Cyril Chappellet of Chappellet Vineyard and Winery was in town last week before heading to Naples for the exclusive winter wine festival, and I was most fortunate to have dinner with him and taste through some of Chappellet’s latest releases. Listening to the story of how Chappellet Vineyard came to be first hand makes the wines all the more appealing and exciting. I’ve always believed that when you get to know the person or persons behind a product you already enjoy, learning more cherished details of its history increases the esteem in which you hold it. For me, after breaking bread with Cyril Chappellet, the Chappellet story follows suit to that statement exactly.
The Chappellet family wine story is one of resilience and staying power. Since 1967 Chappellet has been making extraordinary wine. Donn and Molly Chappellet, Cyril’s parents were the first generation of vintners in the late 60’s, early 70’s to build a winery in Napa Valley. Donn and Molly are known and respected as steep slope viticulture pioneers in Pritchard Hill, which is covertly said to be Napa’s best known terroir….that you don’t know. Pritchard Hill is not an AVA, (American Viticultural Area), but rather just a Napa Valley appellation. This adds to the allure of Pritchard Hill. Pritchard Hill’s rugged terroir and elevation has become renowned for producing wines with great intensity and depth, qualities that define the world’s finest Cabernet Sauvignons. Hillside viticulture gives Pritchard Hill wines its intensity, its elevation ranges from 700-2000 feet above sea level putting it above the fog line, which means more sunlight, resulting in sunny ripeness that ultimately produces soft, round, smooth wines with higher alcohol levels.
Chappellet produces Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Petite Sirah. Chappellet was one of the first Napa Valley wineries to plant cover crops and adopt no-till farming practices; the entire vineyard is farmed organically and was certified organic by California Certified Organic Farmers in 2012. Chappellet installed a grey water reclimation plant on property that takes water from the winery and treats it to be used for irrigation as well as an onsite grape pomace (pulp matter) composting program, producing approximately 400,000 pounds of compost each year. Chappellet’s vineyard equipment runs on 50 percent biodiesel. Since 1967, the Chappellets have been dedicated stewards of Pritchard Hill and have maintained the natural integrity of Pritchard Hill, only 16 percent of the property is under vine, the rest remains uncultivated.
Reading wine descriptors is amusing and comical at times. They are difficult to understand know matter how serious or silly because if you’re not a wine drinker per se, or are a novice to the wine world it all seems rather moot. Understanding a fraction of Pritchard Hill and all that is offers to a winemaker, the well written tasting notes from Chappellet express their wines very well. I did not want to re-interpret their tasting notes as they actually express the wine very well, however I did add my own translation at the end of the notes for a more concise understanding.
2013 Chappellet Signature Chenin Blanc, Napa Valley ($32)
Elegant and lively, this mountain-grown Chenin Blanc displays a complex and alluring nose of lychee, orange blossom, peach, apricot, lemongrass and white pepper. On the palate, excellent acidity adds precision to vibrant notes of fresh citrus and minerality that carry though to a crisp, focused finish. SFFW: If you enjoy a crisp, dry acidic wine this will be very enjoyable for you, a refreshing summer wine
2013 Chappellet Chardonnay, Napa Valley ($35)
With lovely ripeness as well as fresh, lively acidity, this Chardonnay shows the exceptional quality of the 2013 vintage. Enticing fruit layers of Meyer lemon, apple, pineapple and nectarine rise from the glass, underscored by hints of nutmeg, butter, cinnamon and orange blossom. On the palate, zesty avors of orange and Key lime are complemented by rich oak-inspired notes of vanilla, crème fraîche, caramel and brioche that carry through to a long, satisfying nish. SFFW: Classic, style California Chardonnay, big, warm, and oaky with layers of intensity and expression. If you like what is now, old-school California Chardonnay, you will enjoy this wine.
2012 Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($52)
The phenomenal 2012 growing season has yielded a head-turning wine with gorgeous aromas of ripe berry and cherry, as well as layered notes of cola, cedar and fresh herbs. As it evolves, additional hints of plum, anise and sage are revealed adding nuance and complexity. On the palate, this wine is lush and supple, with round tannins and powerful mountain-grown flavors of juicy, sun-ripened blackberry, dark cherry, roasted coffee and dark chocolate. SFFW: Similar to its classic sister wine, 2013 Chappellet Chardonnay, Napa Valley, this Cabernet Sauvignon is classic California, big and bright with the ideal balance of fruit and spice. This wine is a perfect alone wine, no food needed. This wine is the Chappellet flagship wine.
Chappellet owns Sonoma-Loeb. Phillip Corallo-Titus, is the winemaker for Chappellet and Sonoma-Loeb.
2013 Sonoma-Loeb Chardonnay Envoy, Carneros, Sonoma County ($38)
Voluptuous, concentrated and complex, this alluring wine offers aromas of guava, orange peel, nectarine, melted butter and lemon curd, with hints of sweet oak and baking spices underscoring the fruit. On the palate, layers of apricot, melon and quince are accompanied by notes of crème fraîche, piecrust and hazelnut. While the flavors are rich and opulent, this vibrant wine’s cool-climate roots have contributed to its lovely poise, balance and long, intense finish. SFFW: Very different style from the Napa Chardonnay, this Sonoma Chardonnay is vibrant, young and playful, yet serious and meaningful. Inspiring wine, millennial wine, wine that bridges the gap between youth and maturity.
2013 Sonoma-Loeb Pinot Noir, Dutton Ranch, Russian River Valley ($39)
Showcasing what can be achieved from a great vineyard in a near-perfect vintage, this wine offers remarkable depth and concentration, with alluring black cherry and raspberry aromas, as well as layers of chocolate, smoke and spice. On the palate, it is rich and velvety, with lush, mouthfilling berry flavors, silky tannins, complex spice and hints of sweet oak, espresso and vanilla. SFFW: If you love California Pinot Noir, this is the whole package; cherries, chocolate, spice, and oak.
Chappellet Winery 1581 Sage Canyon Road, St. Helena, CA 94574
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