Wine Stars: Bill and Will Harlan

As father passes torch to son, the Napa vintners share their vision for carrying their cult Cabernet dynasty into the next century

Wine Stars: Bill and Will Harlan
Harlan Estate founder Bill Harlan announced in April that his son Will had been appointed managing director. (Rick Wenner)
Oct 26, 2021

For most of his life, Will Harlan has known of his father’s “200-year plan” for the family business, though he jokes it was a difficult concept to wrap his head around as a 5-year-old. Speaking to the Wine Experience audience, Harlan Estate founder and Meadowood resort proprietor Bill Harlan summarized the plan as “a story of place, of people and culture.”

This past April, Bill Harlan—Wine Spectator’s 2015 Distinguished Service Award winner—announced he was stepping away from the wine business, appointing Will as managing director for Harlan Estate and Bond; Will had already been running the family’s Promontory estate since 2017. “The dream was to produce wines that one day might be welcomed at the table of the fine wines of the world,” recalled Bill, who founded Harlan Estate in 1984. “We’ve been able to create an amazing culture.”

“I feel fortunate to be building upon a very strong foundation,” Will said while leading a tasting of Harlan Estate Napa Valley 2017 (97 points, $1,620), hard-won from a vintage challenged by wildfires.

Like his father, Will has a long-term vision, one focused on maintaining a deep relationship with Harlan’s natural environment and translating its character through wine. “It takes generations to truly understand a piece of land,” he said, echoing his father’s philosophy.

”The common thread that runs through our story,” Bill said, “is that we view winegrowing as the art of man and nature.”

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