The Power of Three

In this venture, Harlan continually relies on his partners and team, without whom he says he would not have been able to realize this dream. The team includes Director of Winemaking Bob Levy, Harlan Estate Director Don Weaver, BOND Director Paul Roberts, consultant Michel Rolland, Winemaker Cory Empting, and Vineyard Manager Mary Maher, whom Harlan says are “the best in the world at what they do.”

Creating a winegrowing estate that will last for generations wasn’t accomplished overnight. While Harlan Estate is now one of the most respected labels in California (multiple vintages garnered the highest scores from wine critics, and its limited production means that it is only available via a waiting list), it is a labor of love some 26 years in the making. In the early 80s, Harlan wanted to make wine immediately—it had been almost two decades since he first dreamt of doing so. He satisfied that itch at the old Sunny St. Helena Winery originally owned by Robert Mondavi’s father. Harlan began sourcing grapes from vineyards throughout the valley and making wine in St. Helena. “Over the next decade or so, we made a lot of varietals, and we made many mistakes,” Harlan recalls. “But it enabled us to put together a great team,” many of whom are still with him today. Their loyalty and belief in a shared vision is one of the founding reasons for the success of his namesake winery.

His experience sourcing grapes from more than 60 growers throughout the valley over the years resulted in what may be one of the most innovative and inspiring projects in all of Napa Valley: BOND Estates. Harlan and team learned about how geographic diversity influenced terroir and differences in quality and character. Some of these vineyards stood head and shoulders above the rest. They established relationships with a few of the growers with a plan of creating a second winery once Harlan Estate was fully established. Over the years, two more vineyards were added to the portfolio. In one winemaking facility on a hillside that overlooks Harlan Estate vineyards, the winemaker at BOND produces five grand cru quality wines representing the finest of terroirs of the Napa Valley. Harlan’s goal is to capture the breadth of expression of the land.

Life lesson No. 3

Create a legacy that will stand the test of time.

Even with the resounding success of Meadowood, Harlan Estate, and BOND in place, Harlan won’t rest on his laurels. In 2001, along with his Meadowood partners, Harlan acquired the land that lies between the Napa River and the entrance to Meadowood and founded The Napa Valley Reserve, a private estate that allows members to experience the joys of the winemaking culture and community from an insider’s perspective. Through The Reserve, Harlan is able to share his passion for growing grapes and making wine. “Second to raising our family, there has been nothing that has given me more pleasure,” he states. “What I would like to do is give other people the same sense of satisfaction without all the responsibilities of owning a vineyard and winery.”

Members are supported by a team that includes Director Philip Norfleet, Membership Director Carol Norfleet and General Manager Paul Asmuth. It is yet another one of Harlan’s ventures that employs family values and is based on the land. “Nature is an intrinsic part, a vital part, of our experience here at The Reserve,” Norfleet says. “We often find two or three generations of a family enjoying the estate.

“Our goal is to create an experience for our members that’s representative of the one they would have if they owned their own wine estates,” Norfleet continues. Production activities through the seasons include harvest, pruning, blending, label design, and bottling. But, at The Reserve, members have the luxury of participating in as much or as little of this process as their schedules permit. In addition to production, the club’s programs afford members the opportunity to enhance their understanding and enjoyment of wine through tastings, special events, food and wine pairing meals, expert speakers and, most of all, by sharing their wines with friends and family.

Beyond merely educating members about the winegrowing process, The Reserve showcases the very best of Napa Valley. Harlan explains, “In this era of technology and communication and all of these things that are going on, it gives a certain balance in our lives to move with the pace of the seasons instead of the speed of a microchip. It’s not about having more stuff, it’s about meaningful experiences. [The Reserve] is about what life is about, and bringing back the things that were so important to our heritage.”

Harlan credits many of his successes over the years to his partners. “I’ve been very fortunate in having partners of great longevity and trust,” he says. Harlan’s original partners in Meadowood and later The Napa Valley Reserve were with him for more than 25 years. With the retirement of his original partners, Stan Kroenke has taken over their positions. Says Harlan of his new partner (relying once again on the power of three), “Stan brings to us exceptional strategic thought and experience, sound financial support and judgment, and, probably most importantly, trust.

Time and again, Harlan speaks to the importance of heritage, of legacy, of respecting the land and preserving it for the next generation. He is constantly imparting this wisdom not only on his partners and associates, but also on his family—his wife Deborah and their children Will and Amanda, both of whom have been learning the responsibilities and vagaries of agriculture virtually since their births. The family lives in a home tucked away in the hills above the vineyards. Every day, the astounding beauty that their father has worked tirelessly to create over the past five decades greets the young Harlans. One day, it will be up to them to protect and enhance the Napa Valley heritage and the family culture that can flourish for generations. And when that happens, it will be Bill Harlan’s biggest dream, realized.