Promontory’s New 2016 Release

USA, California, Napa Valley

Promontory’s New 2016 Release

“Inside all of us is hope. Inside all of us is fear. Inside all of us is adventure. Inside all of us is a wild thing.”
Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are

Where the Wild Things Are

When I judge wine quality, I consider only what’s in the glass in front of me. But when I drink wine for my enjoyment, I occasionally, exceptionally find my experience of that wine elevated by the story that lies behind it. At the very pinnacle of wine culture, what we drink should be equal parts deliciousness and captivation.

Bill Harlan

I have followed the story of Promontory since the first vintage. In the 1980s, Bill Harlan was hiking in the mountain woodlands to the south of Harlan Estate, heading from Oakville toward Yountville. He stumbled across an abandoned prohibition-era bootlegger’s cabin and a small vineyard amidst the remote wilderness.

The thought struck him that this area held incredible vineyard potential. In the foothills just above Dominus and the town of Yountville, separated by a plateau that Harlan referred to as the “promontory,” this land was not only the back of beyond; it was almost impossible to access. It was also not for sale. When this parcel eventually came up for sale in the 2000s, Bill Harlan had not forgotten it. He brought his consultant, Michel Rolland, out for a second opinion. Upon investigation, Rolland flat-out told Harlan that turning this area of wild, rugged terrain into a high-quality vineyard would involve “a lot of work.” More determined than ever, in 2008, Bill Harlan purchased the land that would become Promontory. The first vintage of the wine, 2009, was released in 2013.

David Cilli

"2018 was a great, drawn-out vintage in which we could take our time, cherry-picking small areas,"

I had the opportunity to visit the vineyard
a couple of years ago with Cory Empting, managing director of winemaking for Harlan’s estates, and David Cilli, Promontory’s dedi- cated winemaker. The 80 acres of potential vineyard area that has been carved out of the total current landholding of 800+ acres are still relatively inaccessible, requiring a 4-wheel- drive to maneuver the narrow dirt road winding up past Dominus and Blankiet to this secluded hillside location. While there remain a few acres of original plantings from the 1980s and 1990s, most of the vines are relatively new. This is fantastically risky, wonderfully wild, uncharted territory.

The sheer variety of soil types, aspects, and altitudes is both Promontory’s strength and the challenge. This area is a patchwork quilt of schist, shale, volcanic, clay, sedimentary, and metamorphic soils, while altitudes range from 500 to 1,100 feet. The vineyard continues to be subdivided and mapped by the young, adventurous team Bill Harlan placed in charge: his son and now managing director over all the Harlan estates, Will Harlan, Cory Empting, and David Cilli. The vineyard has already been carved into more than 40 distinct blocks necessitating multiple picks each year. “2018 was a great, drawn-out vintage in which we could take our time, cherry-picking small areas,” commented Cilli during our tasting in February this year.

In 2016, the dedicated Promontory winery was completed in time for that harvest. With the vineyard necessitating many picks, many small tanks require labor-intensive management. Extended aging is performed in larger oak barrels, usually for 30-35 months. Thus far, the wines have been held back for at least another year in bottle before release. The 2016 was released for the first time in the USA last autumn (2021), and it will go out to the rest of the world via the Place de Bordeaux in early March 2022.

Stylistically, Promontory is a departure from traditional big, rich, fruit-forward Napa Valley styles. And yet, it also side-steps some modern characters that can stem more from early harvesting, marginal climate areas, and winemaking influences than the land. By nature, Promontory is highly structured, for a start, with firmer tannins, which Cilli is sensitive not to control too much. Each vintage reveals more and more of this singular place’s earthy, mineral-driven signatures, refusing to be tamed. Therefore, the best vintages may require more time to come around than other top Napa labels, this 2016 vintage release being a case in point. And this necessary wait should be embra- ced. After all, such wild things of beauty require patience, best appreciated not when you force them to perform but when they are ready to come to you.

Article & Reviews by Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW
Photos by Johan Berglund



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