Napa Valley AVA
92 Points - Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate
Sean Larkin is undoubtedly the only person born in Inverkeithing Fife, Scotland who owns an emerging Napa Valley wine entity. What’s more, Larkin, now 46, took an amazing course of action from his chosen European profession to achieve his long term dream of becoming a wine proprietor in California’s most prestigious wine producing area.
Larkin spent his youth in Scotland and finally graduated from technical college with a degree in sheet metal work. In 1979, he decided to come to the United States and settled in New Jersey where he followed his profession and became a sheet metal worker. He later opened his own business that was very successful. Larkin felt that the sheet metal business paid well, but had its drawbacks.
“Being in that type of work is extremely hard,” he recalled, “it’s back breaking and then some. After a while, I began to think of what it would be like to do the same thing when I was 50 or 60. The thought wasn’t all that appealing to me. I had the idea of doing something in the wine business long before I actually moved to California.”
To that end, Sean had begun hanging out at an upscale restaurant where much emphasis was given to wine and wine-related events. He began to attend winemaker dinners and learned enough to become a part-time sommelier in the process. On his first vacation trip in 1991, he went to the Napa Valley and was immediately smitten by the imposing grandeur of the wine country.
Larkin finally moved to Yountville in Napa Valley where his wine acumen allowed him to get a job with a top San Francisco wine distributor. Larkin commuted southward for the next three years and continued on with his wine erudition process.
In 1999, convinced he knew enough to go it on his own, Sean Larkin bought one-half ton of grapes and began the process of winemaking. His grapes were custom crushed and the wines were made in a St. Helena winery that Sean Larkin chose.
His first release of forty-eight cases of cabernet franc two years later in 2001 was nothing short of miraculous considering Sean is the sole owner and employee of Larkin Wines. The wine garnered an impressive 91 points from wine guru Robert Parker and Sean was on his way.
The following year he bought a full ton and has doubled his production each succeeding year. This year he will produce around 1000 cases, a number that keeps him in the super boutique category. To prove the first wine was no fluke, each successive vintage has captured impressively high marks and now Larkin Wines’ future seems assured.
Not that much has changed for Sean Larkin. He continues to be the business’s only employee, producing, marketing and doing whatever it takes to make it all work.
He has recently purchased a 6,000+square foot facility in the City of Napa, close to the Napa Valley College that will become the new home of Larkin Wines. He has obtained a 45,000 gallon permit that will allow him to expand his production when his new home becomes a reality. Larkin expects that his use permit will be approved in the near future so that he can facilitate his move to the new winery.
“It has really been a fun ride thus far,” Larkin added, his Scottish accent protruding. “Don’t get me wrong, it is still a great deal of hard work, but I am finally able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It just shows you what a little foresight and a lot of sweat can accomplish. I am basically living my dream.”
Larkin Wines has also begun making a pair of other wines, labeled under Jack Larkin Wines (for his two-year-old infant son) and TinKnocker Wines (in respect to his old profession that produces only white varietals). Looking down the road, Larkin expects his production to rise to somewhere near 6,000 cases during the next decade.
Larkin is considered a true bon vivant in local Napa wine circles and even refers to his Cabernet Franc as “the poor man’s Chateau Cheval Blanc,” in a most respectful reference to the great Bordeaux chateau. In many ways, Sean Larkin is a modern day pioneer in the truest traditions of Napa Valley. He arrived with little more than his energy and dedication and has literally made something really special from the grapes.