I first came across Charles Banks when he was running Screaming Eagle in the Napa Valley. He has since departed to build his own stable of over-performing New World wineries, Terroir Selections. They include the Napa Valley's oldest Cabernet producer Mayacamas, Central Coast Syrah specialist Qupé, the Central Coast burgundy copycat Sandhi, and in South Africa Mulderbosch and Fable Mountain Vineyards (the old Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards) – as well as a host of other, generally Californian, rather less well-known wine brands. Sommelier Rajat Parr is closely involved with Sandhi and recently joined the roster of Americans making wine in Burgundy. His Maison l'Orée wines, made with Nicolas Potel under the Terroir Selections banner, are now available on the US market.
The latest investment of Terroir Capital, the moneybags behind Terroir Selections, is in New Zealand, quite a feather in the cap of the owners of the Hawke's Bay winery Trinity Hill, for Banks is not only to import their well-made wines into the US after a five-year gap, but will fund the building of a new winery specifically designed for the best reds grown on Trinity Hill's 200 acres of vineyard, 120 of them in the Gimblett Gravels subregion (I'll be publishing my tasting notes on this year's special selection of top Gimblett Gravels reds later this week).
Trinity Hill's ebullient co-founder and president John Hancock (pictured), with winemaker Warren Gibson, is clearly excited about this new project: 'We have always known that the Gravels can produce wines to match the best that Europe and the US have to offer. Now we will have a state-of-the-art facility to make them. And Charles with his extensive sales network across the US, Canada, Europe and Scandinavia has the ability to distribute them for us.'
I should throw in a bitchy little caveat here that I am blissfully unaware of any UK distribution network for Terroir Selections wines* – but then Trinity Hill's New Zealander co-founder and chairman Robyn Wilson is based in London as proprietor of Bleeding Heart restaurants, and has secured UK distribution of Trinity Hill by Liberty Wines, so that should not be a problem anyway. She is clearly thrilled too: 'Not only do we now have the best American distributor a New Zealand winery could wish for, but Charles' decision to join us as a partner will allow us to develop in areas we would not have been able to achieve on our own.'
Everyone, it seems, will be happy with an arrangement that had its genesis in the World Trade Center attack of 2001. According to Banks, 'I fell in love with New Zealand on my first visit in 2001 when I was waylaid by the 9/11 terrorist activity. The hospitality and warmth extended during those difficult days away from my family made me a friend of New Zealand for life. I have been hugely impressed by the strides the New Zealand wine industry has made in the last 12 years and I feel the future is very bright. Trinity Hill is in a terrific position to prosper, having consistently delivered high-quality wines across its range. We intend to invest the necessary capital to allow the continued improvement in quality.'
I would have thought that any cosmopolitan New Zealand wine producer would be pleased by this high-profile trans-Pacific partnership.
* I am reminded by FMV and Armit that they have imported Qupé and Mulderbosch respectively into the UK for years!