For five decades, the Chappellet family has been crafting world-class wines from the steep, rocky slopes of Napa Valley’s renowned Pritchard Hill. As one of the first wineries to pioneer high-elevation hillside planting, and one of the few remaining great family-owned Napa Valley wineries, Chappellet Vineyard has influenced generations of vintners and is known as one of the top producers of Cabernet Sauvignon.
I had the chance to talk with Cyril Chappellet, the Chairman of the Board of Chappellet Vineyards, and he talked about how his parents set the tone of the winery and its mission. His father, Donn Chappellet, who was instrumental in pioneering high-elevation vineyard planting, he describes as an introvert. Prior to the winery, Donn co-founded Interstate United Corporation, a food service business that distributed the first vending machines to make coffee from grounds, and became a publicly-traded company. Donn first traveled to Napa with his wife, Molly, from Los Angeles and decided to start a new life there with the winery as the center of the family business.
He described his mother, Molly, as the extrovert – an artist, a published author, a mom of six and the aesthetic “czarina” of all things Pritchard Hill, the site of the winery. From his description, she moves 1,000 miles a minute, knows every inch of vineyard topography and is currently masterminding several projects including writing the book for the winery’s 50-year anniversary, which debuts in 2017.
They chose Pritchard Hill where they fell in love with the view and had the notion that the God Bacchus would be generous to the hills. This was further validated by Andre Tchelistcheff, one of the valley’s early wine pioneers. The love affair with Cabernet Sauvignon was born, which led to the second generation of family members dedicated to growing the best grapes, sustaining the land and continuing the legacy started by their parents. I was also struck by the extended family of long-time employees, Winemaker Phillip Carallo-Titus and Vineyard Manager Dave Pirio, who have solid relationships with growers in the business and have secured legendary grapes from some of the best names in the industry based on those relationships.
In fact, Phillip was instrumental in Cyril’s decision to acquire Sonoma-Loeb. In 1973, Ambassador John Loeb Jr began growing grapes and hired Titus to make the wines. After two centuries, the Ambassador approached the Chappellet family and they jumped at the opportunity to buy the property thanks to Titus’ amazing work with some of Sonoma county’s top growers including the Dutton and Sangiacomo families.
I want to comment on the unique view of collaboration within Chappellet and how forward thinking it is. Cyril told me about how a close-knit group of winemakers work together to double blind taste wines that can cost three times the price of the Chappellet wines. Cyril believes that understanding the nuances of the regions, wines, terroir and flavor profile makes their wines better.
When I had a chance to tour the estate with a group of friends, Joshua Arroyo, was our fabulous host and easily kept up with the group’s sarcasm and spirit of fun.
We started out with a tour of the new hospitality areas and the original winemaking facility that started producing wine in 1969. Joshua told us how he had been with the Chappellet family for the last two years (72 hours after he unpacked his moving truck to be exact) after falling in love with wine.
We began with a 2015 Molly’s Chenin Blanc, which showcased Molly Chappellet’s sense of style with the super unique bottle. Chappellet is one of four producers in the area that still make Chenin Blanc and it was delicious with a pretty floral nose and crisp minerality.
We toured the barn where it was fun to see the handprints of the six Chappellet children who are now adults and work with the winery. Cyril and Carissa Chappellet oversee the day-to-day operations of the winery and Jon-Mark, Dominic, Lygia and Alexa Chappellet serve on the board. Today there are nine grandchildren who play in the vineyards, just like their parents did.
As we walked through the property, from the solar panels to the organic farming methods used, it was evident that this is a family who believes and cultivates in the land. We laughed, we walked the grounds, we took pictures (thanks Joshua for making the photos at this site so much better than usual), we tasted wine in their amazing facility and we even visited the gorgeous picnic grounds on our way out.
Recently a marketing consultant gave the winery the sage advice that they are charging too little. Cyril didn’t jump to raise prices. He talked about over delivering on quality and the legacy that he wants to leave to the next generation – turn over a better business; and the coolest thing, turn over the land in better shape than he found it meaning sustainability, farming and improving the quality of the vineyard operation. And of course, the wines – they need to continue to be worthy of the Chappellet legacy.
How Is the Wine
And the wines – oh the wines – other than the Chenin Blanc, we tasted the 2013 Signature Chardonnay, the 2012 Napa Valley Las Piedras, the 2013 Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch, the 2008 Signature Cabernet and the 2009 Signature Cabernet. I am certain that I ordered everything we tried. Most importantly, we experienced what it felt like to be a part of Chappellet’s extended family.
I’m also going to give my tasting notes for the wines that I tried with Cyril when he visited Dallas since I took better notes in Dallas.
- 2013 Signature Chenin Blanc – Cyril referred to this as “mom’s wine.” It includes her signature, label and bottle choice. It was very crisp and delicious – with notes of peach, orange blossom, lemongrass, floral notes and minerality.
- 2013 Chappellet Napa Valley Chardonnay — sourced by grapes outside of the family vineyard, this Old-World style wine had notes of lemon, tropical fruits with spice, caramel and orange blossom. This was a great Chardonnay.
- 2013 Sonoma-Loeb Envoy Chardonnay – this was more of a traditional California chardonnay with butterscotch, nectarine, almond and cinnamon.
- 2013 Sonoma-Loeb Russian River Pinot Noir – this was an awesome iteration of a Russian River Valley Pinot at a fraction of the price – especially for the quality of the block where it originates. It had notes of black cherry, earth, chocolate and spice.
- 2013 Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon – this is the flagship wine and the wine that put the family on the map showing the beautiful fruit and bounty for the Hillside vineyards. This was a fantastic, elegant and a wine made for aging, yet drinkable today. Big notes of chocolate, cassis, spice, mocha, spice, blackberry and sandalwood. The quality and price ratio of as this wine as compared to those sold for three times the cost on the same hill is amazing.
It’s all about hospitality. From the jackets our group was provided in the cellar and outside so we wouldn’t freeze (what a great idea) to the pictures that Josh took of our group and for my blog (he’s such a better photographer than me), we immediately felt part of the Chappellet extended family.
Pricing and Availability
The wines that are available for purchase (note many of these are hard to get and highly allocated) range from $35 to $68. All tastings are by prior appointment only. Hours are Monday to Sunday, 10 am – 4 pm.
Enjoy a tasting in the winery barrel room of five of current release selections.
60 minutes. Price: $40.00 per person.
Estate Tour & Tasting
Begin with a glass of one of Chappellet’s Signature white wines in the winery followed by a walk through the Pritchard Hill vineyards with stunning vistas of Napa Valley’s Lake Hennessey. Conclude with a tasting of current release selections in the barrel room.
90 minutes. Price: $50.00 per person.
Private Estate Tour and Tasting
Enjoy an unforgettable private tour of the Chappellet winery and Pritchard Hill vineyards followed by a tasting of five current release selections.
90 minutes. Price: $75.00 per person.
Signature Tasting and Estate Tour
An estate host takes you for a private tour of the Chappellet winery and vineyards followed by a tasting of Chappellet’s Signature series wines, including the acclaimed Signature Cabernet Sauvignon.
90 minutes. Price: $95.00 per person.
1581 Sage Canyon Rd,
St Helena, CA 94574
Two wine clubs are available – All Wines and Red Wines Only. The All Wines Selection is a commitment to 4 shipments of 13 total bottles per year (yes 13). The Red Wine Selection is a commitment to 4 shipments of 10 total bottles per year.
Both clubs receive access to limited production wines and the following benefits:
Preferred Wine Pricing: 15% savings on wine purchases for non-allocated current release wines and 20% savings on reorders within one month of shipments.
Library Vintages and Large Format Wines: Seasonally, select library wines and large format bottles are offered to club members.
Complimentary Visits to Chappellet: After the first wine club shipment, six complimentary tastings per visit are available for use towards our Cellar Tasting or Estate Tour and Tasting. Advanced reservations are required, subject to availability.
Send Your Friends: Members are welcome to arrange a complimentary Cellar Tasting or Estate Tour and Tasting for friends or family for up to four guests. Advanced reservations are required, subject to availability.
Invitation to Exclusive Events: Chappellet family members host events both on ‘The Hill’ and across the country throughout the year.
Preferred Pricing: Preferred pricing and special offers from some of the Valley’s most exclusive hotels, resorts and inns.
Sonoma-Loeb: Enjoy high-quality, limited-production Sonoma County wines at our Sonoma-Loeb tasting room located just off the Sonoma Plaza. Chappellet member benefits apply.