H. William Harlan

Kent Hanson
H. William Harlan

Poker players succeed by knowing the odds and being unafraid to gamble when the time is right. As a young man, Bill Harlan had a three-year career playing poker in a Lake Tahoe casino. Those lessons paid off when he took an even bigger gamble—a career in wine.

Harlan visited Robert Mondavi Winery the week it opened in 1966, sparking a dream. First, though, he made his fortune, building one of California's most successful real estate development firms. In 1978, he and partners bought a Napa Valley country club called Meadowood, turning it into the valley's first luxury resort. In 1981, Harlan volunteered the site to host the inaugural Auction Napa Valley, enabling him to learn from the area's best vintners. In 1986, he cofounded Merryvale winery, then finally fulfilled his dream by creating Harlan Estate in 1990. Setting a model with low production, top quality and high prices, Harlan helped create the cult Cabernet category. His work at Bond, the Napa Valley Reserve and now Promontory has cemented his legacy, and he earned Wine Spectator's Distinguished Service Award in 2015.

Watch Bill Harlan at the 2015 NYWE