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William Harrison Winery in Napa

One of my favorite things to do while wine tasting is to discover wineries that I’d never heard of before. I admit that it is slowly becoming harder and harder to do, being around this industry, but I know they are out there (just waiting to be discovered by me, I’m sure).

So out on the Silverado trail I drove, with my tasting partner, Nicole along with me. We had no real plans except to be back at a set hour for dinner at Peju Winery, so we were basically free for a few hours. We tried getting to Joseph Phelps, whom we had heard of, but had yet to go to. Upon arriving, they alerted us to the fact all the tasting times were prior yet offered a splash of wine as a consolation prize. And so off we went to another winery.

Being late in the day, we unfortunately ran into more and more wineries that were closed. That is until we found William Harrison Winery, tucked back off of the road. The road sign was present and nicely visible, complete with hours that were within our time frame. Having never ever hearing about them prior, we decided to give it a shot.

The sign out on the street, in smaller letters, read, “An American Winery”. The unoffical motto seemed to be taken to heart when you step inside. The building, though only built some 20 years ago, seemed like it was erected nearly a century a go. Pseudo wood beams line the ceiling, and a boar’s head and full-sized stuffed Grizzly bear could be seen off to the side of the tasting room. Taxidermist’s rejoice, you’ve come to the right spot.

While the winery has it’s roots firmly planted in American, or rather Rutherford, soil, the winemaking traditions of the Perelli-Minetti family (William Harrison is the nephew of Mario Perelli-Minetti run all the way back to Italy. The father of Mario, Antonio Perelli-Minetti (can you tell this is an Italian Family yet?) was first winemaker in California to hold a winemaking degree.

The degree from Italy. Click on the image to see it full-size to see that it was from the late 1800s.

The degree from Italy. Click on the image to see it full-size.

So how’s the wine?

Great. Their wines truly showcased the terrior and AVA to which they came from. It’s that simple. I’d also say that they are distinctly Californian. The Chardonnay was a small butter bandit, with a little Oak peeking through, but the Apricot shined more than the oak and butter did.

The Cabernet Franc did not dissappoint either. I was simply excited to get my hands on this rare single varietal wine. The deep black berries and spice mixed in with the standard smells of black currant were all there on my palate. The part that I found especially appealing was the light to almost no tannins on the tongue.

But the piece dé resistancé was their Cab. At first smell I noted the dirt that was present in it. Harking on it almost smelling almost like a Bordeaux Blend than a Cab, Andrew Perelli-Minetti mentioned that was due to the volcanic soil of Rutherford, or the “Rutherford Dirt” as it was more commonly  referred to. In addition, pieces of dark cherry and a bit of tree bark could also be found.

The winery also produces a Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast as well as a Rutherford Red, which is comprised of 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc, 16% Petit Verdot and 8% Malbec.

The tasting is $7.50 per person, but the experience is priceless. Old California is brought back to life (or at least stuffed in the case of the bear and boar) at William Harrison. Family winemaking is still alive and thriving here.



Haydn Adams is the author of the book, Wineries Beyond Napa Valley: Dry Creek and Alexander Valley, an insider’s tasting guide to the hidden gems region. He also authors and publishes the Beyond Napa Valley Wine Blog, writes for, and can be found roaming the hills of Sonoma County looking for the next hidden gems. He is also the VinVillage leader for San Rafael. You can contact him at