As we entered her St. Helena property on a rainy afternoon, Sharon Kazan Harris greeted us with umbrellas for the short walk to the tasting barn behind the house. I was looking forward to our conversation and to tasting her Rarecat wines.

People who are passion-driven, as Sharon openly declared, are intriguing because of the motivational powers and the high expectations it brings. In addition to her wines, I was also interested the current project she calls, “Rarecat Tour: Connecting with Purpose.” It seems that another byproduct of her passion is social conscientiousness.

Those of us who enjoy wine have long known its social value. Harris understands this more than most, and since March 27, she has been driving across the country to visit corporate partners in 25 different cities, using the communal power of wine to promote discussion on elevating women and promoting diversity in the workplace.

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In most industries, women represent 80 percent of the consumers. With wine, 80 percent of the consumers are men, the target audience to engage in such a discussion. Rarecat understands that we are at our best and most open-minded when we’re having fun. Harris’ wines and success give her a platform for positive dialogue, and she’s using it.

Her vineyards and production facilities are in Napa Valley, but her unique backgrounded and experience has afforded her an opportunity to produce wine in Bordeaux. She studied abroad her junior year at the University of Bordeaux with no connection to wine. It was there that she was befriended by a family who invited her to a private tasting at Château Haut-Brion, led by the legendary Monsieur Delmas. She tasted the 1982 vintage out of the barrel and the 1966 out of the bottle, something few have experienced and many have desired.

Wines from Château Haut-Brion are life-changing, and Harris completely altered her focus, enrolling and finishing a prestigious wine education degree through the University of Bordeaux’s Oneology Department. Her joie de vivre (“joy of living”) perspective that drives her passion can be traced to those early days in Bordeaux.

Rarecat vineyards and production facilities are in Napa Valley. (Courtesy photo)

Harris develops wines in both Champagne and Bordeaux. The single-vineyard Rarecat Champagne ($36), 100 percent chardonnay, is produced by partner Michael Gonet, and she brings forth the non-vintage Rarecat Crement de Bordeaux ($36) made from 100 percent semillon grapes, one of the regions signature white varietals. Using the Méthode Traditionelle, it is crisp with multiple flavors and pairs well with Asian or Indian food.

Harris is the only American vintner to produce wine in Napa, Sonoma and St. Emilion in the Bordeaux region. She calls her single-vineyard, merlot-dominant 2014 Rarecat Grand Vin St. Emilion ($55) the most transformative wine that she makes. One has to know what they want to drink before they can be a success. Blended with some cabernet franc, it is aged in 50 percent new French oak. Wonderfully balanced and elegant, the bouquet has a spice element with expressive red fruit flavors throughout. This wine favors fatty, savory dishes like duck. The St. Emilion is limited in production, available only to those on the allocation list.

Grapes for the 2013 Rarecat Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($115) are clone 169, sourced from the Old Toll Vineyard, north of Calistoga. It is nearly ninety-percent Cabernet Sauvignon, the remainder cabernet franc and petit verdot. The varietals are blended prior to bottling, then aged together for two years in 80 percent new French oak. The aromas were varied and layered and the concentrated flavors are as complex and elegant as you would expect from a wine of this level. With healthy tannins, it is designed to evolve over time. Again, sales are limited to those who sign up for the Old Toll allocation.

Accessing any Rarecat wines requires a commitment to an annual allocation of a specific release or joining one of the exclusive clubs to receive a mixture of wines. Of course, with these allocations, members gain access to the Rarecat family and exclusive events throughout the year.

It seems that Harris has had a storied life since that first taste of the 1966 Château Haut-Brion. Not one to reflect, she is focused on the future of Rarecat, using her wines and her passion to promote positive change.

Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email him at sfewine@gmail.com.

Lyle W. Norton
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