When Bill Harlan set foot in Napa, he had a singular ambition—to create a "first growth" estate in California that would rank among the world's finest wine producers. This vision became a reality with Harlan Estate, but it was far from an overnight success. Despite Robert Parker's glowing description of their second commercial release as "a profoundly great wine," Bill invested years in meticulous site selection and strategic planning to lay the foundation for his "first growth" estate. The 36-acre Oakville vineyard emerged as a crucial contributor to the estate's monumental achievements. Over time, Harlan Estate garnered an astounding twenty 100-point scores, making it one of Napa's leading “cult wines,” known for its glowing reviews, limited quantities, and devoted cult following. Bill Harlan's dream of crafting a California wine of "first growth" caliber came to fruition through his unwavering dedication to quality and passion for winemaking.
Harlan Estate Wine: Crafting a Legacy
The mastermind behind Harlan Estate, Bill Harlan, led a fascinating life before his foray into the wine world. From flying planes and pursuing a career as a professional poker player to sailing around the globe, Bill's adventures knew no bounds. It was in the 1950s, during his time as a student at UC Berkeley, that he developed an interest in wine upon visiting Napa. In 1979, Bill acquired the Meadowood resort with the intention of transforming it into a winery. However, a conversation with Robert Mondavi revealed that this plan was ill-suited due to the poor soils and cool climate of the property. Inspired by Mondavi, Harlan embarked on a five-week tour of the top estates in Bordeaux and Burgundy. This journey became the catalyst for what would later become Harlan Estate.
In 1984, Bill Harlan acquired a 230-acre property in Oakville, just west of the famed Martha's vineyard. This site would eventually become the home of Harlan Estate. Emulating what he had learned on his tour, Harlan chose a hillside vineyard that offered ideal drainage and optimal sun exposure, ensuring the vines received the best conditions for growth. Over the next few years, he fine-tuned his wines, biding his time before releasing the inaugural vintage in 1996, emphasizing the unwavering pursuit of quality. A formidable winemaking team, including Bob Levy, Don Weaver, and esteemed consultant Michel Rolland, played a pivotal role in this endeavor.
At the heart of Harlan Estate lies the dynamic 36-acre vineyard, which can be divided into 24 individual blocks. With elevations ranging from 225 feet at the base to 1225 feet at its peak, these steep slopes provide excellent drainage and ample sun exposure, resulting in superior fruit production. The vineyard boasts an average vine age of 35 years, consisting of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. Over time, Harlan Estate has transitioned towards dry farming, with approximately 72% of their vineyards following this sustainable practice as of 2022.
True to the essence of great wines, Harlan Estate's winemaking journey commences in the vineyard. A meticulous selection process ensures only the finest fruit is utilized, with the aim of creating wines characterized by an elegant texture and complexity. The grapes undergo fermentation in 100% new oak barrels and age for 24 to 36 months, depending on the vintage. The end result is a luxuriously rich and concentrated wine, showcasing remarkable purity of fruit, polished elegance, and outstanding aging potential. These exceptional wines have become synonymous with unparalleled quality and epitomize the pinnacle of Napa Valley's viticulture.
Bill Harlan's relentless pursuit of excellence has truly fashioned one of the world's most dynamic and captivating wines, a labor that spanned years. Today, Harlan Estate stands as an iconic and forward-thinking establishment, cherished by exclusive mailing list members who gain access to its offerings year after year. Essential for every collector and connoisseur of Napa Valley wines, Harlan Estate defines the region and has played a pivotal role in elevating the overall quality of its wines. There's no better time than now to add a bottle of Harlan Estate wine to your esteemed collection, for it embodies the very essence of Napa Valley's vinicultural greatness.