The year 2017 marks the unofficial 20th anniversary of the Bond Estates project, designed by influential Napa Valley vintner Bill Harlan to showcase the versatility of Cabernet Sauvignon, planted in Napa Valley’s grand cru terroirs. The unique terroir expressed by each of the five sites result in a complete range of five premium wines, each with its own distinctive personality and profile.
How the Bond Project Began
To understand the concept behind Bond Estates, let’s first take a look at what California vintner Bill Harlan was up to in the 1980’s and 90’s. In 1983, Harlan and his real estate partners created Merryvale Vineyards, appointing Bob Levy as winemaker, and later taking on Swiss businessman Jack Schlatter as a partner. In the beginning, the wines of Merryvale were made at Rombauer, until the property’s own winery was constructed in St. Helena, in time for the 1989 vintage. In 1984, Harlan purchased a 40-acre parcel near Oakville, which would become the prestigious Harlan Estates, and in the following years, added 200 acres to this property. Throughout the 1980’s, Harlan kept in touch with over 60 local growers for fruit and eventually declassified his own fruit to sell to Merryvale to produce a wine initially called Oakville Grade, later renamed The Maiden under the Harlan label.
Following a rapid expansion in production, Merryvale bought out Harlan in 1996. At this time, Harlan invited the owners of the vineyards used to produce the Melbury and Vecina wines to start a brand new project, that of Bond Estates. The first harvest at the Bond sites took place in 1997, with the wines made in the Harlan Estate’s winery, alongside the Harlan Estate flagship cuvee. A new winery was constructed near the Harlan Estate in time for the 2000 harvest, and the former winery was afterwards used to produce the Bond wines. Eventually, the Bond project introduced three additional cuvees into its portfolio – Quella, Pluribus and St. Eden – each vinified separately from different premier cru vineyards of Napa. To this day, the five signature cuvees of Bond Estates clearly personify the five different vineyards that Harlan calls the grand crus of Napa.
The Five Terroirs
The single-vineyard, single-varietal Cabernet Sauvignon wines of Bond Estates come from 5 signature sites, all located on hillsides. The vineyards range from 7 to 11 acres in size, each producing 450 to 600 cases per year. While Bond maintains total viticultural control over these vineyards, with the winegrowing directed by Bob Levy, the property does not own them. Instead they purchase the grapes under “evergreen contracts,” renewed each year. Let’s take a closer look at the 5 unique terroirs of the Bond Estates wines:
- Melbury: Planted in 1991, the Melbury vineyard extends over 7 acres of land on a hillside north of Lake Hennessey, between altitudes of 400 and 500 feet. The south-southeast-facing vines of Cabernet Sauvignon are rooted in predominantly clay soils. Wines produced from this vineyard are known for their elegance, as well as the spice and violets on the nose, rather than the density associated with wines grown at lower altitudes.
- Pluribus: The Pluribus vineyard extends over 7 acres of land, between altitudes of 1100 and 1300 feet on the slopes of Spring Mountain. The vines of Cabernet Sauvignon, with north, east and southeast exposure, are planted on volcanic bedrock. The conifer forest surrounding this property lends scents of cedar to wines produced from here, while the afternoon shade enjoyed by this vineyard results in racy tannins and a nice acidity.
- Quella: The 9-acre Quella vineyard, planted in 1991 on the eastern hills overlooking Napa Valley, is home to southwest-facing Cabernet Sauvignon vines rooted in a riverbed composed of cobble and rocks with pockets of tufa (volcanic ash). The altitude of the vineyard lies between 433 and 595 feet. This vineyard is known to have the lowest yield of those included in the Bond profile, producing structured wines with a signature salinity.
- St. Eden: Planted on an iron-rich, red and rocky soil resulting from a landslide on the Vaca Mountains, the St. Eden vineyard is the lowest in altitude among the Bond sites, with an elevation of 145 to 188 feet. The north-facing vines produce focused wines with high acidity and lush concentration.
- Vecina: The 11-acre Vecina vineyard is planted just southeast of the Bond winery (hence its name, which means “neighbor” in Spanish), on terraced slopes of volcanic soil at an altitude of 221 to 330 feet. The thermal amplitude, resulting from cool mornings and nights but hot afternoons, helps produce beautifully layered, highly tannic wines of a very concentrated color. These wines are meant to be kept, to avoid opening too early.
In 2001, Mary Maher joined the core team of Harlan, Weaver and Levy, as Bond’s in-house vineyard manager, taking over from Harlan’s famous vineyard manager David Abreu. Since then, the team has adopted several techniques to grow grapes with the clearest expression of terroir and minerality. Some of these include “crimping” the grass (cutting it in a particular way) so that it absorbs less water, which reduces soil temperature and preserves moisture in the soil. Maher has also introduced the use of biodynamic mulch in order to nourish the microbiological ecosystem of the soil. The team has gradually eliminated irrigation, which has resulted in better tannic maturity and flavor in the wines. This has also led to the development of the vines’ root systems. Altogether, these changes in the vineyards have contributed to the excellent international reputation enjoyed by the Bond Estates wines.
How the Bond Wines are Made
The Cabernet Sauvignon wines forming the Bond Napa Valley portfolio are made in a way that showcases each terroir from which the grapes were picked. At the Bond winery, spontaneous fermentation (mostly in barrel) takes place at temperatures between 78 and 82° F. A series of four pump-overs per day and some punch-downs occur during the peak of fermentation. In order to get the most out of the natural color and tannins in the skin, maceration is long, with the length of post-fermentation maceration on skins depending on the personality of each cru.
On each of the 5 properties the grapes are picked in batches depending on ripeness. These batches are then vinified separately, aged in barrel (almost all new Taransaud, Darnajou and Sylvain) and blended to produce the final wine. Around 60% of grapes harvested from the Bond sites are used to produce the 5 individual Bond wines, while around 20%-25% is sold in bulk, and the remainder used in the Bond Matriarch blend. Certain aspects of the winemaking process, such as barrel fermentation, are adjusted to suit the particular character of each wine. After all, it is the mission of the winemaking team at Bond Estates to stay true to the original concept behind the project: to offer a clear expression of Cabernet Sauvignon and its diversity in the terroirs of Napa Valley.
Focus on Three of Our Favorites from Bond Estates
Bond Estates: Melbury 2013
The Melbury 2013 from Bond Estates displays signature notes of blue fruits, charcoal, violet florals. This vintage is associated with higher acidity and tannin with the previous one, as well as a grander richesse. The wine is structured, ready to drink 5-10 years after bottling, but with the potential to be stored 40-50 years.Discover this Wine
Bond Estates: Pluribus 2013
The Pluribus 2013 from Bond Estates reveals graphite, black cherries, smoke and savory herbs. This vintage is darker in its expression, with an overall power that stands out. The wines highly tannic natures suggests a great potential for age.Discover this Wine
The Quella 2013 from Bond Estates shows off a beautiful purple color, revealing concentrated blackberry and blueberry aromas both on the nose and palate. The wine also offers hints of flowers, graphite and forest floor. A great option for cellaring, to be kept for at least 5 to 8 years before opening.Discover this Wine Browse our Selection from Bond Estates