If I died & went to Harlan Estate Winery …


My original good intention for my second “killer” wine “To Die For” in this blog series was going to be a highly revered white, probably from Chateau Montelena. But “the best laid plans o’ mice and … sommeliers … “gang aft agley” after a visit to a private collector’s wine cellar and the quaffing of “first growth fruit”.  The wine that is the inspiration for this change of heart is one of a group of wines grown in California that are known as “Cult” wines.

“Cult” wines refers to any of the “typically but not exclusively Cabernets” for which collectors, investors and highly enthusiastic consumers will pay very high prices.  The producers of such wines in California include Araujo Estate, Bryant Family, Caymus, Colgin Cellars, Dalla Valle, Diamond Creek, Dominus Estate, Dunn Vineyards – Howell Mountain, Grace Family, Harlan Estate, Hundred Acre, Kistler, Saxum Vineyards, Marcassin, Ovid, Scarecrow, Screaming Eagle, Opus One, Shafer Hillside Select, Sine Qua Non and Sloan.These wines are generally very expensive and are in limited production (often fewer than 600 cases per year) and can command several times their “release price” upon release. This also generally means that the wine releases are allocated to certain customers who pay a substantial membership fee to the Winery for the privilege of purchasing these highly sought-after vintages.  – courtesy of Wikipedia.

As loudly as any wine produced from Burgundian acreage or any Bordeaux bastion might claim product superiority – because of its Premier Cru status (this literally means “First Growth” and refers to the status of wines produced on these fields as “the best of the best”) – the wine profiled in this entry proudly claims excellence in its own right as a product of its proprietor’s intent: “To produce a California “First Growth” from the hills of Oakville (California).” – H. William Harlan

My Second “To Die For” wine …

I would agree with Jancis Robinson when she says, “About the Harlan Estate, I had written impetuously, ‘Why doesn’t all wine taste like this?'”.

Harlan Estate 2002, Napa (Oakville)

From an elevation of 225′ to 1225′,  Harlan Estate Winery rises above the fabled Oakville Bench in the Western Hills of Oakville California. Sitting on both
 sedimentary and volcanic rock, the vineyard is planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot.  It produces 2 wines: The Harlan Estate red blend and its Bordeax-style sibling, The Maiden.

Honed from the natural landscape of Oakville by its mentor and progenitor, H. William Harlan, it is staffed by a by a long-serving, talented team of winemakers and agriculturalists who have embraced the vision of producing a First Growth California wine from the location and terroir of the winery.

A Real Estate Developer and Resort Owner, Harlan purchased this 230-acre property, a forested area, with steep hillsides, multiple elevations and exposures, west of Martha’s Vineyard in Oakville and cleared 30 acres for viticulture (wine grape growing).

Winemaker, Robert Levy has been working with Harlan since 1983 when Harlan took part in founding the Merryvale Winery. Since 1989 the estate has retained Michel Rolland as consultant oenologist. Construction of the current winery was completed in 2002.

Harlan Estate Winemaking

Perfection in wine does not occur happenstance.

Robert Levy, another UC Davis graduate, has been with Harlan almost since its inception and arrived on-scene with experiences at other Napa well-knowns like 
Merryvale, Rombauer and Cuvaison. Robert immediately bought into the “First Growth” philosophy from the start; however, it is not only his direction that has developed the inspiration of Harlan Estate.

Michel Rolland, World renowned Bordeaux Consultant, has made significant ongoing contributions to the Harlan Estate mantra. This collective, forward-moving approach to making fine wine has contributed to Harlan Estates being compared to Chateau Latour and Chateau Haut Brion (Michel Jamais).

What are these conditions capable of?

Harlan Estate might be the single most profound red wine made not just in California, but in the world.” – Robert Parker on Harlan Estate Bordeaux
Harlan Estate 2002 is one of those wines that can just be left with the expression, “Wow!”, that everyone utters after experiencing it. Its powerful complexity and concentration and perfect balance navigate in a texture that is pure silk and elegance. When you drink, you don’t wonder how it got to this level of satisfaction and pleasure, but you do wonder how other wines can ever achieve the same … even its sibling vintages. It’s a shame to analyze its components because the whole experience is greater than the sum of its parts – a status all winemakers strive to achieve.

(However, in an attempt to relay some of its quality), it is big, dark, concentrated and dense in pure, dark, ripe fruit. The oak has morphed into nuances of vanilla and dark chocolate that integrates very well with its typically earthy (almost black olive) quality of Oakville terroir.

Its texture is its greatest asset. After an hour or so in a decanter, its silkiness and complexity just improve.

Its finish? I don’t know if you’re ever finished with this wine once you’ve have it tattooed in your memory. As for the reality of the finish? Very long and reflective!

Restaurant Menu Matches for Harlan Estate 2002:

(Pairings courtesy of Bleu Provence, Naples Florida)

– Appetizer –
Seared Foie Gras with Raspberry Sauce

– Main –
Kobe Style Wagyu Beef Boneless Short Ribs in Red Wine with Mashed Potatoes and Baby Carrots 

– Dessert Course –
Duo of Black and White Chocolate Mousse

The complexity, intensity and diversity of Harlan Estate 2002 makes wine choice simple as it will transport you through all course choices with complexity and depth, each pairing delivering a pleasant change in palette and aroma profiles.

Rackability (aka cellaring notes)

The only sources for this wine 10 years after its release would be from private cellars, the winery itself, high-end restaurants or wine exchange companies … all will be difficult to access and be very expensive. 
The age it is at now would make it even more desirable than on release because of the positive effects that racking would have on its profile and availability.

Investment potential?

A quick look at auction prices shows a range of purchase price from $675 US a bottle to $1200 US a bottle. Harlan Estate 2002 will accrue in value even at these prices. Its quality and longevity are not yet at risk. It is a safe investment for another 8 to 10 years.

Harlan’s website www.harlanestate.com is worth a look.

If you ever get a chance to taste any Harlan Estate vintage, drop everything and find the nearest glass!

Cheers … and follow your dream wines!
Wayne Walker


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