Chappellet Winery is located on the slopes of Pritchard Hill, which is Napa’s best known terroir to not yet be designated with its own sub appellation. Chappellet owns the trademark rights to Pritchard Hill – otherwise perhaps by now the region would be another one of the Napa Valley’s official sub AVAs. Nearby neighbors include two of Napa’s generally recognized seven cult wineries, Bryant Family and Colgin Estate.
Chappellet Winery is one of the older family owned wineries in Napa Valley. During the early part of our project, their name came up in conversation more than a few times during our visits to other Napa wineries. Chappellet was the first of the “late 60’s and early 70’s” generation of wineries to be built in Napa Valley. There was a rather substantial period of time prior to when Chappellet was founded in which very few wineries were built in the Napa Valley (it was decades after prohibition before Napa really started seeing a boom in new wineries and producers).
The winery was founded in 1967 by Donn and Molly Chappellet, a couple from Beverly Hills who wanted to raise their family in a more rural setting. In 1954 Donn co-founded the very successful Interstate United Corporation – a food service company that enjoyed remarkable growth by distributing the first vending machine that made fresh coffee from coffee grounds. Donn collected French wines prior to his move north but was already familiar with some of the old Napa standbys at that time including Inglenook and Charles Krug.
They raised six children and remarkably all six are involved in the winery operations in some capacity. They moved here before Napa Valley was well-known and had a bit of foresight, timing and perhaps a touch of luck as their property has been proven over the decades to be optimum for growing Bordeaux varietals. The popularity of Pritchard Hill is clearly evident when you visit; simply look at all the winery signs and or vineyards who are now neighbors of Chappellet.
Their vineyards range in elevation from about 800 to 1800 feet and approximately 110 acres are planted to vines. There are pleasing views from parts of the property looking down on Lake Hennessy in the distance. The vineyards produce high quality grapes but also produce plenty of rocks. Every time they have to replant they pull out what turn into large piles of these rust colored rocks. A diversity of vines are planted here – most common are the Bordeaux red varietals but surprisingly (for Pritchard Hill) they also grow Chenin Blanc. The vines are all farmed organically.
The actual winery is at the end of a very small narrow winding road off of the main Sage Canyon Road – when you reserve your tour, have the winery email directions to you as online maps generally do not show their driveway or exact location.
Take a look at their logo – can you guess how it was formed? Do a fly over of the winery (or simply view the provided aerial photo at the winery) and you will see that the winery building is a series of three triangles put together just like their logo. When you walk up to the winery entrance through the local native vegetation the building looks very small. However, once you are in the barrel room you can see how large this winery actually is. It is a testament to the designers that they were able to blend the winery into the natural setting.
The tour and tastings are offered at set times each day by appointment only. A typical tour involves tasting as you walk through the actual winery facilities. Weather permitting, you will also take a quick educational visit to the actual vineyards next to the main winery building. There are many bottles of wine on display in their barrel room (vertical vintages).
Chenin Blanc was their original focus; they continue to produce it today from three planted acres on site. This is a varietal you rarely see in Napa anymore.
We originally visited during a bottling session; it is amazing to see how fast their wine is bottled, corked and labeled. Chappellet produces excellent wines and for a Pritchard Hill producer, their wines are available at fairly reasonable price points.
Their signature wine is the Pritchard Hill Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. It is what you expect of a premium hand crafted Napa Valley Cabernet; it is very velvety in the mouth, has great fruit with again a lengthy finish.
The 2014 Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon (76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, 6% Malbec, 5% Cabernet Franc, 4% Merlot) is well layered aromatically; as it opens it shows a dusty smoky note almost coffee like nuances to the bouquet. Plenty of fruit shows as well including blackberry and boysenberry. Packed with flavor and long lasting tannins. The boldness of the ripe flavor profile holds up well to the grippy tannins which linger for quite some time.
Winemaker Phillip Corallo-Titus has been with them since 1990. That means a lot in this industry where often it seems that winemakers move from winery to winery every few years. Philip’s wife Laura is an artist and sometimes her works are on display in their barrel room. Laura is not the only artist here – the Chappellets are very creative (authors, photographers, sculpture and various other art mediums). Daughter Carissa creates a unique colorful dragon on the label of every vintage of their Malbec and also wrote a book called The Dragons of Pritchard Hill.
Chappellet Grower Collection, Sonoma
The Chappellet Family of Wines also owns Sonoma-Loeb in neighboring Sonoma County and in 2016 opened the Sonoma-Loeb tasting room just off the square in the town of Sonoma (at the end of what is called Vine Alley). In October 2017, Chappellet converted over this existing tasting room to the Chappellet Grower Collection space. Tastings are held at their bar, sit down inside the main room, a private side room hosts small groups and weather permitting a number of tables are wrapped around part of the building.
Tastings focus on Sonoma County wines from premium vineyard sites in select parts of the county including Dutton Ranch and the nearby Sangiacamo Vineyard. Unlike most tasting rooms over in the Napa Valley where Cabernet Sauvignon is often the showcase varietal, wines poured here are lighter style including several whites and Pinot Noir.
The 2017 Chappellet Grower Collection Sangiacomo Chardonnay is straw yellow in the glass showing both floral notes (citrus blossom) as well as lemon zest and a hint of creme brule as the wine continues to breath. Layered and vibrant at the same time this is a very well-balanced wine – with flavors of lemon, lime and a lingering tangerine nuance. Great acidity. Dances across the palate.
The 2013 Chappellet Grower Collection Napa Valley Zinfandel (the only Napa Valley wine showing in the tasting room at the time of our visit) was sourced from the end of Wall Road in Mt. Veeder – from the Bald Mountain Vineyard (45+ year old vines). Dark ruby red in the glass the bouquet offers generous aromas of spicy plum, blackberry and dried herbs. Supple on the entry, shows good acidity on the palate with a lingering mouth watering juiciness complemented by a lively well integrated tannins.
Total production of the Chappellet wines is approximately 45,000 cases each year – using both their estate fruit as well as fruit they source from other vineyards (IE, their Napa Valley Chardonnay or Napa Valley Zinfandel). Chappellet celebrated a milestone in 2017, their 50th anniversary.
For more information, and or to join their mailing list or become a wine club member, visit: www.chappellet.com
Winery & Grounds
Chappellet Grower Collection, Sonoma