Taste of Wine: Nick Gislason — Napa Valley’s boy wonder

Taste of Wine: Nick Gislason — Napa Valley’s boy wonder
Screaming Eagle makes 700 to 800 cases of Bordeaux style wine annually, mainly Cabernet, Merlot and Cab Franc. Photo courtesy Screaming Eagle

My jaw dropped as I uttered something like “could you say that again, only slower,” as we sat in a swank Dallas restaurant and the sommelier presented a bottle of Screaming Eagle from Napa Valley, original vintage released in 1995, for “only” $10,000 per bottle. He had two others he could sell me for the same price.

Nick Gislason is not a boy.  He’s in his early 30s, but by all appearances he could pass for one.

I think it would be safe to say he is a young wine making genius for Screaming Eagle, the most iconic, enigmatic winery in Napa Valley and possibly the world.

Like being shot out of a cannon, he went through the highly regarded wine viticulture courses at UC Davis near Sacramento, Calif., all the while picking up wine jobs at leading wineries in Napa Valley like Harlan and O’Shaughnessy.

Nick Gislason is the winemaker for Napa Valley’s Screaming Eagle, where a bottle of the current 2012 release reportedly sells for $850. Photo by Frank Mangio

Nick Gislason is the winemaker for Napa Valley’s Screaming Eagle, where a bottle of the current 2012 release reportedly sells for $850. Photo by Frank Mangio

In an interview with Wine Enthusiast, Gislason revealed that, “in my last few months at (UC) Davis, I was looking for jobs and it occurred to me that I should talk to Andy Erickson, (Screaming Eagle’s then winemaker).  We sealed the deal and I became Andy’s assistant in February 2010. But he left Screaming Eagle about a year later. I knew there was a chance I would get the winemaker job although there were many candidates that were older and more experienced. I was chosen for the job.”

Wine Enthusiast then asked Gislason how he would describe himself and he answered, “I’m somebody who’s charging 100 miles an hour and loves every single minute of it.”

The 57-acre Screaming Eagle was founded in Oakville, Napa Valley, in 1986 by a former real estate agent, Jean Philllips.

The first winemaker was Heidi Barrett. The vineyard was replanted for Cabernet, Merlot and Cabernet Franc in 1995 for a Bordeaux style of wine after noted wine critic Robert Parker awarded Screaming Eagle 99 points, securing it as one of the most celebrated and expensive wines in the country.

In 2006, the vineyard was sold to Stanley Kroenke and Charles Banks for an undisclosed sum described by Phillips as “an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

Kroenke later would get complete control and, according to the Denver Post, “one of his first decisions at Screaming Eagle was to pour roughly $3.3 million of fine Napa Valley Cabernet, the 2005 vintage, down the drain. The wine’s cult-like fans would have happily bought it, but he believed it was not up to their standards.”

Kroenke was linked to Walmart wealth and later would become co-owner of the Denver Nuggets and St. Louis Rams, as well as vast holdings in real estate.

Nick Gislason is in his fifth year as winemaker with Screaming Eagle and has gone through a tough 2015 season, although when I met him and tasted the 2012 at a luxury wine tasting during the harvest, he was ever the vibrant, youthful winemaker that his bio’s had predicted.

According to a Wine Spectator report, about 17 percent of the 2015 crop was lost due to drought and high winds, but a vineyard source predicts that quality will be excellent.  Shipping will be May 2018 but will be fewer cases, quite a bit below the current 900 cases from the bountiful 2012 vintage.

Screaming Eagle is difficult to get a hold of and purchase. The best thing to do is place your name on a “waiting list” at the web site.  There is no tasting room and no visitors are allowed.

To learn more about this iconic wine, visit screamingeagle.com.


Wine Bytes

Rising San Diego wine star Skip Coomber will appear at North County Wine Company in San Marcos Jan. 15 and help pour his wines.  Call (760) 653-9032 for details.

The first of the 2016 series of San Diego Restaurant Week will happen Jan. 17 to Jan. 24.  Dining specials are offered from over 180 restaurants in San Diego County.  Three course prix-fix dinner menus for as little as $20 per person.  Details at sandiegorestaurantweek.com.

Seasalt, my favorite new restaurant for 2015, has a royal night Jan. 20 at 6 p.m. when King Estate from Oregon comes to Del Mar for a specially crafted wine dinner.  From Pinot Gris to Cabernet, you’ll enjoy the best of the Northwest. Reserve your seat at (858) 755-7100.  Cost is $55.


Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator.  He is one of the leading wine commentators on the web.  View his columns at tasteofwinetv.com, and reach him at mangiompc@aol.com.  Follow him on Facebook.


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