2003 The Maiden Harlan Estate

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Harlan Estate: The Importance

As Jancis Robinson once wrote about Harlan Estate, “Why doesn't all wine taste like this?" A good question indeed... Founded by real estate entrepreneur Bill Harlan in 1984, the Harlan Estate was born with the singular vision of creating a California “First Growth”. Set in the western hills of Oakville in Napa Valley, California, the estate has been producing Bordeaux blend wine since the late 1980s, although their first commercially available vintage was 1990, released in 1996, showing the years of care that go into every bottle of this wine. Ever since the first vintage, the Harlan Estate Proprietary Red has had praise consistently heaped upon it, and out of the limited vintages released thus far, at least 6 have received a perfect 100 points from Robert Parker, getting more perfect scores than any other Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. Some of the highest rated vintages of Harlan Estate have been the 1994, 1997, 2001, 2002, 2007 and 2013 vintages and Robert Parker writes that "Harlan Estate might be the single most profound red wine made not just in California, but in the world." With only a maximum of 2000 cases produced every year, demand far outstrips supply and this wine is one to be snapped up whenever possible.


As a fairly young estate, many initially questioned the longevity of the wine produced at Harlan, and it is now clear that this wine has stood the test of time, ageing gracefully and with ease. The earliest vintages show beautifully over a decade later, and James Suckling writes in his review of the 2013 vintage, that this is a wine “built for ageing”. Tasting in late 2015, Robert Parker wrote that the 1991 vintage still had decades of life left in it.


Evidently, Bill Harlan has fulfilled his vision to create a Californian first growth. As Stephen Tanzer writes, "without question, this is a California 'grand cru.' It's hard to imagine another California wine of any stripe that has provided so many fireworks over the past two decades." When a Napa Valley Classification was drawn up by leading fine wine publication FINE Wine Magazine, they concluded that: "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."


Harlan Estate: The Insight

Consisting of 40 acres of vines, the estate is planted with Cabernet Sauvignon (70%), Merlot (20%), Cabernet Franc (8%), and Petit Verdot (2%). The land elevation ranges from 225 to 1225 feet above sea level and Harlan Estate contains a huge range of varied terroirs and climates which all contribute to the stunning complexity and depth in the final wine.


The estate makes a second wine called The Maiden, with the first vintage created in 1995 and released in 1999. Unlike the second wines produced by most Bordeaux estates, this is a wine that often rates almost as highly as the Grand Vin, with only one vintage receiving fewer than 90 points from Robert Parker. It always contains a different blend than that found in the Grand Vin, meaning that it is very much a wine with its own particular character and avoids too direct a comparison. Consider the Maiden a wine that stands on its own, rather than as a second wine.


The team at Harlan has been consistent throughout the years, with Bill Harlan working alongside Bob Levy, his Director of Winegrowing, Mary Maher, the Vineyard Manager and with the celebrated oenologist Michel Rolland consulting. Bob Levy is also known for being in charge of the winemaking at the private members club Napa Valley Reserve.


In 2013 the estate released another wine called The Mascot, first made in 2008 with the product from the younger vines of Harlan, Bond Estate and Promontory.


Harlan Estate: The Background

William Harlan was inspired to create Harlan Estate when he attended the opening of the Mondavi Winery in 1966, and a trip to Bordeaux and Burgundy with him cemented this vision in his mind. Harlan began his search for land in 1972, and in 1984 purchased the first fourty acres of land and began planting vines shortly afterwards. Alongside the Harlan Estate vineyard and Napa Valley Reserve, Bill Harlan also owns the vineyards of Bond and Promontory as well as the Meadowood Country Club and Resort.

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