Carneros della Notte meaning ‘Carneros of the night’ in Italian, is a Napa Carneros based producer owned and operated by founder David Harmon. Began in 2003, the focus of their production is on Pinot Noir (including a one-of-a-kind late harvest wine from this variety), Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.
David has led ‘many’ lives. Raised in Indianapolis, after the infamous blizzard of 1978 lasting three days, which left Indianapolis and parts buried under several feet of snow with drifts up to 10 feet, his parents moved the family to the more moderate climes of the world-famous Napa Valley. After finishing his last year of high school at Vintage High, David went to Napa Valley College. While attending classes, in his free time he drove for Robert Mondavi and the Mondavi Winery. During his time driving for the Mondavi’s he met a variety of interesting people including Ray Charles (he made the mistake of asking Ray for his autograph – Ray’s manager harshly reminded him that a blind man could not tell what he was being presented to sign, IE it could have been a contractual scam, etc.), Barry Goldwater (he was provided the route to take to Robert Mondavi winery by the secret service ahead of time), Julia Child, Emeril Lagasse, Jacques Pépin and others.
David has long been attracted to various aerial pursuits including flying for the Indianapolis Colts football team and founding a company called HeliNet – providing nationwide helicopter rental software – as David calls that business, “a travel agency for helicopters”. And he also provided aerial support for numerous films including Basic Instinct, Thelma and Louise and So I Married an Ax Murderer. And he was involved in providing the early car cameras inside the NASCAR race cars.
Perhaps most notably, David was the owner of the Wine.com domain – he registered the domain in 1995 and later sold the domain name in 1999. He partnered with fulfillment company and wine distributors Taylor & Norton Wine Merchants and sold wine through the website. Wine.com and also provided one of the first Internet presences for many winery websites in the mid to late 1990’s. David created a wine.com/winery URL for numerous mostly Napa and Sonoma based wineries before they owned domain names and maintained their own websites.
The pivotal point that allowed Wine.com to really excel and gain exposure was through the old browser Netscape. David noticed a number of prominent websites at the time (such as ABC studios) were embedded as bookmarks in the Netscape browser. David wanted to have Wine.com gain this prominent exposure so he reached out to Netscape – and after agreeing to meet with him, he drove down to their headquarters, located in Mountain View at the time. David brought wine of course to help woo them – he met with their engineers and soon after, Wine.com was one of Netscape’s bookmark selections.
And David still has the original server he built and ran this site on – contained in an old-school wooden case.
While in college David was Robert Mondavi’s first personal chauffeur (back when Mondavi was still living in St. Helena). David presumably has loads of stories surrounding this iconic winemaker but one in particular stands out from 1982. While in class at Napa Valley college, he was interrupted by a messenger who received a phone call at the college (this was well before the days of cell phones). It was Robin Lail on the line, at the time Mondavi’s personal assistant. Robert needed to be driven down to Hillsborough, a noted wealthy enclave in San Mateo County, slightly south of San Francisco. He was attending a private wine function. David told Robin he would try to get to the winery as soon as possible – however by the time he reached the winery, Robert Mondavi had already left, electing to drive himself. David asked for and was given the address in Hillsborough.
Then David convinced his friend to drive him down to Hillsborough in his old Volkswagen bug. His friend dropped David off outside the gates of the mansion and drove back to Napa; David only carried a pillow and a blanket and was prepared to spend the night if needed. Some 5 hours after he arrived, well into the wee hours of the night, David noticed the gates opening and guests leaving. He looked for Mondavi’s personalized licence plate – when he saw it he jumped out into the middle of the driveway waving frantically. Mondavi was extremely surprised to see his chauffeur at this hour of the night but at the same time quite relieved to not have to drive back to Napa in his exausted state.
David owns a boat anchored in Honolulu, Hawaii and is where he often stays when in Honolulu. One morning at 630am he noticed a shadow of someone walking along the dock next to his boat, the shadow slowing down next to each of windows in the boat. David walked outside and found himself face to face with actor George Clooney who was in town filming The Descendents, which incidentally was directed by Alexander Payne (the same director for the now storied wine flick, Sideways). After chit chatting with George for a bit, George left to return to his filming. David then quickly created a home made sign that read something like, “This ain’t any f&*^*&^&^ Merlot” and draped it across the outside of his boat for all to see.
The production staff spotted the sign, when they wandered over David told them he would leave a bottle of wine as a gift for Clooney. He ended up leaving more then one bottle and when David returned he spotted all the wine had been taken. The staff brought the wine over to the Beachhouse at the Moana Restaurant in Waikiki for their film wrap party. Some of the group ended up tasting both the house wine and David’s wine. They told David his wine was superior to the private labeled wine from the restaurant. David then informed them he also made the house wine and it was from the same grapes as the wine bottled under Carneros della Notte. Perhaps sometimes wine tastes better based on perceptions!
After the sale of Wine.com, David began looking for vineyard land focusing on the southern part of the Napa Valley. He located a 7.5 acre parcel for sale by Rene di Rosa, the founder of di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art (open to the public, located off of Highway 12 in Carneros). The property was not planted at the time and could not be planted according to di Rosa because of its proximity to several Blue-line streams (creeks). While rototilling one day, David discovered numerous grape stakes buried in the ground. Assuming these were the remnants and proof of old vineyards he was able to get approval to plant vines. Later talking to di Rosa, he discovered his site was being used to store discarded grape vine stakes. But later talking to another neighbor, he was informed there in fact was a vineyard here decades ago and as a child, his neighbor used to roam through the vines.
David planted the vines in 2000 and harvested his first fruit 3 years later (the first vintage of Carneros della Notte was in 2003). David has dry farmed this vineyard ever since the young vines became established. He does not use synthetics or pesticides; the vineyard is farmed organically. And remarkably he doesn’t spray with sulpher to mitigate powdery mildew. His site is helped by the afternoon Carneros breezes – if David notices powdery mildew, he will take leaf blowers to parts of the vineyard to try and dry things out quickly.
David does much of the vineyard work from the pruning and trellising to using an electric weed whacker throughout the rows. And true to the name of his wine, the grapes are harvested at night.
While there is no winery on site (because the property is less then 10 acres), David does have two 40-foot-long c-train storage containers he buried beneath his house for wine storage – calling them Bin Laden Number 1 and Bin Laden Number 2.
The Own a Napa Vineyard Program
David’s creativity throughout his numerous business ventures is also an integral part of his wine business. And at times his creativity turns into humor. In Napa Valley where there are a number of accepted wine related boundaries, David has pushed the limits of these boundaries over the years – coming up with some creative solutions for a variety of vineyard and hospitality related issues. And this was the case with the Own a Napa Vineyard, a program born out of creativity to allow people to be on site harvesting fruit during David’s harvest parties. While being told he had to pay employees to harvest fruit, if they owned their own vines, he was able to avoid having to hire people to harvest provided they ‘owned’ a piece of the property.
This innovative and unique program began in late 2014 allowing clients to lease vines within David’s Carneros vineyard. Approximately 3,600 Pinot Noir vines grow on the property along with some 300 Syrah vines (the Syrah is used for home wine). Most clients purchase two vines for the year as to technically own a vineyard one must have at least 2 vines, a mini vineyard if you will. These vines are essentially leased on year-to-year terms. Although some clients own a single vine.
Every vine a client leases is assigned their own name tag and marker adhered to the vine; the ends of each row are marked by letters so one can quickly identify the row location of their particular vine(s). Buyers also receive a certificate with a photograph of the vineyard. And guests have access to see their vines 365/days a year by prior appointment and can stop by and help with seasonal events such as pruning or suckering. Vineyard owners also receive significant discounts on wine purchases. A live feed from a web cam overlooking the vineyards streams night and day.
The Own A Napa Vineyard program initially became popular through Groupon. Nowadays, most people find out about it via word of mouth.
David makes private label wines and can sand blast bottles for custom etching. He also maintains hives on the property and sells honey – seasonal produce from his extensive garden is for sale by the pound (U-pick).
Once a year in September David holds an epic harvest party lasting up to 15 days (held in the evenings, appropriately called Nightstock). At this time owners of vines in his vineyard are invited to attend (one ticket per one vine ownership) and they can pick their fruit – take it with them or let David use the fruit to make wine. His clients are varied but include a number of prominent band members including from One Republic, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Chicago and numerous others. One client purchased 30 vines to celebrate their 30th anniversary.
The wines are all made in limited quantities. For some time, David’s wine label claim to fame was that it was the world’s first glow in the dark label; just another creative idea tying into the name of the winery. And it may come as a surprise to some that as a winemaker David does not drink wine (he certainly tastes it often) but he prefers Malibu Rum.
The 2015 Carneros della Notte Chardonnay was made with fruit from the acclaimed Carneros based Truchard Vineyard. This wine is straw yellow color in the glass. It shows a lively nose full of citrus aromas including grapefruit, pear and as it opens, more tropical nuances are revealed including honeysuckle. Balanced and light on the palate, offers minerality notes, flavors of red apple and a pleasing softness on the finish.
The 2015 Carneros della Notte Pinot Noir is a 3-clone selection – both from David’s own vineyard as well as from several neighboring Carneros vineyards. David cold soaks his Pinot Noir for up to two weeks before inoculating with yeast – preferring to extract as much flavor and color from the wine prior to fermentation. The favorite of the wines we tried, this wine is highly aromatic with both bright fruit aromatics, dessert spices including cinnamon and notes of old cedar box. Very balanced, this is a Pinot Noir with some depth and richness yet is very balanced from start to finish. Layered flavors including various berry tones are anchored by a supple finish.
David entered his 2013 Carneros della Notte Pinot Noir in the Pinot Noir Shootout several years ago, a now prominent Pinot Noir centric tasting challenge. Over 200 wines were entered in that particular contest (the numbers keep growing each year); the wines are whittled down to a smaller number of top wines with both female and male judges. The 2013 was the top Pinot Noir picked by the women judges.
The 2015 Carneros della Notte Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from Coombsville (a cooler part of the valley a few minutes’ drive east of the city of Napa). This is a very food friendly wine – lighter in style then the more robust up valley Cabernet Sauvignons. Somewhat savory on the bouquet offers aromas of blackberry, cigar smoke and dry earth. Shows both red and darker fruits on the palate including red cherry, currant and blackberry, The tannins are still a bit tight at the time of our tasting – there is plenty of aging potential on this wine.
And the wine that Carneros della Notte is most known for is a one of a kind produced wine, a late harvest wine made from Pinot Noir that has been infected with Botrytis cinerea spores (Noble Rot). The inception for this wine came from a phone call in late 2005. A fellow Napa Carneros vineyard owner was desperate; she had lost the contract for her fruit that year because her Pinot Noir became infected with Botrytis. She was calling around to see if anyone could use the fruit – no doubt a tough sell when you are calling after harvest is complete, peddling Pinot Noir covered in Botrytis when no one in these parts is even interested in producing a late harvest wine from this variety. But David was.
Intrigued and perhaps making a decision to buy the fruit without thinking about all the ensuing details, David ended up purchasing all their mold covered Pinot Noir. But harvest had ended for most wineries and equipment had been put away. It was then a challenge to find a winery still finishing up harvest – ultimately David was able to do so, but they did not have any tanks small enough to handle what ultimately ended up being only 1.5 tons of fruit. So, David fermented the grapes in barrel.
He finished processing the fruit on December 21st – put signs on the barrels clearly cautioning, “do not move” and placed them in the back of the cave. But the winery held a Christmas party 4 days later, and one of the employees disregarded the signs on the barrels and moved them to the front of the cave. Over time, the bungs popped out and the wine sat for several weeks exposed to oxygen until some of their cellar staff noticed and notified David. Fortunately, he ended up filtering the wine and saving it.
He waited for Botrytis to develop naturally on his own vineyard of Pinot Noir the next several years but had no luck (only the non-desirable kinds of mold/rot developed). One year he ‘borrowed’ some of the Botrytis infected grapes from one of the neighboring vineyards and then sprayed it on 10 rows at his own vineyard. These spores quickly spread. But then 2010 came along, a vintage that nurtured plenty of naturally occurring Botrytis later in the season – David let his entire Pinot Noir vineyard become infected – a decision he recalls which elicited reactions of disbelief from some of his vineyard owner friends and neighbors.
In 2010 David produced 1000 cases of what he officially labeled as LPR, (Late Press Red) but this is a name that David doesn’t refer to, rather he calls this rare and unique wine the Liquid Panty Remover – or more politically correct, the Lady’s Preferred Red. The 2010 LPR offers a bouquet that is noticeably sweet in nature – showing aromas of prune, ripe peach, caramel and hazelnut (the subtle nutty nuances David attributes to the influence of the Botrytis). And a hint of truffle. Beyond the sweetness (and this wine is very sweet – 16% residual sugar) one immediately notices the mouth feel; it is viscous, creamy and almost oily in texture. Soft throughout the palate, the sugar dominates but one also notices the acidity – especially on the finish. This is a wine that has great aging potential – David has left bottles open for up to 6 months, the color turns darker over that time, but the wine continues to evolve and drink nicely even months after being open.
And while this is the wine that Carneros dello Notte is most known for, out of 18 vintages to date, David has only produced this wine 2x – the inaugural release and then in 2010. And this wine is on the wine list at the French Laundry. The wines are mainly sold direct and have become popular in parts of Asia including Japan.
For more information and to join the wine club at Carneros della Notte, visit: www.carnerosdellanotte.com
For more information about owning a Napa Vineyard, visit: www.ownanapavineyard.com
For more information about David’s eclectic and creative lifestyle including live feeds, interviews and reality-based vintner television shows, visit: www.pinotnv.com