Who is H. William “Bill” Harlan? Ask a wine aficionado, and the reply would be that he is the man behind Harlan Estate, a premier first-growth winery in Napa Valley that has achieved a celebrated status, as well as BOND Estates, a collection of five grand cru quality Cabernet Sauvignon wines that individually represent the best terroirs in the region. Ask someone in the hospitality industry, and the response might be that he is the visionary behind Meadowood Napa Valley, a legendary destination for discerning travelers to the region. Ask someone from the Napa Valley Vintners, and he or she will extol on Harlan’s generous community spirit for providing Meadowood Napa Valley as the host venue for the association’s annual fundraiser every year of its 30-year history, helping keep Auction Napa Valley the most successful charity wine auction in the world. Food & Wine called him a philosopher. Wine critic Robert Parker labeled him a “perfectionist,” and rewarded more than a few vintages of Harlan Estate with a perfect score of 100. To his partners and employees, he is a visionary leader. But what about when you ask Bill himself?
The first thing he would say is that the levels of success he has achieved across varying industries would not have been possible without his partners, associates, staff members, and the support of his family. This alone speaks volumes about his character. He is as inspiring as he is humble. He is a philosophic man of many words who also knows the importance of listening. He is an intuitive idea man who has the judgment to put together teams of likeminded individuals to execute a shared vision, not merely for his benefit but for the benefit of the community, the team, the world. And he himself is an executor, a catalyst for change. He is a self-professed man of dreams. And the Napa Valley landscape has been immeasurably impacted by these dreams.
Harlan’s winding career path can be compared to a grapevine in one of his vineyards in Napa Valley. It has grown and evolved over the years while becoming firmly rooted in the land, tended to by the labors of others who believed that the final result would be worth their toils, and the fruits of their labors have allowed the region to flourish in untold ways.
But his success—in real estate, in hospitality, in winemaking, in life—is due to the fact that Harlan follows a certain set of rules that have shaped his decisions. A running theme seems to be the power of three: three original dreams, three various industries, three rules to maintaining a successful business that will stand the test of time, and three generations who share in his vision. As evidenced by the gamut of industries upon which he has left his indelible mark, we all can learn from these lessons.