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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.


Wine Information

1994 Average winter rainfall, cool daytime temperatures with evening and early morning marine fog.
Light showers lingered into late May, and spring temperatures were moderate.Budbreak began the second week of April, setting the stage for a late harvest. Temperatures in the early summer stayed mostly below 80°, then heated up in August and September. Harvest began in late September and finished up on October 23, yielding around 2.4 tons per acre.

tasting notes

Color very dark, nearly opaque. Remarkable viscosity. Closed at first, then opening to a slightly minty, very fresh and bright character containing earth, mineral, and distinctive forest floor aromas. Very dense flavors with an abundance of black currant, minerals, smoked herbs, and blackberry, followed by cedar, coffee and vanilla. Higher acidity and a lower pH profile play a key role in creating a sense of balance and energy.
1994 rightfully ranks as one of California’s greatest modern-day vintages and the 1994 Harlan Estate is clearly one of our best. Very classic, with lots of detail and energy. Hold for a few more years, then savor for 25-30 years so as not to miss the further complication of this stellar vintage.


Average Bottle Price

2016 2015 2014 2012 2010 2005
1 017€ +13.9% 893€ -10.8% 1 001€ +20.7% 829€ -9.0% 911€ +35.6% 672€

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.

Tasting note




Long, Extensive and Pure






Perfectly balanced, Well-Integrated, Developing, Full-bodied, Round, Vigor and Elegant


Transparent and Intelligent

Written Notes

Had greatness written all over it. It stood up to the previous flight of incredible Bordeaux and the 'only wine that can,' Ray added. It was indubitably great, as it always has been, one of the greatest wines ever made in California
  • 98p

Intense and dense nose with cassis, black olives, mineral spiciness. Full-bodied and silky smooth palate. Very subtle taste with fabulous intensity and harmony. So supple and lingering finish. Absolutely fabulous wine! – JL 100p (8/2022)

  • 100p

This is a legend in modern winemaking for California. Yet it has been a controversial wine due to what some say is extremely high volatile acidity. I have found some bottles acidic but most have been fantastic quality. I had this bottle on Saturday with a friend in Hong Kong at a Korean restaurant. There's a purity of fruit and balance now to this. It's fruity yet reserved and harmonious. It's full body and fruity with a beautiful depth and complexity showing currant and mineral undertones. It's pure and gorgeous. Drink and rejoice.

  • 99p

Dark garnet with very nuanced shading. Lovely on the palate even if a tad tired on the nose. Really rather beautiful. Long and peacock’s tail. Light and fresh. Very unlike stereotypical Harlan. Dry finish. I think when I tasted this before it may have seemed almost too dry, but the tannin and acidity have clearly preserved it well.

  • 95p

Slightly more vibrant saturated ruby-red color. Even deeper and more nuanced aromas of liqueur-like blackcurrant, black olive, violet, minerals, brown spices and floral perfume. In contrast to the (relatively) more laid-back '95, this is almost painfully sweet on entry, with huge extract giving it a three-dimensional texture. More powerfully structured than the '95, but as large as it is, it retains near-perfect balance. Explosive finishing fruit covers the rich, sweet tannins.

  • 96p

The 1994 Harlan Estate, from magnum, is another stunner. Time has softened some of the wine’s exuberance, yet the purity of the flavors and textures remain utterly compelling. At nearly 20 years of age, the 1994 is simply magnificent. I don’t expect the 1994 will last forever, but it has reached an apex of expression that is compelling. The sweetness and silkiness contrast the richness of the beef tenderloin ‘au poivre’ perfectly.

  • 97p
1994 Harlan - 97pts OK, so I know this wine at first smell...almost, if it is in fact the 1994. I've had the privilege of drinking it on multiple occasions if it is what I think. The main clue is the noble and fresh cassis and the subtle oak that is more than what greets you in Bordeaux of equal age. Damn this wine has class. Opaque midnight liqueur of black fruits to the eyes. Then the first sip....yes it has to be the famous 1994 Harlan Estate. It is definitely Bob Levy's hand, and the darkness and volume on the palate tells me it was the warmth and duration of the hang-time that could achieve these flavors. But not too much ripeness. The wine is flawless, and that is the only negative thing I could say about such a legend, its a bit too perfect after having all of these antique flavors of sometime under ripe nuanced Bordeaux of lower alcohol levels. This Harlan is, however an American icon, and embodies the American dream; power, weight density, volume, that acts like it is not even trying. Liquid nobility. Cheers to my home Napa Valley! Tasted May 2012
  • 97p
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Oakville, Napa Valley

Vintage Quality


Value For Money

Best buy

Investment potential

Very Good

Fake factory


Glass time


Drinking temperature


Inside Information

What can I say about the 1994? I have tasted the wine for three consecutive years, and each time it satisfied all of my requirements for perfection. The opaque purple color is followed by spectacular aromatics that soar from the glass, offering up celestial levels of black currants, minerals, smoked herbs, cedar wood, coffee, and pain grille. In the mouth, this seamless legend reveals full body, and exquisite layers of phenomenally pure and rich fruit, followed by a 40+ second finish. While accessible, the 1994 begs for another 5-7 years of cellaring. It should easily last for 30+ years. Every possible jagged edge - acidity, alcohol, tannin, and wood - is brilliantly intertwined in what seems like a diaphanous format. What is so extraordinary about this large-scaled wine, with its dazzling display of aromatics and prodigious flavors and depth, is that it offers no hint of heaviness or coarseness. Harlan's 1994 comes close to immortality in the glass.

Much of this wine will be sold to the winery's mailing list customers. If you miss out on the 1994, try and get on the waiting list for future vintages. While perfect wines are few and far between, history has taught me that wineries with such lofty aspirations as Harlan Estate will continue to push the envelop of quality.


Wine Advocate #114
Dec 1997
Robert M. Parker, Jr. 100 Drink: 2002 - 2027 $611-$1575 (100)
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