From California to the Cape

From California to the Cape

Charles Banks, former owner of Napa cult winery Screaming Eagle and partner in Santa Barbara-based investment company, Terroir Capital, has recently purchased two wineries in South Africa’s Cape winelands.

Banks became interested in South Africa some three years ago, when he met Andre Shearer—the South African owner of New York importer Cape Classics—through a mutual friend. Shearer pointed him toward the Stellenbosch winery Mulderbosch, the biggest seller for Cape Classics. Banks quickly saw the potential of the winery and decided to purchase it.

His goal? “Improving the already good quality but keeping the wines affordable,” Banks says. He’ll accomplish this by focusing on the three classic whites: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc.

When it came to the purchase of his second property, Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards—the 185-hectare property in the more remote area of Tulbagh—Banks initially had no interest. “Jancis Robinson [a U.K. wine writer) told me it was an interesting place,” Banks explains. “Coincidentally, I received an email from then-owner, Jason Scott, asking if I’d be interested in buying the property. About 18 months ago, my wife and I went out there to taste the wines and I immediately fell in love. That was that!"

The focus at this property, which is to be renamed Fable (easier for Americans to pronounce than Tulbagh) will be two red wines: a Syrah-Mourvèdre blend and a varietal Syrah (Banks acknowledges that the Rhône and Chateauneuf-du-Pape are particular favorites). Future plans include a Grenache plantings and a white wine, which will be made from purchased grapes. Additionally, new wineries will be built on both these properties. Andy Erickson, winemaker at Screaming Eagle, will oversee these projects.

“South Africa is more exciting than California,” asserts Banks, adding, “There’s good energy with a sense of optimism, which is not evident from reports in the Financial Times."

Published on December 13, 2010