Screaming Eagle was sold in March 2006 to a consortium led by Santa Barbara-based money manager Charles Banks and his business partner, Stanley Kroenke, a real estate developer and owner of the Denver Nuggets basketball and Colorado Avalanche hockey teams. My impression is that the wines have gone downhill since the sale–an ’04 I had, bottled after the winery was sold, was hardly recognizable as the Screaming Eagles of the past (and I had previously tasted all the vintages from the first through 2001).
Before buying Screaming Eagle, Banks and Kroenke invested in a wine project north of Santa Barbara in Santa Ynez Valley called Jonata, which sold its first wine, from the ’04 vintage, in late 2007. The name, pronounced “ho-nata,” is a Chumash Indian word for “live oak.” The Jonata estate is in the Buellton-Ballard Canyon area of the Santa Ynez Valley appellation and consists of 586 acres with 83 acres planted to Bordeaux varietals, Syrah, Sangiovese and Sauvignon Blanc. Pinot Noir is sourced from Fiddlestix Vineyard.
As of April ’09, Banks had reportedly left the partnership and was no longer involved with either Screaming Eagle or Jonata. The winemaker is Matthew Dees, who studied geology before learning winemaking at Staglin Family Vineyard in Napa and Craggy Range in New Zealand. Michel Rolland is consulting enologist.
Robert Parker has given Jonata’s wines very strong scores since their first release (i.e., much like he did Screaming Eagle), and he gave some of the wines of the ’07 vintage initial scores of 95-97 and 98-100 points. Not surprisingly, the prices of these wines are also very high–ranging from $70 retail for the Sauvignon Blanc blend, La Flor de Jonata, to $200 ($125 to mailing list customers) for the Syrah, La Sangre de Jonata. (Strangely all the wines have Spanish names, despite the Chumash name for the winery itself.)
I had a chance to taste eight of the wines, all from the ’07 vintage, at a recent tasting at Artisan Wine Depot, and I was quite impressed with the quality of the fruit and the level of winemaking. I do think Parker’s scores are inflated, and my ratings were more in the 91-94 point range, but these are not typically overblown, over-concentrated, jammy, “Parkerized” wines, as might be expected from the RP scores. Yes, there is concentration, ripe fruit, and expensive oak in evidence, but there is also complexity, structure and decent acidity levels, along with an interesting array of varietals and varietal blending.
The Syrah, with a touch of Viognier in the blend, is a beautiful effort, on a par with the best of California, but at $200 retail, I won’t be buying any. The El Alma de Jonata, a Cabernet Franc blend, with small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot, is one of the best Cali Cab Francs I’ve ever tasted (and I admit to buying one bottle of it, despite the $175 price tag–Artisan had discounted it to “only” $100). The Fenix, a Merlot dominated blend, reminded me very much of a Right Bank Bordeaux on steroids (okay, so a “Parker wine”), while the La Fuerza de Jonata–made primarily from Petit Verdot–is easily the best Petit Verdot I’ve ever had from California.
If the prices were substantially less, I’d both get on the mailing list and highly recommend these wines. At these Parker-score inflated prices, however, I will be doing neither. But I do appreciate what Matthew Dees is doing with these wines, and what the strong results suggest for the potential of Bordeaux varietals grown in the Santa Ynez Valley.
- 2008 Jonata Winery La Flor de Jonata – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
Pale yellow color; floral, lime flower, jasmine nose; tight, rich jasmine, white flower, peach palate; medium-plus finish (60% Sauvignon Blanc, 23% Viognier, 17% Semillon) (91 pts.)
- 2007 Jonata Winery La Tierra de Jonata – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
Dark red violet color; baked berry, red bean, red velvet cupcake, ripe plum nose; soft, ripe plum, berry palate with integrated oak, approachable now; medium-plus finish (97% Sangiovese, 3% Syrah) (91 pts.)
- 2007 Jonata Winery Fenix – USA, California, Central Coast, Monterey / Santa Barbara
Very dark red violet color; intriguing mocha, coffee bean, green tobacco, black fruit, tar nose; tasty, rich, plum, black fruit, with a nice herbaceous note, like a Right Bank Bordeaux on steroids; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (84% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot) (92 pts.)
- 2007 Jonata Winery El Alma de Jonata – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
Dark red violet color; graphite, lead pencil, plum, cassis, berry nose; tight, herbaceous, tart plum, berry, graphite, lead pencil palate, needs 4 to 6 years; medium-plus finish (89% Cabernet Franc, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Merlot, 1% Petit Verdot) (93 pts.)
- 2007 Jonata Winery El Desafio de Jonata – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
Nearly opaque purple red violet color; blackberry, black plum, black fruit nose with a touch of caramel; tight, tart blackberry, black fruit, tar, charcoal palate, needs 6-8 years; medium-plus finish (95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot) (92 pts.)
- 2007 Jonata Winery Todos – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
Opaque purple red violet color; pepper, roast coffee, tar, mocha oak nose; tight, mocha, tart berry, blackberry, black fruit palate, needs 2-3 years; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (45% Syrah; 35% Cabernet Sauvignon; 3-4% each Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese and Petit Verdot; 1% each Viognier, Grenache, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, hence “todos”) (91 pts.)
Syrah and Petit Verdot
- 2007 Jonata Winery La Sangre de Jonata – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
Opaque black red violet color; lovely, deep, roasted plum, green peppercorn, tart black fruit, blackberry liqueur nose; tight, tasty, rich, tart blackberry, tart plum, tart berry, ripe plum, black fruit palate, needs 2-4 years; medium-plus finish (98% Syrah, 2% Viognier) (94 pts.)
- 2007 Jonata Winery La Fuerza de Jonata – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
Opaque black red violet color; lovely, deep, black fruit, blackberry, pencil lead, graphite, mocha nose; reticent, tart plum, cassis, graphite, lead pencil, blackberry palate, needs 3-5 years; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (92% Petit Verdot, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Merlot) (92 pts.)