Monday, June 15, 2015

Napa Cabs finally cross the $1000 a bottle line

America, Fuck Yeah! Screaming Eagle figure courtesy CornboyMayse
Last year I wrote a story for Wine Searcher with the headline, "How Long Before Napa Cabs Top $1000 A Bottle?" Napa wines regularly sell for more than that at auction; it seemed like a matter of time before somebody charged $1000 for a regular current release.

Well, it turns out that without anybody really commenting, Screaming Eagle crossed the line last year, and in a big way.

The 2012 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon, released last October, was priced at $1500, according to The Wine Advocate. The 2013 Screaming Eagle has the same reported price.

I have to say "according to The Wine Advocate" because Screaming Eagle doesn't list the price on its website. But it's not surprising. For one thing, the 2010 Screaming Eagle -- the vintage I asked the winery about when I wrote the story last year -- was priced at $850, so $1000 wasn't that big a leap. Of course, $1500 is.

UPDATED UPDATE: Ghost Horse Vineyards apparently beat Screaming Eagle to the $1000 line several vintages ago, and its top wine is listed on its website at $3500!

Ghost Horse wines are so limited in production, even compared to Screaming Eagle, that I thought the website was a prank, somehow related to Bad Horse, the leader of the Evil League of Evil. But I drove by the winery this week and held them in my hands. They have a Coravin, but wouldn't let me taste without paying $250, so these wines won't get their own post. But I did take a photo (at left), no charge.

UPDATE 2: Mailing list members could buy 2012 Screaming Eagle at $850. But Screaming Eagle also sells some of its wine retail, and $1500 was the suggested retail price. None of the retailers chose to sell it that cheaply, which leads nicely back into your regularly scheduled blog post.

However, Screaming Eagle sells for much more on the secondary market than it does to its mailing list. I couldn't find a single bottle of any vintage for less than $1800 Saturday on Wine-Searcher (not counting auctions). The 2012 is already selling for an average of $2569; the average price for the 2010 is $3017.

I know haters gonna hate this statement, but I don't blame Screaming Eagle for trying to take a larger share of the money that people are already paying for its wine.

French wines crossed the $1000 barrier years ago. People don't blink at seeing that price for DRC or Petrus. Screaming Eagle is precisely the kind of brand that can put itself in that group: it comes from a small vineyard and has a long history of critical acclaim, with four 100-point scores from the Advocate, including three in the last seven vintages. Yes, 100-point scores from the Advocate aren't as meaningful as they once were, and yes, Parker's taste isn't everyone's. Still, this wine hits both the French definition of ultra-luxury -- small vineyard, special terroir -- and the American -- ripe and fruity and Parker likes it.

Now that the line has been crossed, who's next? Sine Qua Non, whose wines pepper the Wine Searcher most-expensive list, recently offered its mailing list a Petite Sirah in magnums only for $1750 per magnum. Its first $1000 750-ml bottle can't be far off. Harlan Estate is at $800. Bill Harlan's going to look at Screaming Eagle's price and think, why not us?

In the early 1980s, Diamond Creek founder Al Brounstein stunned Napa, and California wine lovers everywhere, by pricing his 1978 Diamond Creek Lake Cabernet Sauvignon at $100. He was unapologetic, and he also had the elements for making the leap: Lake is the smallest of his vineyards, the wine isn't made every year, and he was, at the time, one of the most critically acclaimed vintners. Other Napa vintners were soon grateful, because once Brounstein charged $100, they could too. (If you're wondering, $100 then is less than $250 in today's money. There are many Napa Cabs that cost more than $250 on release today.)

I don't want to get into whether Screaming Eagle is worth $1500 or how much one should pay for a bottle of wine or the many children starving in Somalia, etc. Sometimes I write commentary, and sometimes I write news. The first Napa wine being released at over $1000 a bottle is news.

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  1. That's one badass Eagle! Congrats to Screaming Eagle for not only making a great bottle of wine but how to keep itself positioned amongst the right frame of reference brands. Superlative strategic brand management.

  2. What about Ghost Horse from Anderson Conn Valley ....isn't that over $1000 per bottle?

  3. Andrew: Thanks for the tip, I added it to the story.

  4. YOu are welcome. A friend's uncle is the winemaker for Anderson Conn Valley so I did a tasting with Todd probably about 8 or 9 years ago and tasted the 2003 (I think) Ghost Horse cab out of the barrel. I seem to recall he was selling it at $1,000,000 per barrel (which works out to be $3500 per bottle, go figure). I will say it was one damn fine cab and I most certainly did not swish and spit! That being said, I did not believe he was serious either!

  5. Hi, Blake! Thanks for stopping by today! ~ Beth (@travelwinechick)