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  • Decanting time

  • When to drink

    now to 2030
  • Food Pairing

    Seared Elk Chops Au Poivre

The Story

With the founding of Harlan Estate in 1984, we embarked upon our mission of creating a “first growth” of California. The estate’s early vineyard development began with just six acres. Today our planting is essentially complete, with nearly forty acres under vine to the classic varietals: cabernet sauvignon (70%), merlot (20%), cabernet franc (8%), and petit verdot (2%). Invariably, the finished wine is predominately cabernet sauvignon, which we blend with varying amounts of the other three varietals as we seek to express faithfully the unique and distinctive character of the site.

Modest quantities of wine were produced in 1987, 1988, and 1989 from grapes that represented the second, third, and fourth leaf of our estate vineyard. In each of those years a small number of barrels were produced in the hope of gaining a prescient glimpse into what the character of the land—never before cultivated—might have to offer. The wines were blended, bottled, and labeled with a special designation. Though charming in their own way, these first wines fell short of our standards and aspirations, so were never released. They continue to serve as humble reminders of where we began the journey.

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Vintage 1990

1990 first release

In 1990 we received about half the normal amount of rainfall and recorded well-below-average winter temperatures. The cool weather continued into mid-March, delaying budbreak until the middle of April. On several days in early May temperatures rose to between 80°–100°, the rest of the month cooled considerably, leading to a bloom starting in the last week of May when temperatures hovered around 70°. Summer weather was mostly even and moderate, with a few bursts of heat in June, July, and August. A compact harvest began on August 31 with the young-vine merlot and was completed by September 17. Yields were skimpy, averaging just 1.6 tons per acre.

tasting notes
Color good, some terra cotta at the edge. Delicate, suave notes of cedar, tobacco, Baker’s chocolate, and cherry in an elegant profile. The entry is silky and the texture fine-grained and velvety.Lots of detail, showing black fruits, violet, mocha, stretched over sweet, refined tannins thatlinger and resolve into a long and supple finish.
A pretty wine, really showing its terroir, drinking very elegantly now and for the next
dozen years.

The quality of the wine

While Bill Harlan is the turbine of Napa Valley wines, the Harlan Estate Proprietary Red is its vessel. Along with top mechanics Bob Levy and Don Weaver, the team build the Bugattis of the wine world. The wines have an immense power, while showing elegance par excellence. Style-wise, the wine is refined with velvety texture, polished but big tannins, moderate acidity and rich, intense black fruitiness. The mouthfeel is complimented by seductive toasty and perfumy flavours. While its structure is always silky it has monstrous weight and power that stands out on the palate.
Thanks to this balance the Harlan Estate wines are drinking perfectly well when young but will bloom after 15 years of ageing. It never ceases to amaze us how well the wines handle the big, powerful structure and stand still as elegant and smooth. One must take into consideration that the wines are the result of skillful winemaking. That does indeed play its part but the truth lies in the quality of vineyard site and in the philosophy of the winemaking, where the ultimate goal is always to deliver the sense of place. After various tastings of Harlan wines and with all the scores given, we have to conclude that this wine can be set apart from the rest as the first of the first growths.

The 240-acre Harlan Estate is located in the western foothills of Oakville in the elevation between 300 and 1400 feet. As it is located on the hilIside, it has northern, southern, western and eastern orientation. The land cultivated with vines makes up just 40 acres of the entire estate and is located in the elevation from 325 to 525 feet.
“At this mid-slope elevation the soils tend to be more moderate in vigour than either the valley floor or the mountain tops, where the soils are deeper than the mid-slope. The marine influence and summer fog pattern still remain a dominant climatic force. We have a significant cooling and refreshing of the vines after the warm days, as they adsorb the cool moisture from the fog that rolls in each day up to about the 500 to 700 foot level in elevation, before burning off by midday.” Bob Levy explains.

Another factor is the soil composition. The subsoil on the estate is volcanic and contain oceanic sedimentary. “The volcanic soils tend to give us more depth and concentration along with power. In these soils we derive the “Harlanesque” forest floor notes we have all admired over the years. The sedimentary soils, where we mostly have Merlot planted, tend to be softer and more elegant, with broad a mid-palate and great refinement of tannins.” Levy says.

Philosophy in winemaking
Bill Harlan has always had one goal in winemaking and that is to create the first growth wine in Napa that will be recognised worldwide. To achieve this Harlan understood decades ago that he needed land with the potential in order to deliver the complex and unique characters to the wine. After his team’s ten years of research of Bordeaux and Burgundy versus valuable land and history of Napa Valley, Harlan believed he had found his piece of land. Since grafting the first wines in 1987, the Harlan Estate team has been devoted to transfer the sense of place into the wine from their site.
The best clones of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot are grafted in the best suiting rootstocks. The vineyard is nurtured with a huge amount of care throughout the growing season in order to gain the purest fruit The harvesting is carried out by an experienced vineyard crew who run the harvest in several pickings, cluster by cluster. This is often repeated 3 or 4 times, after which the fruit is still selected grape by grape once in the winery. This is done to avoid unripe grapes, overripe grapes or anything other than grape material, such as pieces of leaves or stems, getting into the fermentation tank. Every picking lot is always processed separately and is vinified in small batches in stainless steel and wooden fermentors. The ageing is completed in French barriques for 26-27 months. No fining or filtration is done. The vinification process is interfered with as little as possible in order to obtain the terroir characters. The key to intense fruit relies on low yields.

The Harlan Estate had no viticultural practice history before Bill Harlan and his team decided to purchase the property. As Bill says “it was the high risk strategy that was to show in 10 to 15 years if was worth it. To buy land from hillside forest was obviously risky, but I love gambling, as it is the excitement of life. Luckily we did not fail”. Before buying the estate Harlan had created the Merryvale winery and run that together with his team Bob Levy and Don Weaver. Beside the wineries, Harlan’s passion for wines has forced him to create the St Helena-based, luxurious Meadowood Resort, complete with Michelin star restaurant, as well as an exclusive wine club The Napa Valley Reserve.

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Average Bottle Price

2016 2015 2014 2012 2010 2005 2000
865€ -2.8% 890€ +27.1% 700€ +10.9% 631€ +29.0% 489€ +19.0% 411€ +25.7% 327€

This data comes from the FINE Auction Index, a composite of average prices for wines sold at commercial auctions in 20 countries. The average prices from each year have been collected since 1990. This chart plots the index value of the average price of the wines.

Latest Pro-tasting notes

<10 tasting notes

Tasting note


Medium and Brick red


Long and Lingering


Smoky, Blackcurrant, Toasty, Cedar, Tobacco and Mineral






High in Acidity, Complex, Concentrated, Well-structured, Medium-bodied, Elegant, Harmonious and Silky tannins

Written Notes

This is a very special wine - the first vintage of Harlan Estate publicly released and only 300 cases were made. Tasted from a bottle direct from Harlan's cellar, this dark, concentrated, dense Harlan took time to open up in the glass. There is still power, dark berry fruits and savoury spices - the wine still has much to offer.

  • 93p
Color good, some terra cotta at the edge. Delicate, suave notes of cedar, tobacco, Baker’s chocolate, and cherry in an elegant profile. The entry is silky and the texture fine-grained and velvety. Lots of detail, showing black fruits, violet, mocha, stretched over sweet, refined tannins that linger and resolve into a long and supple finish. A pretty wine, really showing its terroir, drinking very elegantly now and for the next dozen years.



Oakville, Napa Valley

Vintage Quality

Above Average

Value For Money


Investment potential

Very Good

Fake factory


Glass time



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