Terroir Life Wines

The Santa Barbara purveyors bring together an international community of winemakers to cultivate connections between regions

by Janine Stankus


To oenophiles, the term “terroir” refers to wind, rain, soil, sun, diurnal shifts—all the elements that imbue wine with its distinct character. It’s the “biography of wine,” notes Ali Banks, Terroir Life co-founder, but one which misses an essential element: the people. Terroir Life is the new customer-facing launch from Terroir Selections, founded in 2009 by Charles and Ali Banks to steward select vineyards around the globe through ownership and investment. Terroir Life writes the missing character into the stories of each of their wines by celebrating the people behind it: from those who farm it, to those who make it, to those who drink and enjoy it.


For Charles and Ali, building Terroir Selections was not about collecting properties, but investing in passionate people with a certain style of following their dreams—people after their own hearts. Charles went from a guy who told his wife he’d “pick up beer” for their first dinner party (he ended up bringing wine, don’t worry) to a managing partner at both the highly regarded Jonata and Screaming Eagle (home of California’s 100-point cult cabernet). Ali calls her husband the “Forrest Gump of wine.” Curiosity, enthusiasm and a bit of serendipity fueled his ascension from consumer to collector to leader in the industry.

Though proud of the work he did at Jonata and Screaming Eagle, the properties never felt quite like his own. “I really wanted to make something,” explains Charles, who found a career in capital management lacking such tangibles. Between 2009 and 2010, Charles stepped down as president of his investing firm, sold his interests in Jonata and Screaming Eagle, and partnered with his wife to launch Terroir Selections, a brand rooted in something they both loved. “I’ll never forget the first time I was able to put a bottle of wine that we made on the table,” he reminisces. “You make something that your friends drink and they like—now that’s an amazing feeling.”


The team has always been sedulous in business with a flair for following their noses. Charles is in charge of curating the wineries and Ali manages the culture element. The couple has helped to cultivate some of the most promising properties in the California clime. These include Qupé, Sandhi, and Domaine de la Côte in Santa Barbara County; Wind Gap and Agharta in Sonoma County; and Leviathan, Whetstone Cellars, and Mayacamas in and overlooking Napa Valley. The couple has also staked claim in overseas wine regions like Burgundy, France (Maison L’Orée and Evening Land Vineyards—also with properties in CA) and Hawkes Bay, New Zealand (Trinity Hill), as well as burgeoning areas in South Africa (Mulderbosch, Marvelous and Fable Mountain Vineyards). Terroir Life’s current wine selection runs the gamut in terms of variety and price point, with each representing the best in its class. Furthermore, the online platform offers products designed to enhance the experience of wine: Zalto glassware, Simon Hasan leather-wrapped vessels, corkscrews, charcuterie boards and even Pendleton wool picnic blankets.


Each winery in the Terroir portfolio brings something unique to the table. The Banks enable every winemaker to run with his/her vision and each vineyard to remain true to its terroir. The surprisingly nuanced Chardonnay from the coastal Sandhi winery is a shining example, realized by renowned sommelier Rajatt Parr and winemaker Saschi Moorman. “When Raj said he wanted to make cool-climate Chardonnay in the Santa Barbara hills, everybody had an opinion on what we were doing wrong,” says Charles. “Now it’s one of the more game-changing projects that’s happening in Santa Barbara.” Innovation is the benchmark of all Terroir brands. The company draws forward-thinking winemakers who are out to shake up the scene. It’s this nascent energy that attracted Charles to the sun-coddled South African cape, where he had long been jonesing to invest. In 2010 he purchased Fable Mountain Vineyards in the slow-growing, naturally volatile Witzeberg Mountain Range. In 2011, he hired winemaker Adam Mason to restore the 25-year-old Mulderbosch Vineyards to its position as a leading purveyor in the region. The Banks have endeavored to capitalize on the qualities that make each new brand a catch. “It’s like a country song. If I’m going to buy a winery I want to know what my hook is,” says Charles. “I think I’ve developed a knack for finding that hook.”


Terroir Selections has grown into a vast network of winemakers, entrepreneurs, experts, and enthusiasts. Parr (also a partner at Domaine de la Côte and founder of Maison L’Orée), coined the hashtag #winefamily to describe the dynamic. Together, Terroir members form a brain trust that fosters cooperation, shared values and healthy competition, which inspires growth at every level. The goal of Terroir Life is to pass on the shared knowledge and resources of its constituents. Whether you’re giving a gift, planning an occasion, or simply looking for a good weekday wine, Terroir Life can help you create a custom experience. A full concierge will be the next addition the the Terroir’s repertoire.


The Banks appointed branding expert Derek Galkin to the position of Creative Director. His main challenge, he believes, is to change the way that wine has been marketed since its inception. This means appealing not just to studied palates, but to a new generation’s appreciation for authenticity. Sharing the stories behind the brands has created trust and dialogue with consumers. It’s the six decades of history reverberating within the original stone cellar built atop the mountain at Mayacamas; or the tenacity of the husband-and-wife team who patiently till the shale-addled soil at Fable Mountain Vineyards: this sense of place and people connects customers to the brand and lifestyle—and one another. “When we sit down with a glass of wine, what we want to hear is your story. Where did you grow up, how did you end up right here, how do we connect our stories?” explains Ali. It all circles back to the human element that the Banks highly value. Just as people are so essential to the story of each wine, so wine becomes an integral, and deeply enjoyable, part of our own.

View the current selection of Terroir wines in their online shop; wines are offered by the bottle and in gift sets (some brands offer magnums) with wine experts available to help guide your purchases.

Glassware image courtesy of Simon Hasan, all other images courtesy of Terroir Life