Bill Harlan is a patient man. He has had to be, having pursued dual careers in real estate development and winemaking, neither of which dispenses immediate returns. After cofounding Pacific Union Co. in 1975, he and his partner, Peter Stocker, built the firm into one of the 20 largest commercial and residential property developers in the country. Then, in 1984, he established Harlan Estate in the Oakville region of Napa Valley with the vision of establishing a “first-growth” California wine—an endeavor that produces one of the finest Bordeaux-style reds on the planet. Though financial cognoscenti will tell you that he remains one of the most respected businessmen in the country, his interests lie less with immediate returns than with the estate’s legacy to his family and the community.
Happily for us, Harlan has merged this passion for excellence with his split professional identities in an ambitious new project, the Napa Valley Reserve: a private club comprising 50 acres of incomparable vineyards and a hospitality complex where members will be able to experience firsthand all aspects of winemaking, from viticulture to blending.
“We [in the Napa Valley] really understand how to make wine a lot better today than we did 25 years ago,” he explains. “The same kind of evolution is going on in the minds of consumers in terms of the appreciation of wine. The idea of the club is to be able to respond to this intellectual curiosity of the more discerning consumer.”
The club, situated amid predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot vineyards, will impart an authentic winemaking experience. The rustic yet gracefully designed facilities include a full-scale winery (whose operation will be overseen by Harlan Estate winemaker Robert Levy and vineyard manager Mary Hall), kitchen gardens, and a 25,000-square-foot cave. With the assistance of staff, each member will make up to 75 cases annually of red wine, which can come from grapes throughout the estate, or which can be harvested from specific vines chosen by the member. Classes in a variety of subjects ranging from beekeeping to landscape design will be held regularly at the facilities, and guest chefs will offer cooking classes in the club’s private kitchens, which will be available to members and their guests for entertaining. Accommodations for members will be available at the adjacent Meadowood Resort.
Word of mouth has already brought the membership to nearly 60 (roughly 15 percent of the 350 to 400 total expected members), each of whom paid the $100,000 initial membership fee (additional fees include an estimated $1,000 annual dues and an expected $45 per bottle for finished wine). Many of these early adopters are enthusiasts from Harlan Estate’s elite allotment list, though not all of them. A diverse group of individuals, their single common thread is, according to Harlan, a desire to explore the art of winemaking.
Harlan regards long-term stewardship as an essential element of the winemaking experience. The land and its cultivation have, after all, taught him lessons that members and their families will also share. “This is a place where everything isn’t immediate gratification,” he says. “If you want a harvest in the fall, you need to work in the winter, spring, and summer. You gain a certain sense of satisfaction in what you’ve accomplished over a growing season. Here, things really do move with the seasons, instead of the speed of the microchip.”
Napa Valley Reserve