Bill Harlan’s Promontory Project

The Napa proprietor tells Wine Enthusiast about his latest wine project, soon to be released.

When Bill Harlan describes Promontory—a Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated wine made from vineyards he bought four years ago—he says it’s the culmination of “a 25-year silent quest, the most exciting project since I’ve been in the wine business.”

A former real estate developer, Bill Harlan is best known for his Harlan Estate wines, some of which sell for as much as $750 a bottle. His other brands include vineyard-designated BOND Estates and The Napa Valley Reserve—but he’s always had a special interest in what is—for now—being called Promontory.

“I originally came across the [Promontory] land 25 years ago and thought it was fantastic,” says Harlan. The vineyard is located about a mile and a half south of Harlan Estate, situated between 400 and 1,100 feet in elevation, several hundred yards above Dominus Winery. When Harlan first laid eyes on it, it was planted by Girard Winery.

“Intuitively, it seemed [to Bill] like it would be a great piece of land,” says BOND’s Estate Director Paul Roberts, MS,. But it wasn’t until recently that Harlan had the opportunity to make his move.

“All of a sudden, four years ago, I got a call that the land was available. It’s almost like certain things find us,” Harlan says.

Harlan’s winemaking team, with notable work by winemaker Cory Empting, has produced four vintages of Promontory: 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011, all of which have yet to be released. “I’m thinking I will [release] in the next 18 months,” Harlan says, “but I hate to make a decision before I have to.”

While pricing has not been set, Harlan claims, “[Promontory] has the same potential as Harlan Estate,” which implies the wines may be priced at similar levels.

Another undecided element is whether the wines will retain the name Promontory.

“It’s a placeholder name,” says Roberts.

The wine is currently made at a small winery Harlan purchased near his Meadowood Estate, but he’s building a new winery on the old Vichon Winery property, located on Oakville Grade Road. Because the vineyard is largely above 500 feet, it doesn’t fall into the Yountville or Oakville AVAs, and will therefore bear a Napa Valley designation.

Of the 2008 and 2009 vintages of Promontory, the 2008 is extraordinarily rich and opulent, with concentrated dark-berry and stone-fruit flavors. The 2009, a year younger, is considerably tighter and more tannic. I give it the nod because of its greater structure. If comparisons can be made, it’s similar to the Vecina wines from BOND.

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