I recently read an article in the Financial Times about “Learning to Love the Not-So-Quiet American” and wasn’t sure whether to feel vindicated or insulted. We Californians are quite proud of our aggressive charm and optimism; it was these traits which gave me the courage to leave my Wall Street career behind to become a Napa Valley harvest intern in 2011. My sanity might well be questioned again for leaving the vineyards of Napa to move to London this past September, but I couldn’t be happier. As the new Head of Sales at IG Wines, I look forward to working with all of you, and I hope you’ll excuse my Californian sentimentality as I introduce you to one of the best and most exclusive wines coming out of Napa Valley: Harlan Estate.

Harlan Estate is renowned throughout the world for its Proprietary Red wine, and for good reason. The majority of its success lies squarely on the shoulders of its visionary creator: Bill Harlan. Born to modest means, Bill earned money in turn as a parking attendant, motorbike racer, stunt flyer, and diving instructor before he founded an ultra-successful real estate development company in the mid-1970s, allowing him to purchase the land for what would become Harlan Estate in 1984. Inspired by a trip to Bordeaux in 1980, Bill wanted to create the California equivalent of a Bordeaux First Growth.

Due to Bill’s perfectionist nature, although the first Harlan wine was vinified in 1987, no vintages were released until 1996 as he felt the first three vintages produced fell short of his high standards. In 1995, Bill invited Robert Parker to review the 1991 vintage; Parker scored it 98 points and the wine sold out within days.

And what did Parker love about Harlan’s 1991 vintage?  Its “extraordinarily profound bouquet of sweet cassis, vanilla, minerals, toast, chocolate, and tobacco… with thrilling extract levels, yet soft tannin, this wine continues to remind me of a California fantasy blend of La Mission-Haut-Brion and Cheval Blanc.” 

Nearly a quarter of a century later, the wines are still extraordinary. The consistency in excellence can be attributed to the fact that much of Harlan’s team has been with him for over a decade; Bob Levy, the Director of Winegrowing, has worked with Bill for 32 years. 18 out of 20 of Harlan’s Proprietary Red wines have scored 95 points or higher by Robert Parker. An astonishing five vintages have scored a perfect 100 points – 1994, 1997, 2001, 2002 and 2007. No mean feat when considering that more established Bordeaux chateaux have not been as successful: even Chateau Le Pin, founded in 1979, has only three 100 point vintages.

Given the similarities in weather to 2007, 2012 may just be another perfect-scoring vintage for Harlan. Parker wrote that Napa’s 2012 vintage was “exactly what we have come to expect from top years in Napa Valley – exuberant and boisterous, filled with oodles of ripe fruit [and] exceptional purity … The low acidity, sweet tannins and high, but not excessive, alcohols have resulted in a great vintage that appears to be a no-brainer when it comes to consumers interest.”

Harlan’s vineyards are planted to the typical Bordeaux blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. The best plots go in to Harlan’s Proprietary Red, while the remaining is used for both the second wine, The Maiden, and a new project led by Bill’s son, Will, entitled The Mascot. Unlike Bordeaux, however, only 1,800-2,000 cases of Harlan’s Proprietary Red are produced annually on average – compared to 16,000-25,000 cases for Lafite Rothschild – making this legendary wine even more exclusive.

The 100-point Harlan 2007 currently retails in the UK for nearly £4,000/case (6x75cl). The 2011 vintage, with a preliminary Parker rating of 90-93 points, currently retails for £3,300/case (6x75cl) in the UK. We can offer, en primeur, the Harlan 2012 at £2,950/case (6x75cl), in bond. This is an amazing price given how perfect the 2012 growing season has been, “classic and perfect…remembered as one of the very best ever for Napa Valley”, according to the Napa Valley Vintner’s Association.

Bill Harlan may have been inspired by a trip to Bordeaux to create his own Napa Valley First Growth, but don’t be fooled: Harlan Estate’s Proprietary Red is every bit as exuberant as one would expect from a Californian, and every bit as stunning, fruit-forward and balanced with firm tannins and an unforgettable finish as one would expect from a cult Napa Valley Cabernet.

Harlan Proprietary Red is highly allocated via a mailing list direct form the winery. The waiting list is very long and we are delighted to be able to offer three cases of magnums and three cases of six as a pre-release allocation, the cases will be arriving direct from the winery in spring 2016.

Harlan Estate 2012 Pre-Release 
6×75 – £2,950 IB or £3,554.76 including duty and VAT
1×150 – £1,050 IB or £1,264.92 including duty and VAT

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