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Wine Star: H. William Harlan

The business and art of Napa Valley Cabernet
Photo by: Deepix Studio
Bill Harlan shared the Harlan Estate Napa Valley 2012.

MaryAnn Worobiec
Posted: October 26, 2015

The Wine Experience tastings on Friday morning made only one detour into the New World, with a profound wine and a thoughtful presenter. H. William Harlan shared his Harlan Estate Napa Valley 2012 (93 points, $NA), one of the most coveted of all California cult wines.

Senior editor James Laube introduced Bill Harlan as extremely goal-oriented: "I don't think I've ever met a winemaker who had a better understanding of what he wanted to do, where he wanted to do it, why he wanted to do it, and how."

Letting his Cabernet-based red speak for itself, Harlan gave a brief overview of his time in wine and his company's culture. He started visiting Napa Valley in the late 1950s as a college student who simply enjoyed the free wine tastings. That evolved into a romantic notion of owning a vineyard, a dream he finally realized in the 1980s.

A pivotal time for Harlan was a 1980 trip to Burgundy and Bordeaux, arranged by the late Robert Mondavi. He was impressed by the history and legacy he saw. "I came away from that trip very changed," says Harlan. "Until that time, my life was formed by the idea of living in the moment." He returned certain he needed a "200-year plan."

Harlan described the necessity of creating a company culture that will transition from generation to generation. Key to that is a young winemaking and vineyard team groomed to take over from general manager Don Weaver and longtime winemaker Bob Levy, as the company launches a new wine project, Promontory. Harlan and his wife, Deborah, are gradually handing off responsibilities to their children, Will and Amanda.

Harlan is inspired by thinking of wine as the ultimate art of nature. "Throughout history, art has played an important role in the elevation of the human spirit," he explained, quoting Pablo Picasso in revealing his ultimate goal for Harlan Estate: to produce wine that "washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life."

For more about Bill Harlan and his Promontory project, read managing editor Kim Marcus' profile, "Bill Harlan's Amazing Saga."

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