On the blogby Alfred
November 6 2018

The first of the firsts : Harlan Estate

by Hugo Duchesne

Written by Hugo Duchesne, Head sommelier at Le Coureur des Bois Bistro Culinaire.

On October 4th, The Coureur des Bois had the honor of welcoming François Vigneau from the mythical domain of Napa Valley: Harlan Estate. Bill Harlan founded this domain, precisely located in Oakville, in 1984. The first vintage, 1990, was introduced to the market in 1996. These lands cover 97 hectares, with only 17 of them planted in Bordeaux varietals, with 70% of Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit verdot.

This domain is a combination of terraces, all incrusted in a harmonious splendor that really brings out the best that nature has to offer. The rock is fractured, sometimes volcanic or sedimentary, but it always acts as the root of these vineyards that exposed to the light in 360 degrees.

The wines of Harlan Estate are the equivalent of a “premier cru” originating from the fabulous mountains of Oakville, between 68 and 375 meters of heights. A fact remains: it is very hard to pinpoint the exact reason why these wines are so good. All of the experts will point out the easy aspects such as the localisation and the advantages of the terroir, but these very simple assessments would diminish the incredible aura of these wines.

The Harlan wines are blessed with a form and also a volume, as they are durable, possess a temporality aspect and have fundamental function, which is the one to remember us that they are more than just wine: they reflect the character of those that created it. The experience converges to a wonderful moment between the wine and the taster, a moment of history, culture and heritage.

2012 :
The wine is sumptuous. The color, dark garnet with violet reflection, is quite lengthy in the palate. The texture is denser, and the black fruits are quite vibrant: very ripe blackberries/acidic blackcurrant/candied plums. The tannins are quite present, reminiscing of silky wax. The maturity is exemplary, while remaining very light.

The ultimate example of great texture.

2011 :
The violet reflections of the color are the sign of a youth that is still present. The wine is much more balanced and offers a calm, vegetal aspect. The tannins are slightly more austere, but the overall product is beautifully balanced, with an unmatched degree of energy and pure precision.

Clove/menthol/leather/small, acidic fruits: very complex nuances for the finale.

The ultimate example of freshness.

2009 :
A dense robe of a garnet color. Typical nose of blackcurrant/melted licorice/smoked meat/ashes/graphite.

The wine has exhausted all of its tannic energy and reveals a beautiful balance of richness, volume and acidity.

Finesse and charm.

2006 :
The violet color is faded out in profit of the garnet color for this older product. Red fruits, ripe black fruits; the wine focuses on various aromas such blackcurrant, cedar, licorice, undergrowth, soil and wood. Is it vanilla or chocolate? Who knows, the important part is the incredible elegance and pureness of the wine, rendering it fully homogeneous and rich.


1996 :
The only option clearer than the garnet color, a sign of its evolution. The portrait of this wine is the following: undergrowth/burnt soil/clay/tobacco/incense.

Sumptuous wine that owes its identity to the unique vineyards and terroirs of the domain. The tannins are soft, the acidity integrated and the alcohol perfectly balanced.

2013 :
Profound garnet/violet color.

Red fruits with tons of impact and black fruits: cherries, plums and blueberries. Soft spices, sage and undergrowth lavender.

The wine is condensed and admirably supports very strong tannins, coupled with a powerful fruit presence.

On the road to eternal youth.

To conclude, the earth speaks of the possibilities, but it is the goal of the winemaker to bring these to life. The six vintages listed are all home to elements of grandeur: strength combined with elegance, an extraordinary complexity, incredible aging potential and, of course, a balanced richness and lightness.

All this brings us to ask ourselves the following question: why don’t all the wines taste like these? These wines are on a complete different level and each year, the Harlan Estate wine truly acts as the first of the firsts.


François Vigneau – Harlan Estate with the Coureur des Bois Bistro Culinaire’s team.

AlfredThe sommeliers community in your pocket.

Begin your Alfred journey today: Sign Up