Historic Mayacamas Vineyards Purchased by Former-Screaming Eagle Owner

Historic Mayacamas Vineyards Purchased by Former-Screaming Eagle Owner

One of Napa Valley’s most historic wineries, Mayacamas Vineyards, has been purchased by a team including wine venture capitalist Charles Banks and his wife Ali. Banks is the former owner of Screaming Eagle and Jonata Wines, and currently owns several other brands, including Sandhi and Wind Gap wineries. The terms and conditions of the purchase have not been disclosed.

Mayacamas Vineyards—a 52-acre estate vineyard and old stone winery located 2,000 feet up in the Mayacamas Mountains in the Mount Veeder AVA—was founded in 1889, but experienced a period of inactivity during Prohibition. The Taylor family purchased and reinvigorated the property in 1941, then sold it to Bob Travers in 1968. Until last week, Travers was still producing the wines.

Travers’s winemaking approach was traditional in style. He picked his grapes at moderate sugar levels, and as a result, some say his tannic and tight Cabernet Sauvignons underperformed over the years, especially when compared with the ripe, soft wines from elsewhere in Napa Valley. He also produced Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, all from the estate. But whether Banks plans to produce these wines and in this style remains to be seen.

I caught up with Banks to talk about his acquisition and his future plans for the historic vineyard.

Wine Enthusiast: What made you buy Mayacamas?
Charles Banks: I started poking around Mayacamas six years ago. I’d always been a fan of the wines. Even at Screaming Eagle, I’d heard rumors Bob Travers might be interested in selling. I met with him, but we didn’t get very far. Neither of us was ready. As soon as I was bought out of Screaming Eagle in late 2009, I knew if I went back into Napa Valley, I wanted it to be a place with history. So I reached back out to Bob, and we got deep into discussions, but couldn’t get across the finish line. Then five, six months ago I reached out to him again. I felt like we could get a deal done. And we were able to get it done. We closed over this past weekend.

WE: What are your plans for rebuilding and rehabilitating the property?
CB: Parts of the vineyard have to be replanted. The vines are dead or diseased; the AxR rootstock hasn’t held up. Certain vines look beautiful, like the 80-year-old Sauvignon Blanc, but in some blocks of Cabernet, only one of every nine vines is still alive. So we’ll rehabilitate the land, do the best replanting we can possibly do. The place deserves that, to stay true to Travers’ legacy. And we’ll rebuild the winery. The 1889 stone building is beautiful, but it’s evolved to be something it wasn’t. We’ll invest millions and millions of dollars in new facilities and equipment. And we’ll dig some caves.

WE: Will you change the Mayacamas style?
CB: There’s a big difference between style and execution. Bob made those wines the way he wanted to. Our approach is, I like that balance between the finesse and rustic mountain tannins, but our execution needs to improve a lot. We need to make the wines in a much more detailed fashion. That doesn’t mean some ripe, voluptuous cult wine. We’ll stay true to Mount Veeder and the Mayacamas style, but the wines will be more complex, a little softer when young, but will be made to age.

WE: Who will make the wines?
CB: Andy Erickson. I’ve worked with him since 2003 at Jonata, and he was my winemaker at Screaming Eagle. He will be very involved. His wife, Annie Favia, will oversee the vineyards. My job is to make sure they forget everything they know about winemaking and viticulture down in the valley, and open their eyes and ears, and learn what makes Mayacamas special.

WE: Will the lineup of wines remain the same?
CB: I don’t know yet. I don’t know how I feel about selling a Merlot, although it’s phenomenal. And I’m not sure how I feel about Pinot Noir up on Mount Veeder. We’ll see. But we won’t make any kneejerk decisions. This year we’ll make the same wines Bob made.

WE: Will prices remain steady?
CB: Well, everybody gets a chance to reinvent themselves every now and then. Since we left Screaming Eagle, we’ve focused on more shareable wines, and we’d like to see that going forward. So you won’t see prices jumping immediately. Ultimately, if we produce a top Napa Valley Cab, we can’t stay at $60. But it won’t be $300. The idea is to approach $100 maybe 8–10 years down the road.

Published on May 1, 2013
Topics: Acquisitions