the wine in American and French oak. In general, Screaming Eagle wines are known as dramatic and plush with concentrated berry-cherry-cassis fruit, complex and layered with floral, spice, and oak flavors. One can expect a rich and intense wine with a deep but well-balanced structure that exhibits elegance and refinement from start to its lingering finish.

How Much Does Status Cost?

How much does it cost to get one of these status-rendering cult wines? The first 1992 vintage was priced at $50. Currently, a new bottle costs in excess of $300, with customers allotted a maximum of three bottles. However, Screaming Eagle only produces 500 cases per year so there's not a lot to spread around. Don't expect to pay that price if you're not on the list.

Where to Buy

You won't find it at Costco, Trader Joe's, or 7-11. If you'd like to obtain a bottle of Screaming Eagle, you need to be on the winery's list. Unfortunately, both the list and the waiting list are maxed out. You may also be able to find Screaming Eagle in a wine auction. You can expect to pay greatly inflated prices given the rarity of the wine. Type Screaming Eagle into a wine search engine such as Wine Searcher, and you might be able to find a bottle on the secondary market. You may also find it at restaurants with top notch wine lists, but expect to pay to try it.

Is a Screaming Eagle Really Worth It?

If the price doesn't make you blink, then tasting a Screaming Eagle can be a revelatory experience. If a $2,000 to $3,500 price tag causes you to gasp at the absurdity, then no matter how exceptional the Screaming Eagle is you won't enjoy it, and you will pause in wonder at what the big deal is. In either case, the world is full of delicious wines that won't punch a black hole in your bank account, but still provide a high level of satisfaction.

Screaming Eagle Winery