The biddies explore the phenomenon of cult wine. While there are cult wines from around the world, the phenomenon is thought to have started with Californian wines, primarily California cabs. The biddies look at a few of these highly sought after wines, such as Screaming Eagle, Harlan Estate and Opus One.


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Study notes for Cult Wine:

What is cult wine?

“Wines for which dedicated groups of committed enthusiasts will pay large sums of money. Cult wines are often seen as trophy wines to be collected or as an investment wine to be held rather than consumed”

Encapsulates scarcity, high prices, and quality.

Many consider Napa Valley to be the birthplace of the cult wine phenomenon so its most famous grape  Cabernet Sauvignon comprises many of the world’s most sought-after cult wines. 

Influence of reviewers: US Wine drinkers developed their palates in the latter half of the 20th century which coincided with the rise of the reviewer who helped establish the reputation of many of the country’s enduring cult wines.

Wine Folly’s Madeline Puckette writes: The interesting thing about cult wines is that a lot of times there are delicious alternatives next door (sometimes quite literally).

Many of these are considered first growth wines

  • In 1855, the Exposition Universelle was held in Paris to showcase all that was good in France.  Emperor Napoleon III requested the leading Bordeaux merchants to rank the best wines.  The top wines were rated as First Growths
    • The term does not mean vines are planted first, but that they are first class
    • There are currently 5 First Growth Bordeaux wines
  • Over the years, many people in the rest of the world have discussed what wines from their country would be First Growths.  


  • They are not multi-generational family businesses but are instead founded by newer and innovative winemakers
  • Usually come from smaller vineyards resulting in limited production (500-1000 cases annually)
  • Usually not open for wine tastings which adds to the mystery of them
  • Come with endless wait lists with extremely long waiting periods
    • Ex: Screaming Eagle is around 12 years
  • Limited quantities plus the ability to age for a long time increase price vintage by vintage
    • These wines can age for at least two decades with some of the best up to 50 
    • Ex: 1992 Screaming Eagle, released at $75, now sells from more than $23,000/bottle
    • Ex: Harlan Estate’s inaugural 1990 vintage ($65 then is now $5,500 today)


  • Arguably the most iconic cult winery from Napa; a reclusive and private boutique winery
  • Created in 1992 by Jean Philips, vineyard realtor,  on the advice of her friend Robert Mondavi
  • A small batch of her estate wine – started as a wine making experiment in a rubber garbage can and tasted/endorsed by Mondavi Staff
  • Name signifies “the unfettered audacity to make the best wine possible”
  • Robert Parker gave her Cabernet Sauvignon a perfect 100 causing it to be noticed by wine collectors globally (hit 100 points again in 1997)
  • When she bought the estate, it was about 60 acres mostly planted with white varietals and only one acre of Cabernet Sauvignon but she added Cabernet Franc, Merlot
  • Mostly sold the grapes to other buyers
  • Mondavi introduced her to Heidi Barrett, an upcoming winemaker and wife of Bo Barrett from Chateau Montelena
    • Heidi Barrett: already had a stellar reputation as the winemaker at Buehler Vineyards and had crafted “Maya” Dalla Valle Vineyards (considered another cult wine)
  • Currently the winery produces 3 wines: Cabernet, Sauvignon Blanc and The Flight (a wine made from younger vines averaging about $600-$800)
  • A bottle costs $3,000 on average
  • The winery produces 800 cases annually
  • The wine itself: blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with minor amounts of Merlot, Cab Franc
    • Aged in French oak
  • Starting in 2010, the winery began protecting all it’s bottles with a “bubble coded” verification system
    • A label placed between the foil and the bottle that creates a security seal that cannot be detached without it and the foil being visibly damaged
    • Beneath the seal, bottles contain unique identification codes that can be verified on Screaming Eagle’s Website
  • In 2006, Jean Philips sold Screaming Eagle to Charles Banks and Stan Korenke for a undisclosed sum, rumored to be around $30 million
    • Kroenke is now the outright owner after buying it out from Banks in 2009
    • Korenke is married to a Walmart heiress plus also is part owner of the Los Angeles Rams, Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, Colorado Rapids and Arsenal Football Club, UK
  • The current winemaker, Nick Gislason, started with them in 2010 at just 26 years old and became the sole winemarker in 2011


  • Founded by Bill Harlan who had a mission to craft a true “California First Growth” wine on par with Burgundy’s Grand Crus
  • He went to school at the University of California Berkeley and was introduced to Napa Valley in 1959 and a weekend getaway to bring his dates to
  • Co-founder of Pacific Union Land Company with initially focused on selling condominiums and developing condo projects in the Bay Area
  • Mondavi also had a hand in this – introduced Harlan to Europe’s best winemakers
  • In 1984 started with 6 acres of land and is now at about 40 acres under vine but the estate itself is 240 acres
    • Grows Cab Sav, Merlot, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot
  • The first vintage released was in 1990 at a price point of $65 even though his first vintage was made in 1987
  • Produces a bunch of age-worthy, collectible single-vineyard Cab Sav
  • Produces 1800 cases annually
  • Wines sell for about $1000 each but exceptional vintages can sell for $5000+
  • Parker, “the single most profound red wine, not only in California but in the world”
  • Produces a second wine called “The Maiden” ($300-$500)


  • The child of two iconic winemakers, Baron Philippe de Rothschild & Robert Mondavi (sort of an Old World – New World venture)
  • Founded in 1979 and original vintages were labeled Napamedoc (Napa… Medoc) and in 1982 took the name Opus One
  • The name “Opus One” is generally considered to be a composer’s first masterpiece
  • Famous for Bordeaux-style California wine made predominantly from Cabernet Sauvignon with small quantities of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot
  • At the first Napa Valley Wine Auction in 1981, a 12-bottle case of Opus One sold for $24,000 which was unheard of at the time for California-made wine
  • They make two wines: a Cabernet dominant Bordeaux Blend, and Overture which is fruit that doesn’t quite make the cut (Overture – another musical reference)
  • Part of the blend comes from Napa’s legendary To Kalon vineyard which is owned by a number of famed Napa producers and is regarded as the best winemaking land in Napa
  • Most searched for American made wine in the Wine Searcher database and ranks 7th among the most-searched-for wines worldwide
  • Costs about $400 on average – a relative bargain compared to other cult wines
  • Winery limits each buyer to six individual bottles of four six-bottle cases (?)
    • About 25,000 cases a year


  • Region: Santa Barbara
  • Wine: Syrah, Rhône Style blends (and more)
  • Price: $200–$4,000
  • – each vintage produces an entirely different wine with an entirely new name (and crazy neat bottle). 
  • – The project is the handywork of Austrian Los Angeles import Manfred Krankl and his wife Elaine. 
  • – After some experimentation and partnering with other outstanding winemakers in Santa Barbara, they found their niche with Rhône varieties… and after a blowout critical review in 1994, they have since become a cult favorite. 
  • – The wines are usually intense inky Syrah or Grenache-based wines (as well as a few white Rhônes too). They are as bold on the inside as they are on the label.


  • Also a Bill Harlan baby, now run by son Will Harlan


  • Label by Will Harlan for wines from newer growths
  • “Made from the younger vines of Harlan Estate, BOND, and Promontory, The Mascot shares a unique glimpse into the evolution of our winegrowing estates” ~ WILL HARLAN
  • Seems to be thought of as a more budget-friendly way to experience the high quality of Harlan’s other wines
    • If you’re looking for a Cabernet Sauvignon that mirrors and resonates the outstanding qualities you’d expect from Napa Valley’s most Upper Echelon wines, made with the same meticulous farming and skilled winemaking methods, Will Harlan’s The Mascot should top your list… and This EPIC 2018 Vintage is OFF THE CHARTS!


  • Owned byDon and Bettina Bryant. 
  • After purchasing land on Pritchard Hill nearly 30 years ago, Don replanted the estate with 100% Cabernet Sauvignon
  • employing modern viticulture practices and nurturing a team of local
  • quickly established one of California’s premier First Growth wines, the Bryant Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, now among Napa Valley’s most acclaimed labels
  • BRYANT ESTATE wines are currently harvested, blended and produced entirely by hand from grapes planted and grown on the original 13-acre estate, as well as on neighboring vineyards on Howell Mountain, Las Posadas and Madrona. 
  • The wines are also bottled, labeled, wrapped and packed by hand on the estate, then shipped directly to customers.
  • Retail high $400s+


  • Makes only 2 wines – a Cab from Napa Valley and a Cab from Alexander Valley
  • Consistently high ratings, $150+