Napa Valley AVA
95 Points, Robert Parker
It wasn’t Mike Harris’ intention to enter the winery business when he first purchased some 52 wooded acres in Calistoga in 1997, in the northern upper reaches of Napa Valley. In fact, Harris and his wife Treva saw the property as a retreat for their grandchildren, complete with tennis courts, swimming pools and several houses.
“The records show our property dates back to the early 1800’s,” informed Mike Harris. “At first it was home to the Wappo Indians who traded obsidian for arrowheads to neighboring Pomo Indians. Another highlight is a natural spring on the property that became the source of riparian water rights for multiple properties in Calistoga. From what we know, the original property was a farm that had a few owners. In the 1950’s, it became a boy’s school with dorms, a cafeteria and several buildings. A nasty divorce and fire forced the property to be sold, which was about 100 actual acres. Mike Grgich bought the 52 cleared acres and we came along and were successful in purchasing the other 48 acres that were mostly wooded and hillside property.”
Mike Harris admits he has always been around wine, or at least the finished side of the product. His father, Tommy Harris, was a noted San Francisco entertainer with varied interests in restaurants and nightclubs and also a summer home in the Glen Ellen district of Sonoma. “My dad loved Calistoga and the spas and we were always tooling around the wineries when I was younger,” admitted Harris. Harris and his wife Treva (originally from Columbus, Ohio) set about fixing up the property that was in great disrepair. It never occurred to Harris that he would one day become a farmer along with a great number of others in Napa Valley.
“I was a dentist for 32 years and thought I was retiring,” continued Harris. “I had worked with children’s teeth and their problems for many, many years. Now, I was content with what I had and loved our place in the valley. That is, until the soil test was completed that changed our lives.” The above mentioned test by one of California’s leading test facilities, Anresco, showed his hillside property to be of perfectly balanced red volcanic substance that was absolutely spectacular for growing grapes. It was definitely in the cards for Harris to become a farmer and a total of seven acres were cleared for that purpose. The entity became Harris Estate Vineyards and Mike Harris quickly put together a team that would prove immediately fruitful. His vineyard manager was Michael Black (also Turley Vineyards), who was responsible for Harris Estate’s three vineyards: Jake’s Creek, Lakeview and Treva’s. Paul Hobbs became the consulting winemaker for the company’s first release that came from the 2002 vintage. An instant success, the wine received a 94 from none other than wine guru Robert Parker and Harris Estate Vineyards was off and running. Additional accolades have accrued yearly since that time.
“We were certainly delighted with our early success, but we knew it would be difficult to continue scoring at that level without an incredible amount of work on everyone’s part,” added Harris.”We had faith in our vines and the people who put them together.” Today’s production at Harris Estate Vineyards is still quite smallish, around 900 cases, and should remain at about that level for the near future according to Mike Harris. The wine is made at Outpost Winery located near the top of nearby Howell Mountain by the current winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown who also happens to be a consulting winemaker for Outpost Wines and a number of other small Napa wineries. A Virginian by birth, Brown is a fan of Burgundy, the Italian Piedmont and the Southern Rhône region of France. He attributes his subtleties and successes in winemaking to being able to “taste the difference in a really fine wine.”
Harris Estate Vineyards is truly a family affair with wife Treva handling the winery’s books and even driving a tractor in the vineyards if needed. The couple’s black lab, Jake Junior (the original black lab was also Jake, who recently passed away) is the director of hospitality at the winery and grand ambassador to any visitors. A new tasting room will soon (in about a month) open in St. Helena, and provide additional exposure for tiny Harris Estate Vineyards. It is entirely fitting that Mike and Treva Harris have been successful in what many would consider their second careers.