Larkin hails from Inverkeithing, Scotland. He emigrated to the USA, landing in New
Jersey in 1979 and started making a living as a sheet metal worker but stopped
when he discovered his passion for good wine. He began learning about and collecting
wines and somehow managed to get a job as a sommelier at a quality restaurant,
where he had installed the air conditioning. He ear-bashed the owner about the poor
quality wine list until he was allowed to prove he could do a better job.... And
he did! The restaurant's wine list was so improved it was rewarded by a Spectator's
On vacations, Larkin used to visit Napa Valley and at one point decided to stay. The former sheet metal worker and part-time sommelier became a wine broker in Napa Valley and made friends with such experts as Robert Foley, who taught him the art of winemaking. Finally, Larkin was able to realise his dream and established his own winery. He is far from the typical Napa winemaker. With exactly zero hectares of own land, no fancy cellar and no expensive flying consultant winemaker in tow, Larkin buys grapes from local Napa vineyards and from there on does everything by himself in a facility in St Helena, with only a few large crates to ferment the wine and a dozen or so oft-used barrels. Although limited in means, he is producing wines that should be are the envy of most Napa wineries. He started in 1999 with the production of 50 cases of Cabernet Franc. Since then, this has grown to 500 cases and his label has expanded to include Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
first vintage was awarded 90+ Parker points and ever since only one of his wines
has scored below that magical border. His second label, Jack Larkin, named
after his son, received the same credit. Under this label, he produces a
beautiful Cabernet Sauvignon from the grapes of Melanson Vineyard on Pritchard Hill,
the location of such other famous producers as Colgin, Bryant Family and
Chappellet. The more affordable wines have their own label: Tin Knocker and
Grand, under which he produces Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Roussanne and a lusty
The wines of Sean Larkin are highly recommended, particularly the Cabernet Franc, which might give ‘cab country' a new connotation. If you're going to the Napa Valley and plan on visiting only the big wineries, like Darioush, Black Stallion and Opus One, you may get a false, one-dimensional idea of Californian winemaking. Give yourself the complete picture of different ways of making good wine, and treat yourself to a visit to the Larkin winery. It's something you won't easily forget, as Larkin's fun personality and good humor are just as enjoyable as his wines.
Interview Sean Larkin
How did you come across wine?
A good friend of mine owned a restaurant where Tom Colicchio worked and eventually I became their sommelier.
Did you admire any winemakers, who made
you want to become one yourself?
I first tasted the Pride wines and fell in love with their Cabernet Franc. Not long after I was introduced to Bob Foley (former winemaker at Pride family Vineyards) who helped me make my first three wines.
Which wines did you admire the most and want
to make yourself?
Pride Cabernet Franc
How do you see yourself, surrounded by all
these big millionaire companies?
As the poor man's Cheval Blanc.
What are you trying to accomplish with
I want to make full-bodied, full-flavour sublime wines.
Why is so little Cabernet Franc available?
Cabernet Franc was always used as a blending grape. Only lately are we seeing more of it. When I started in 1999, there were only a handful Cabernet Franc producers around.
Should California become cab franc
I don't think California will ever become Cabernet Franc country because big brother Cabernet Sauvignon has already claimed that title.
Do you like working by yourself?
After spending 25 years in the construction business (Sean Larkin Sheet Metal Inc.), being my own boss, it was hard to work for someone else.
Is it an advantage to have everything
under your own control or would it be better to work with a team?
I do have the final say but have respected the input and advice of many great winemakers, including Bruce Devlin who overlooks the production of Larkin Wines.
Will you ever have your own facility?
Maybe I will have my own tasting room in Yountville... Who knows!
Would you like to have your own vineyards and
have full control over vineyard management?
Vineyards? No, this way I can pick and choose the vineyards and always look for something better. And I get to decide when I pick the grapes.
How do you get the wineries to sell grapes
The amount of grapes I purchase from some of these wineries is so small. I guess they like what I do with them
Why do you have these different labels?
I first started with the Larkin label then started Jack Larkin 100% varietal wines when my son was born. The Tin Knocker wines were a tribute to my previous life in sheet metal and the Grand wines were my contribution to the ‘stimulus package'.