Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bond Estates Tasting: Why the Anticipation?

Why was Stacole Fine Wines able to bring together the group they did for the Bond Estates tasting? The answer is simple: Bill Harlan. Harlan, the force behind Bond Estates, was, and still is, the driving force behind Harlan Estates, a wine that has been described variously as "... one of the ten best wines of the twentieth century" (Jancis Robinson) and "... impossibly lush, incredibly concentrated reds." Harlan himself has been described as "... part philosopher, part real estate man ..." and "... genius behind one of Napa's greatest wineries" and "... something of a philosopher, a man with a well-articulated vision of what really matters in life."

William "Bill" Harlan was born in Southern California in 1940 and made the trek north to attend Berkeley from which he graduated in 1962 with majors in Communication and Public Policy. Harlan had his introduction to Napa while a student at Berkeley. According to Decanter Magazine, Bill made his money as a property developer. His signature real estate deal was the purchase and transformation of the luxurious Meadowwood resort on the east side of Napa Valley.

Bill was in Napa when Robert Mondavi opened his winery and he found Mondavi's story inspiring. He wanted to build his own winery and this led to 15 years of exploration including travels to Europe, a region whose wines he found to be fascinating. During these travels Bill formulated a philosophy that producing great wines required (i) great land and (ii) great people.

Bill helped to found Merryvale in 1982 and hired Bob Levy as the winemaker. Harlan was founded in 1984 with the purchase of 240 acres of prime land, 30 acres of which were devoted to estate vineyards planted to the classic varietals. Experimentation continued on the Harlan wine until the 1990 vintage was released in 1996. Merryvale was sold at this time so that the fullest attention of the winemaking team (to which had been added Michel Rolland, famed French oenologist and consultant winemaker) could be focused on the production of Harlan Estates.

Bill's philosophy and efforts have been vindicated by the market acceptance of Harlan. The wine rapidly achieved "cult" status as a result of its quality, lack of availability, and stellar Parker scores. The 1995 vintage was awarded a 99 by Parker while the 1997, 2001, and 2002 vintages all received perfect scores. While those lucky enough to be on the Harlan mailing list are offered the wines at around $250, the open market price can range from $500 to upwards of $2000, depending on the vintage.

Flush with the success of Harlan, Bill, in 1997, launched a collaborative venture with winemaker Bob Levy and vineyard manager Mary Hall to identify and produce "grand crus" of Napa Valley. While buying fruit for Merryvale, Bill had found many outstanding vineyards and in this new project -- called Bond --he sought to utilize these vineyards in the production of terroir-specific Cabernet Sauvignon wines. According to Decanter, the name Bond reflects the reality and promise of Bill's long-term relationship with the growers who produce the fruit for these wines.

So the group was brought together by the pedigree and promise of the Bond Portfolio. The pedigree as manifested in the accomplishments of Bill Harlan and his winemaking team. And the promise that lightning could be in a bottle of Bond.

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