In 1996, Robert Parker awarded the first ever vintage of Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon 99 points and a star was born. So was a cult. Screaming Eagle produces 9,000 bottles a year at most and sometimes as few as 5,000. To get one, you must either be on the mailing list -- don't get your hopes up, the wait to get on can be years long -- or purchase one through one of the few retail stores authorized to sell them, where they routinely go for $1000-$3000 a pop.
The story of Screaming Eagle begins 10 years before the release of its first vintage. In 1986, Jean Phillips bought a 57 acre vineyard in Oakville, California. The majority of the vineyard, planted to a mix of white varietals, was harvested and sold to producers in the surrounding area. One special acre, planted with 80 Cabernet Sauvignon vines, Jean kept to herself. She took personal care of the Cabernet and produced small amounts of wine from it. Heavily in debt and hoping that her homemade wine (it was first produced in a plastic trash can) would be of some value, Philips asked the winemaking team at the neighboring Robert Mondavi Winery if they thought it would sell. They said it would, so she went to work bottling it by hand. Expanding slowly, Phillips hired Richard Peterson as a consultant and then his daughter, Heidi Peterson Barrett, as winemaker. In 1992 Screaming Eagle produced its first commercial vintage. It hit the market in 1996, and the rest, as they say, was history.
As is the case with most great wines, quality comes from the terroir: rocky soil makes for excellent drainage and west facing slopes shower the grapes in sunshine. Couple this with warm daytime temperatures that allow the Cabernet to fully ripen, and cooling night breezes from the San Pablo Bay, and what you get are deep, complex wines with layers of fruit and a backbone that will allow aging for 10 to 20 years. In 2006, ten years after its first release, Screaming Eagle was jointly purchased by venture capitalist Charles Banks and real estate mogul Stan Kroenke. In 2009 Banks departed, leaving Kroenke as the sole proprietor of the winery. He has since undertaken construction of a new winery in Oakville.