The Harrison family has been making wine in the Napa Valley for over century and the roots of the family tradition go back for centuries in Italy. William (Bill) Harrison’s maternal grandfather Antonio Perelli-Minetti immigrated from Italy in 1902. Antonio was a graduate of the Royal Institute of Viticulture and Enology in Conigleano, Italy. His father Guisippi, had a winery in Italy and wrote books on wine. Bill grew up around his grandfather’s winery in the San Joaquin Valley, A. Perelli-Minetti and Sons. In 1966 Bill began working for the California Wine Association (CWA), a company owned by his grandfather and his uncles. There he held various wine sales and marketing positions in New York, New England, the Southwest and California. In 1978 Bill moved to the production side of the winemaking business as Operations Manager at his A. Perelli-Minetti and Sons. This million-case winery produced table wine, dessert wine, sparkling wine, vermouth and brandy. In the early 1980's both the California Wine Association and A. Perelli-Minetti and Sons were sold. Bill then decided to start his own company, Estate Bottling, which provided wineries with a mobile bottling service and it is still in operation today. At the same time, Bill moved to the Napa Valley and founded W.M. Harrison Vineyards and Winery in the Rutherford AVA in St. Helena. In 1993, after years of selling grapes from his Rutherford estate, Bill released the first wine under his own label.
W.M. Harrison Vineyards and Winery’s estate vineyards consists of 10 acres of 5 of the Bordeaux varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, Malbec and Merlot. They are planted along the foot of the eastern hills of the valley. The Rutherford region encompasses the soils from three alluvial fans that are primarily gravelly, sandy and loamy. These fans are formed from shattered, well-bedded sandstone found on the hills above the valley. The soils at the vineyards are classified as Bear Creek Loam on the Napa Valley soil survey from 1935. Approximately 18 inches to 4 feet below the surface is tufa, a white layer of soil comprised of decomposed volcanic ash. W.M. Harrison also sources premium grapes from the Sangiacomo Vineyard to produce their Carneros Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
While visiting I sampled the following wines:
The first wine was the 2011 Carneros Chardonnay, Sangiacomo Vineyard. This wine displays aromas of citrus, lemon custard and hints of butterscotch. On the palate it is medium bodied with medium acidity and a medium length finish with a hint of hazelnut on the return. A classic Carneros profile, this wine sells for $32 per bottle.
The second pour was the 2011 Pinot Noir. This wine is light ruby red in color with aromas of fresh strawberries, cranberries and light plum notes. On the palate it is medium bodied with medium acidity and delivers a spicy medium length finish. A hallmark Carenos Pinot Noir, this wine sells for $38 per bottle.
The third wine was the Estate Cabernet Franc. This wine is dark ruby red which slightly stains the glass when swirled. On the nose this wine delivers intense, concentrated blackberries, black licorice, spice and a hint of herbal notes. On the palate it has aggressive tannins, medium body, medium acidity and a prolonged finish. This is without a doubt one of the best Cab Francs I have ever tasted in the Napa Valley. This wine sells for $45 per bottle.
The fourth wine was the 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon - a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cab Franc and 5% Merlot. On the nose this wine has medium intense aromas of black currants, black cherries, and a hint of cedar and tobacco. On the palate it has BIG tannins, medium body and a medium length finish. This wine sells for $50 per bottle.
The final wine was 2009 Rutherford Red - a blend of 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Petit Verdot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec, and 5% Merlot. On the nose this wine delivers layers of cassis, blackberries, dark cherries, dark chocolate, vanilla, and a hint of anise. On the palate it has good structure and is well balanced with medium+ tannins, ample acidity and a medium+ length finish. I have visited W.M. Harrison several times over the past 10+ years and as before I preferred this Bordeaux blend to many of the neighboring versions (Opus One and Quintessa to just name a few). Yet this wine sells for less than half the price at $75 per bottle so I brought one home.
To visit or for more information:
W.M. Harrison Vineyards and Winery
1443 Silverado Trail
St Helena, CA 94574