The Newest Project From the Harlan Family

Today’s Story: Promontory

Promontory is a boutique, ultra-premium winery established in the Napa Valley in 2009 by H. William “Bill” Harlan. During the early 1980s, Bill was hiking along the mountainous southwestern ridge of Oakville when he discovered a vast “territory” scooped out of rugged landscape. Bill immediately fell captivated by the untamed property and set his eyes upon it for what might become another family winemaking venture, however the Harlan family was unable to acquire the land until 2008. Today the property consists of about 900 acres, though only about 50 acres are planted to vine with a plan to grow to no more than 70 acres. The site is incredibly unique in that it contains two fault lines, creating drastic topographical and soil variation amongst volcanic, sedimentary, and metamorphic soils. Each vintage, winemaker David Cilli and his team harvest the fruit across roughly 70 different lots which is a painstaking and mind-boggling feat to ultimately blend and showcase the terroir at its best.

When it comes to the winemaking itself, David and team have the best equipment and fermentation vessels to play with. Upon receipt of their fruit and each micro-lot, fermentation vessels range in size and include oak tank, concrete tank, stainless steel tank, and individual barrels. The fermentation room (pictured below) is set up such that a hopper can descend to be filled with fruit, then raised and moved above the tanks to fill each individually via gravity. Once fermentation is complete, the wine is moved to Stockinger casks for an extended aging period. This is rather unusual for a Napa winery, as Stockinger vessels (made in Austria) are large and offer arguably as little oak influence as possible due to the size and toasting program selected. This use, coupled with a five-year aging program, allows the wine to integrate the minimal oak seamlessly while showcasing the fruit and territory in the best way possible.

Unlike the other Harlan family properties that can be difficult or downright impossible to visit, Promontory is open to the public with reservations and tasting experiences are incredibly intimate. I’ve had the privilege of visiting Promontory three times so far, and each time one is met with Champagne while taking in the sites and discussing the Promontory philosophy. Next comes a tour of the production facilities and the cellar which includes a sample from cask, leading up to a sit-down tasting of two library bottlings of Promontory. As a bonus, I included some photos from my visits below today’s tasting notes.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Promontory

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.5% ABV

The 2011 Promontory is deep ruby in color and rather youthful in appearance. I decanted this for about an hour and drank it over the following one to two hours. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the rather complex nose showcasing notes of blackcurrant, blackberry, dried blueberry, licorice, violets, tobacco, crushed volcanic rock, graphite, savory green herbs, menthol, a hint of pyrazine, and mocha. There’s a touch of very well-integrated fine oak there as well. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity, with the palate displaying notes of blackberry, blueberry, plum, sweet tobacco, anise, violets, graphite, scorched earth, black truffle, charred green herbs, black pepper, espresso, and mild vanilla. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but refined tannins, high alcohol, and a long finish. This is an outstanding wine and is perfectly balanced.

Price: $850. This is a price-point where it’s somewhat impossible to discuss value, however this is an exceptional wine. I’ve been in love with the 2011 Napa Cabernet vintage as they come into their own over the past year or two and this is perhaps my favorite of the vintage. Though 2011 needs careful vetting at times, the 2011 Promontory is intense, complex, and beautifully balanced with gas left in the tank for cellaring.

Photos From My Visits

View from the reception hall, facing Harlan Estate.
Fermentation room, with varying vessel size and material visible.
Our glasses set up in the cellar for our cask sample of the 2019 vintage.