Located up on Pritchard Hill in a part of Napa Valley that’s far enough from the hustle and bustle that it seems like another world, Chappellet has been producing excellent wine since its founding 50 years ago. As long as I’ve been aware of Napa Valley and its wine culture, I’ve enjoyed what Chappellet has to offer, but it wasn’t until a recent trip to Napa that I made the time to go see the place and taste the wines on site.
Once I arrived at their property, it seemed as if I were hours removed from the traffic that keeps Highway 29 at a crawl on weekend afternoons. In reality, I was just a handful of miles away. The estate is stunning. The winery facility was ahead of its time when constructed and fits in as part of the landscape in a manner that most built at that time simply don’t. My party was greeted by Dominic Chappellet, son of founders Donn and Molly Chappellet. We toured the winery facility, rode around the property, and finally settled in the barrel room to taste a selection of current releases and some older bottles too.
The hospitality offered at Chappellet is infectious; each member of their team I encountered was helpful and naturally gregarious. Over a couple of hours, they shared information about their personal history, Napa in general, and the wine world at large. Every question we asked turned into an engaging and convivial back and forth.
No matter how many wineries I visit, the value of tasting wine in the place it’s made is driven home anew each time. There’s simply no substitute for an estate visit when you want to glean a greater understanding of a winery, especially one with a rich history like Chappellet's. Fifty years is a considerable amount of time in any business. When you consider how small the Napa wine Industry was back in 1967, you’ll appreciate how important a part Chappellet played in earning the region its reputation.
Every offering I tasted at Chappellet well represents the winery's history, as well as the part of Napa the fruit is from. Here’s a peek at my current favorites from the experience:
Chappellet Winery 2015 Chenin Blanc ($32)
Only a few American wineries make a serious stab at chenin blanc. Most that do make one vinify it as fun picnic wine. Lighthearted, drinkable wines make the world go round — but it’s nice to see a winery aim higher too. Lychee fruit and fresh apricot aromas are evident on the nose. The palate is studded with stone fruit and spice, and there's depth to spare. Minerals, spice, and continued intense stone fruit characteristics are in play on the finish. What shines most here is the texture and weighty mouthfeel.
Chappellet Winery 2013 Signature Chardonnay ($45)
Pineapple, toast, and vanilla notes burst from the nose. A parade of orchard fruits, spice, and bits of yeasty crust are evident on the palate. The long finish shows off spice, caramel, and citrus rind. There’s a terrific balance here between fruit and acid that is complemented by the noticeable but non-obtrusive oak.
Chappellet Winery 2014 Merlot ($45)
Oodles of black cherry and earth aromas inform the welcoming nose. Red and black fruit, with cherries in abundance, dominate the palate alongside spice and wisps of dusty dark chocolate. Earth, chicory, and hints of espresso are all evident on the long, firm finish. Racy acid and supple tannins provide terrific structure. This is an impressive and age-worthy example of merlot.
Chappellet Winery 2014 Signature Cabernet Sauvignon ($65)
Black raspberry and cherry aromas are buttressed by bits of black peppercorn, and all three come together to form an intriguing aromatic profile. Red berry fruits interspersed with bits of black fruit continue through the deep, sinewy palate. Dusty cocoa and dried black cherry notes are evident on the long, pleasing finish. Firm tannins and acid provide excellent structure.
Chappellet Winery 2013 Cabernet Franc ($80)
Copious leather and Bing cherry aromas nearly explode from the nose here. The palate is studded with a procession of red and black cherry flavors that are accompanied by spice, earth, and bits of minerals. Dark, dusty chocolate, chicory, and white pepper are all evident on the long finish.
Chappellet Winery Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (N/A)
This is Chappellet's flagship wine. The current vintage is 2014, but this older version, at nearly nine years of age, is still coming to its own. It’s quite delicious, but has decades of age-worthiness ahead of it. Black cherry and raspberry aromas inform the nose alongside hints of toasty oak. The palate brings to mind earth-covered cherries tinged with black pepper. The impossibly long finish shows off baker’s chocolate, chicory, espresso, and bits of red earth. There are many examples of great cabernet sauvignon in Napa Valley, but only a handful truly distinguish themselves as far above the majority; this is one of those.
Next time you’re in Napa, I suggest that you put Chappellet on your short list of must-visit producers. Call ahead for an appointment. You’ll be glad you did.