Few South Africans will have heard of Screaming Eagle wines, or be able to conceive of any wine being worth more than US$1000 a bottle.

Screaming Eagle is a tiny, cult winery in California’s Napa Valley and produces arguably the most sought-after wine in the US. In a coup for the SA wine industry, its winemaker, Andy Erickson, is set to lead the winemaking team at Mulderbosch Vineyards in Stellenbosch from 2011.

This follows the estate’s recent purchase by California-based investment group Terroir Capital, headed by American Charles Banks, a former partner at Screaming Eagle. The deal has been signed and is awaiting Reserve Bank approval.

“This is a substantial investment and a vote of confidence from the US that SA has exceptional potential,” says Banks. “It will enhance the transfer of viticulture and winemaking expertise between SA and California and further focus attention on the innovative strides SA has made in producing wines in an environmentally sensitive and sustainable manner.”

Mulderbosch has been imported into the US by local importer Cape Classics for nearly two decades and has become one of the most sought-after premium SA wine brands on the US market.

Current owner Ben Truter says though Mulderbosch has enjoyed huge success, “we just don’t have the capital to take it to the next level”. He believes the deal “will change negative perceptions about the local wine industry and open up the market for other American investors”.

In 2008, Banks, a former money manager for NBA players, toured the Cape’s wine farms. “It was full summer, it was beautiful. Who wouldn’t fall in love with the region?” his host Andre Shearer, CEO of Cape Classics, said at the time. As a result of their visit, Banks and Terroir Capital began considering investments in the Cape wine and hospitality industry, convinced of the “immense global potential” of fine SA wine.

They recently acquired Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards and are searching for further opportunities, including a site to build a boutique hotel. They plan “dramatic improvements” to Mulderbosch’s infrastructure.

“There are certainly many fresh ideas and refinements that we can make,” says Banks. “We’re after truly professional winemaking that expresses purity of fruit and balance. ”

Source: Financial Mail