Cover Story ｜ 2017 May - Jun
Harlan Estate : From Cult to Legend
哈 蘭 酒 莊 : 傳 奇 非 僥 倖
“When I came to Napa Valley, there were only about 30 wineries. We were fortunate that Harlan Estate could be one of the five or six other projects happening in the similar timeline, which were collectively known as Cult Wine.”
The rise of cult wines in 80s was an interesting phenomena. As one of the icons, Harlan Estate has never slowed down its pace. Bill Harlan, founder of Harlan Estate, now seventy-six old, started the largest project in his lifetime in recent years, which is called Promontory Estate. Just a few years ago, 125 bottles of Promontory vintage 2009 recorded a USD 600,000 deal at the Napa Valley auction, which of cult wine.
TYCOON WHO GROWS GRAPES
Bill Harlan come from Southern California and was a well-known entrepreneur specialized in real estate business. Since the 1970s Bill expanded his investment to the wine business. The first beautiful vineyard he purchased, however, has now transformed into the famous Meadwood Restaurant under the flagship of Harlan.
There was pretty harsh time at the beginning, especially in the 1970s when Robert Mondavi raised the curtain of a new era of California's wine industry in Napa. The competition was unprecedentedly keen but fortunately, his acquaintance with Mr. Mondavi has. "Suggested by Mr. Mondavi, Harlan launched a trip to France in 1980s. He visited a number of Chateaux in Bordeaux and Bourgogne in five weeks," said Don Weaver, director of Harlan Estate. The fascinating journey not only broadened his knowledge in winemaking techniques but also changed his belief and value.
WINEMAKING IS NO SHORT TERM RETURN
Harlan Estate is an epochal project started from scratch- When Mr. Harlan purchased the land, it was actually a forest. What he believed in was the potential of the soil. He prevailed over all dissenting views such as the sloppy location, manual harvest, etc. After numerous trial and experiment, Harlan released its debut ‘Harlan Estate 1990’ after a dozen of years. Before this point, Harlan did not sell a single bottle of wine, and sure there was no revenue.
Harlan Estate 1990 was the earliest bottle of California worship wine. The following decade saw a craze that groups of Cabernet Sauvignon producers in the State released their expressions with similar direction, which aimed to express the diverse terroirs within Napa and were collectively known as ‘Cult Wines”. Don Weaver summed up the common qualities of these wines, " small, limited production, most of them are Cabernet producers, and they were doing things at a very high level, with great commitment to quality. They captured the imagination of the enthusiastic group."
The word ‘cult’ seems to be a compliment to those wineries being involved, but it was not Mr. Harlan’s intention all the way. On the contrary, Mr. Harlan aimed to create a first growth in Napa and overtime they would like to be known as a classic estate or a blue chip producer, which means it’s rather traditional in style and in particular, an exclusive Cabernet producer.
EXPLORE THE POSSIBILITIES OF CABERNET
As early as 1984, i.e. prior to Harlan’s establishment, Bill has run a winery in St.Helena called Merryvale in which he bought grapes from 65 plus growers nearby. In 1996 they sold the winery to a Swiss partner and Bill focused on Harlan for years. After Harlan won several RP100 points, it is widely recognized as the legend in Napa. However for Bill, the practice that making one wine for one place become a little bit boring. They began to miss Merryvale.
"In fact, we have always wanted to pursuit a dream, that is, applying the same philosophy on various areas in Napa, with single variety Cabernet. This is the concept of BOND." Invited by two Cabernet growers, they come to Oakville, where they found two vineyards very similar to those in Merryvale. They launched the BOND project here.
From Melbury and Vecina in 1999, Matriarch in 2001, Pluribus in 2003 to Quella in 2004, Bill and his winemakers have created five wines from five distinguished plots, all Cabernet Sauvignon. With the same winemaking regime, each wine only produces 600 to 800 cases annually.
"Compared to Harlan, the beauty of BOND is you can taste five wines horizontally and really get a feeling for the season in Napa Valley. "
‘If Harlan is about creation, BOND is about linkage, then Promontory is an innovation.’ As early as twenty years ago, Mr. Harlan had noticed a potential vineyard on the hillside just a mile from Haran Estate, which was belonged to some existing winery. With his well-established background in the property industry, he has definitely an advantage in the market. However it was not until a few years ago that Harlan received the news the land was available, and he finally got the opportunity to capture this piece of land at a very good price.
The vineyards of Promontory cover more than 800 acres and stands at an altitude of 400 to 1,100 feet. Does the height imply a wine that is soft and elegant? Don Weaver admits, “In fact we found it was quite powerful and needs taming a little bit. We did a lot of replanting, changed the row of direction and rootstock, and added an additional year of ageing before we release the wine, so it is released five years after harvest instead of three or four like Harlan. But in the end it become a very elegant wine. "
Promontory will be another legend. But compared to Harlan, it will be more approachable. Don Weaver reminded,"starting from 2017, Promontory will be open to visitors by reservation."
Harlan Estate是從零開始、開天闢地的項目——當初哈蘭購入的是一片森林，他看好的是這幅山坡的潛力。儘管外界對於他們的做法，譬如選址山坡、人手篩選葡萄等感到詫異，但他和他的團隊卻堅定不移，經過長期的釀造、陳年、調整、試驗，第一瓶Harlan Estate 1990終於在12年後橫空出世，於此之前哈蘭沒有賣出一瓶酒，當然也沒有任何營收。
1990年份的Harlan Estate可說是年份最早的一瓶加州膜拜酒，在接著的90年代，一批同樣以赤霞珠主導、完美呈現加州風土優秀一面的精品酒，如雨後春筍般湧現，世人稱之為膜拜酒。Don Weaver這樣概括這些酒的共同特質︰「小規模、限量生產、以赤霞珠為主的一系列酒莊。它們都極有質素，而且捕捉到一些著名酒評家的心思。」