Yes, this $450 bottle is worth the money
September 12, 2007
The offer came in a brown paper envelope, understated and elegant.I have been placed on the Harlan Estate mailing list, and I had been pre-offered an opportunity to purchase the 2005 Harlan Estate proprietary red wine at a price of $450 a bottle. The offer required that I fax or mail my order along with payment in full (including shipping) at my earliest convenience, but no later than Sept. 30, 2007. Subject to acceptance of my order, the wine would be delivered in spring 2009.This offering raised two questions. Why would anyone spend $450 for a bottle of wine? And is it worth it?
The answers, though some people might find them crazy, are: Because it is a great wine. And yes, it is worth it.First, a disclaimer. I have never tasted a Harlan Estate proprietary red wine. I have tasted their second wine, called The Maiden, which is made from grapes grown in the same 35-acre Oakville vineyard parcel and found it to be exceptional. The 2005 The Maiden is also offered for purchase to those on the Harlan Estate list at a price that is one-third that of the proprietary red.There are many reasons to purchase a bottle of wine. First and foremost, of course, is the taste. Is the wine special? Does it represent the region and the grapes well? Will it enhance my meal, my drinking pleasure, or my life? Pretty stiff questions, but in the opinion of those who have tasted the Harlan Estate wines since they were first offered in 1990, this is wine that will do all of the above.Harlan Estate is a project created in the late 1980s by a quality, passionate wine aficionado named Bill Harlan. His stated goal was, and is, to create a California “First Growth” wine estate. To achieve this he covered 35 acres of previously unplanted land on a hillside property above Oakville with cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and a little petit verdot. Enlisting a team that included winemaker Bob Levy and Wine Director Don Weaver, both who have been with the project for more than two decades now, Harlan set about producing a cabernet-based Bordeaux blend with utmost care, sparing no expense. All the grapes are hand-picked and destemmed; the yields per acre are kept to around 2.5 tons, and all wines are aged in new French oak.
From the first release in 1996 of the 1990 vintage, the wine was a hit with the wine press. Robert Parker wrote that the 1994 Harlan Estate “is one of the monumental Cabernet Sauvignons of our time” and gave the 1994, 1997, 2001 and 2002 vintages perfect scores of 100 points.The wine’s consistent quality and the great reviews were components of a perfect storm that collided with the rise in interest in California’s “cult” wines just as the dot-com boom reached its zenith. That brings us to the second reason why spending $450 for a bottle of wine is worth it. Harlan Estate wines have been a terrific investment.In 2000 at the Napa Valley Wine Auction, a vertical selection of Harlan Estate wines from 1987 to 1996 in magnum bottles sold for a reported $700,000. I perused the web looking at wine shops selling the wines, and the least-expensive bottle I could find was a 2003 vintage selling for $650. A 2002 went for more than $1,100. Wines in this day and age are collectable commodities. Harlan Estate wines are available in limited quantities; there have never been more than 2,000 cases made available and, as a result, they have appreciated each and every vintage. The bottom line? Even a teetotaler with investment savvy can justify buying a bottle.
Finally, the psychology of wine collectors plays a part in what a wine is worth. Many people want things that are acclaimed and limited and are willing to pay a premium. If you live in a house where you have invested $100,000 or more in a wine cellar, it may be very important to you to have the very best and most hard-to-find wines stored in that cellar. There is a psychic satisfaction that comes with having a bottle of wine that cost $450 and that the Joneses don’t have in their cellar.All of the above explain the justification for paying $450 for a bottle of wine that won’t be delivered for 18 months at least. So will I be buying some in this pre-offering?What, are you crazy? Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and a black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.