Travel Notebook

Napa’s New Promontory

When travel is your life’s work, you give thanks every day for the opportunity to explore our world, far and wide, and to become richer for the sublimely beautiful destinations you visit, the friendly people you meet, the new flavors you crave and the cultures you discover. It is the smaller, nearly perfect moments that make up the necklace of my travel gems – those times when I know I’m somewhere only few outsiders have trod, living a day far from ordinary. And it is these moments I have committed myself to sharing with you, so that you may share them with your clients and we may all continue the grand tradition of travel that is so vital to making our vast planet a small and accessible world for all.

With this in mind, I share with you the exceptional new player on the Napa Valley scene, a place that causes one to pause and reflect on their surroundings, the particular provenance of a truly great wine and the visionaries who have made that moment possible.

Many are familiar with Bill Harlan and the legacy he has created with Harlan Estate and BOND, but only a fortunate few have been lucky enough to experience the recently opened Promontory. This new wine-growing endeavor by the Harlan team is the third, and quite possibly, their final project. Promontory is now in its ninth growing season, with the wines truly coming into their own and quickly being recognized amongst the great wines of Napa Valley.

Promontory produces a single red wine – the result of a rare and unexpected soil series on the winery’s acreage in what might be described as the wilds of Napa Valley, where underneath lies the rare convergence of all three geological formations found on the planet — metamorphic, volcanic (igneous) and sedimentary — and above roam bears and mountain lions. Promontory partially rests on mother rock that has been transformed over the ages by intense heat and pressure into a metamorphic mélange of immense diversity. It’s complex, to be sure, and presented with no readily apparent pattern from which to predict the boundaries of each profile – and yet this is what so inspired the Harlans and their director of winegrowing, Cory Empting, to produce what Bill Harlan calls “the missing shade of red.”

Designed by Howard Backen, the winery is the Harlan family’s window to the world, an exclusive, by-appointment-only visit and tasting experience, overlooking the beautiful vistas of Oakville.

My first visit was a 90-minute, privately hosted experience, during which we were welcomed by a gracious host and introduced to the story of Promontory before being walked through the wine-making facility. We tasted wine still in the cask and two wonderful vintages of Promontory. Wines are available to acquire during your visit, both those we had tasted and a selection of library vintages. Each tasting is $200 per guest, and should be booked well in advance to avoid disappointment!

You may request a visit by sending an email to or by calling 707.963.2206.