Napa’s Cult Cab Scene

red wine being poured into a wine glass

The cult cab scene in Napa has garnered an almost mythic quality.  These wines represent not just a style of wine, but a definition of what a California wine can be. Characterized by richness, power, body and finesse they are renowned for tiny production and four figure price tags.

The cult craze can actually be traced back to a time when the barrier to entry was more knowledge based than financial. In the 1970’s wine lovers who were in the know would form a line stretching down High 29 to just score a bottle of Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet.

Napa Valley has one of the highest concentrations of cult wines in the world, so we’ve laid out a list of some of the top Napa Valley cult wines, featuring the established legends who are famed for starting the movement. Their wines are almost always Cabernet Sauvignon—this is Napa Valley, after all—and are complex, densely structured, and absolutely beautiful to experience. Now if only you can get on that allocation list…

The Legends

The original list of cult wines reads like a who’s who list of Napa Valley, Screaming Eagle, Harlan, Araujo, Bryant and Colgin. There’s remarkable overlap in the consultants and winemakers who have had a hand in these wines: David Abreu (Araujo, Bryant, Colgin, Grace, Harlan, Screaming Eagle), Michel Rolland (Araujo, Bryant, Dalla Valle, Harlan, Screaming Eagle), Heidi Peterson Barrett (Dalla Valle, Grace, Screaming Eagle), Helen Turley (Bryant, Colgin). Their imprints are at the helm of the cults wineries’ ripeness revolution — and are responsible for many of the wineries’ similarities. 

Screaming Eagle

The king of the cult Cabernet movement, Screaming Eagle is arguably still the most famous and renowned estate in the Napa Valley today. 

The wines are only available via a mailing list and to prestigious, Michelin starred restaurants in California. It is, therefore, almost impossible to find, except at the major auction houses, where the prices people are prepared to pay defy belief.


Harlan Estate

A top-notch, small producer dedicated solely to super-premium Bordeaux style reds. The owner, Bill Harlan, set out to craft a wine that would equal Bordeaux’s First Growths and it must be said that this is one of California’s great reds.


Araujo (now Eisele) 

These formidable wines are all produced from the Eisele Vineyard, a great terroir located in the north-eastern part of the Napa Valley. As well as the Cabernet Sauvignon, minute quantities of Syrah and a classic Bordeaux blend are produced at Araujo. Winemaker Françoise Peschon crafts wines of immense concentration and power, but with surprisingly supple tannins.


Colgin offers three super-premium bottling; two varietal Cabernet based wines and a Bordeaux blend. All are extremely expensive and total production is barely 1,000 cases annually. They are held in high esteem by wine collectors and with just cause, all the wines offer considerable weight, depth and rich textures.

Bryant Family

The Cabernet has unrivaled finesse, depth and power – winemaker Philip Melka has scarcely put a foot wrong since joining the team 6 years ago. Expect to pay about $600 for a recent vintage. That is if you can source them, there is a waiting list.



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