Thirty years ago Bill Harlan
set out to create a Californian first growth.
Over the years i've known him, Bill Harlan
looks most comfortable gazing out over his
hands jammed in the pockets of worn jeans, giving off a successful rancher's quiet elegance.
curling white hair, now thinning, could usually do with a trim.
Ditto the short white beard that partially hides his
jutting, determined chin.
Chasing a dream
A southern California native, Harlan first encountered the Napa Valley and fine wine while attending the University of California at Berkeley.
A visit to the Robert Mondavi Winery in 1966, during its opening week, inspired a dream of owning one himself.
Back then Harlan was still young and restless; he hitchhiked around Africa, raced motorcycles, supported himself by playing poker while living in a casino hotel and eventually co-founded Pacific Union, a real estate development firm that made him a fortune.
By the late 1970s, he
was looking for vineyard land.
On impulse he
bought the run-down Meadowood country club in St Helena, but quickly realised the land wouldn't make quality wine.
Then, in 1980, Mondavi invited Harlan
on a trip to Burgundy and Bordeaux, with visits to first growths. 'I was in awe,' Harlan says. 'It gave me a different time perspective, a vision of wine as place and permanence, family and history, the heritage that is the art of wine, the expression of land.'
believes that the best vineyards are on hillsides, though Napa Valley's great wines historically came from the Oakville and Rutherford benchland on the valley floor, where Inglenook planted vines in the 19th century.
He found what he wanted on the rocky, forested lower slopes of the Mayacamas mountains on the valley's western side, just above Martha's Vineyard, bought the first 16ha in 1984 from its Canadian owner and added 80ha more over the next 10 years.
1957 Bill Harlan
visits Napa Valley for the first time
attends opening of Robert Mondavi's winery
1987 Son Will is born; first vintage of Harlan
Is Bill Harlan
trying to create another Napa Valley first growth with his
new Promontory Estate?
It sure looks like it.
calls the project 'maybe my most exciting since getting into the wine business'.
pursued the spectacular piece of land on a rugged ridge above Dominus Winery, south of Harlan Estate and Bond, for nearly 25 years, ever since he
saw its potential on a hiking trek in 1985.
got a call that it was available, he
snapped up 195 hectares in 2008, then added two more parcels in 2009 and 2013 to bring the total area under vine to 340ha.