It’s one of the most famous – and famously inaccessible – wineries in the world. Elaine Chukan Brown pays a call
WORDS BY ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ROB BLACK
It’s a wet Friday morning in January. Driving through Napa Valley, I’ve had to adjust my route to avoid the flooding. The Napa River has burst its banks after record winter rainfall, and vineyards across Rutherford and Oakville are underwater.
As advised, I’m wearing rubber boots. I’ve also donned my thickest work trousers and layered on the winter clothes. It’s an incongruous look given that I’m on my way to one of the most exclusive, revered wineries in all of California – indeed, the world. But today there will be none of the chic drinks receptions and hobnobbing on the expansive winery terrace that are so prevalent in Napa society, not least because this particular winery doesn’t really have a winery terrace. In fact, from the road, there’s barely any indication of a winery at all: no grand gates, no flashy flags, no showy signage – just a gatepost displaying the number.
I’m here to get a look inside Screaming Eagle, discreetly set off the Silverado Trail on the eastern side of Oakville. It’s one of the most difficult wineries in the world at which to secure an appointment. (Jay-Z was famously rebuffed when he made an approach.) Many of the world’s top sommeliers have been turned away, along with several of the wine world’s top publications. They haven’t given an in-depth, on-site media interview in several years.
Nick Gislason, the winemaker here – and the man behind the rubber-footwear counsel – greets me holding his daily mug of chicken broth, looking like a 1970s beatnik, with his oversized jacket and unruly, curly hair. Unassuming and quietly spoken, Gislason is dressed in the dark workpants and wool layers more typical of life in the Pacific Northwest than one of the most prestigious wineries in the world. We slowly begin walking the ….
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