The Napa Valley Reserve is Napa Valley’s premiere private wine estate – a luxurious setting in rural surroundings nestled against the lower hills of the Vaca mountains. This member only club is located in the heart of Napa Valley only about a 5-minute drive from the nearby town of St. Helena. Founder and vintner William Harlan initially began acquiring this property in the early 1980s – originally a cattle ranch and later a farm, Mr. Harlan is only the 3rd owner of the property since California became a state in 1850. He completed the purchase of this historic site in 2000, (his private residence used to be here) and in the subsequent two years cleared parts of the land and planted vineyards.
The property is 80 acres which when fully planted, contain 60 acres of grapes. Over 700 olive trees (multiple cultivars) are planted on site and olive oil is also produced for members. The trees were originally planted by the Talcott’s, Nina and Jim – both of whom owned Napa Valley based olive oil companies (but have since sold their respective companies). The property spans both sides of the Silverado Trail from the boundary of Meadowood Napa Valley (a gorgeous Relais & Châteaux property) along Meadowood Lane to Old Howell Mountain Road and on the west side of the Silverado Trail. However, the majority of the vineyards are located on the eastern side of Silverado Trail.
Designed by Howard Backen of Backen & Gillam Architects, Backen’s firm has overseen the construction of a number of premium wineries in the Napa Valley including Harlan Estate, BOND and Futo Estate among others – as well as Poetry Inn, Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute in Utah and other prominent international properties. The property features a timeless elegance – from the exterior, visually blending in with its surroundings and from the interior featuring a wine country rustic charm and a number of tranquil spaces.
An interesting historical footnote: what is now Alejandro Bulgheroni Winery (on nearby Meadowood Lane) housed the production of several of the first Napa Valley Reserve wines – as well as some of the early trial wines for PROMONTORY, another Bill Harlan owned winery.
Out of the more than 1,100 unique Napa Valley based wineries, brands or tasting rooms we have visited and written about to date, we are always acutely focused on identifying some of the valley’s most memorable properties. Somewhat loosely formulaic in our approach, first and foremost we always look at the vineyard site. Other attributes include history, overall pedigree of the property, personalities, architecture, wine accolades, creativity and a refined thread of exclusivity. While not a commercially producing winery, The Napa Valley Reserve ticks off all of our desired check boxes and offers guests a direct connection to the Harlan lifestyle and this land.
Because the wines are produced for members, none of The Napa Valley Reserve wines are for sale nor are the individual member wines. This makes owning wines from a special piece of the Napa Valley that much more special. At this heightened level of attention in both the vineyard and the winery, the wine becomes like a living piece of fine art – to be collected and enjoyed for what it is, but also to be highly appreciated for the significant work and creativity that went into its journey from vineyard to bottle. And to be cherished for its pedigree – not only for the unique vineyard site but equally as important for the wine making efforts of its creators.
And the team overseeing the operations is impressive including Bob Levy, Director of Wine Growing to winemaker Marco Gressi and consulting winemaker Michel Rolland who provides his input into the wines once a year and vineyard managers Mary Maher and Mark Griffin. The winemaking team is always striving for incremental improvements in quality – beginning in the vineyard but in the cellar as well. Recent acquisitions include locally made concrete fermentation tanks, 40-hectaliter casks for aging the wines further and using amphorae for select aging.
The 2016 Napa Valley Reserve Sauvignon Blanc is from a vineyard located in Pope Valley. A small block of this variety is also located on the estate in a slightly cooler part of the property but was not used in the 2016 vintage. Sauvignon Blanc from the estate was first used in their 2018 vintage. Golden yellow in the glass the 2016 vintage offers intriguing aromatics including floral nuances (honeysuckle and jasmine) complemented nicely with mandarin, kumquat and a lime zest. Flinty with mineralities the wine is nicely balanced across the palate. Flavors of gooseberry and granny smith apple. Two characteristics on the palate stand out – the supple mouth feel and the bright lively acidity especially the crispness that lingers. This is acidity that dances across the palate without being overtly tart.
The 2009 Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Noticeably dark ruby in the glass the bouquet reveals an intriguing elegance of aromas. Diverse in its aromatic approach offers black fruit including ripe plum and blackberry with a darker spice element (old cedar box) and a hint of dust. The bouquet showcases the purity of this variety rather than additional influences from its barrel aging. Deftly balanced across the palate – the tannins are slightly chalky, darker in nature, rounded and are part of a long powerful finish. We tasted this wine 10 years after vintage, and it shows like a younger wine. Plenty of life still ahead of this beauty.
The 2015 Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon offers attractive aromatics, showing bright fruit including red cherry and raspberry accompanied by hints of dust and tobacco leaf. Continuing to evolve in the glass, also offers French vanilla, milk chocolate and hints of darker baking spices including clove. These are well-defined tannins, but are supple, integrated, fine-grained and superbly polished. A hint of cigar smoke on the finish. The feel of the tannins is a highly appealing textural attribute to this wine.
And a very limited production, 100 cases of Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is crafted every year for members to enjoy when visiting.
Library wines dating back to 1997, the inaugural vintage of the Napa Valley Reserve, are kept at the winery and are available to members.
The focus of a membership at The Napa Valley Reserve is access to premium grapes from the estate vineyard and the availability of a humble yet star-filled winemaking team. Members are allocated their own row of grapes signed with a plaque at the end of the row and can be as involved as they like during harvest including harvesting grapes, sorting, barrel tasting or blending among other opportunities. Some members design their own labels.
And of course, the social aspects and benefits. A number of primarily wine-related and educational events are offered throughout the year including comparative tastings, blending sessions and wine and food pairing experiences. One of the harvest highlights for members is the annual Harvest Weekend Celebration at The Napa Valley Reserve (typically held the first weekend in October). Guests from around the world gather at The Napa Valley Reserve to meet up with old friends, make new friends, put in a few hours work in the vineyard and cellar if desired and enjoy several epic meals including the Welcome and Gala dinners.
And combining wine, food and travel, select trips overseas are available to members focusing on wine regions.
With no shortage of event space, the property is ideal for hosting lunches, dinners and other celebratory events. The culinary team at nearby Meadowood Napa Valley often provides catering services. One of the larger caves in the Napa Valley (45,000 square feet), the cave is foremost a working winery. But it also functions as storage for library wines, a wine vault containing wine lockers for members to store their wines and also can be used selectively for events.
For more information about becoming a member of the Napa Valley Reserve, please visit: www.thenapavalleyreserve.com