Maybe if Bill Harlan's beard were just a few feet longer, he'd be attracting crowds of the faithful looking to learn how to lead meaningful lives, not plaintive wine collectors begging for a bottle of his famous Bordeaux-style blend. For Harlan isn't just the genius behind one of Napa's greatest wineries, Harlan Estate, or for that matter, one of the partners responsible for its most famous resort, Meadowood. He's also something of a philosopher, a man with a well-articulated vision of what really matters in life.
There are only two people Harlan hopes to pass his particular vision along to, his 11-year-old daughter and his 13-year-old son. They are the reason he is currently at work on a book of what he calls "life lessons," although Harlan, soon to turn 61, says that what he really needs to do now is stop writing: "I promised myself I'd have the book finished by my sixtieth birthday."
In the meantime, Harlan continues to perfect his wine, although the impossibly lush, incredibly concentrated red (made mostly from Cabernet Sauvignon) has been called one of California's top "cult Cabernets" and is already considered by most to be pretty close to perfection. It's a wine that manages to be both remarkably dense (almost to the point of opaqueness) and unquestionably elegant, with fine, silky tannins. Wine critic Robert M. Parker, Jr., routinely gives the wine very high marks (98 for the 1996 vintage, 99 for the 1995 and a perfect 100 for the 1997). Harlan Estate has also been hailed by British wine writer Jancis Robinson as "one of the ten best wines of the twentieth century."