Fear and Loathing in Napa Valley

If you’ve ever spent time in Italy’s Tuscan seaside towns you know the dreamy days of long al fresco lunches and afternoons tasting in Montalcino or Chianti. It was on one such trip, and one lunch featuring a 1990 Tignanello that set off the fireworks for our friend Halpin. Today, he runs with the Napa in-crowd and is the obsessive networker behind his eponymous label.

Halpin’s trips to Italy have taken a backseat to Napa, where running into him at the tale-end of a three-course lunch in Yountville, or indulging in his third espresso of the day at Ritual in the Oxbow Market, isn’t unusual. He’s the kind of guy who appreciates a $150 Napa Cab, but would rather spend $30, so hits Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail in search of it. Halpin learned to find immense value in great vintages that get wedged between epic vintages. He’s got a healthy stash of Bordeaux from ‘81 and ‘83, for instance.

The night we met Halpin turned into one of those terrifically long nights in Napa that make it exceptionally hard to honor 9:00am appointments the next day. The then 29-year-old fledgling computer-science geek got the Wine Access brass more sauced than we’d ever been before.

A last-minute invitation secured us seats at an intimate gathering at a winery just off Silverado Trail, south of St. Helena—a place known for their remarkable Zinfandel. There were prominent local winemakers, one distinguished journalist, one of the world’s stingiest critics, and one member of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, who did all the cooking.

Whoever Halpin was, it was clear he was the guest of honor—regaling everyone with tales of his travels to Europe as a VIP buying assistant on the dime of a major wine retailer. There were the cases of Léoville Barton he’d bought for his “future children” and a 3-liter of Château Latour that he didn’t care was corked—drank it anyway because “it was a double-magnum of Latour!” There was the lunch at Brane-Cantenac in Margaux with the entire Lurton family, and sitting next to one Lurton who owns a Third Growth Bordeaux Château, Halpin argued it, “definitely wasn’t a classed Growth.” His passion—and naiveté—had us rolling with laughter.

This upstart had clearly rubbed elbows with all the right wine people, and everything about him impressed us. So much so, that before calling it a night, we apparently offered—not quite remembering the next day—to put him on the payroll.

In the last decade, somehow, Halpin’s stories have grown more outrageous, but the story of the his eponymous label he obsessed over making one day—is the subject of this missive.

In the summer of 2017, Halpin met with winemaker Ry Richards. Armed with a small notepad and a very sharp #2 pencil, Richards jotted down the plan that would ultimately result in the first Halpin wines rolling off the bottling line. Halpin had learned more than a thing or two under our watch. Leveraging the connections he and Ry had made in Napa, the duo invested in impeccable fruit sources and culled together the first barrels of what would be called none other than—Halpin.

Presented to us (still in shiners) at Wine Access HQ in Napa, we were struck by the sheer quality, complexity, and depth of the Halpin portfolio. So much so that we offered to take the entire first year’s harvest—every bottle of Halpin, with one caveat: they would have to make wines this good, every single year.

For Halpin, this label is his story; the culmination of decades of traveling around Europe, buying the best wines, bringing them to Napa and pouring them around town, belonging to the “in-crowd” and dreaming of one day making wine himself. Thanks to Halpin, even Ry Richards is working with fruit he never dreamed of getting his hands on—a dream-turned-reality built on a lifetime investment of discovering the world’s iconic wines. For us, and more importantly, for you, it is the chance to acquire a wine that is much more than the sum of its parts.