Donn Chappellet, the founder of Chappellet Vineyards in Pritchard Hill in the Napa Valley, has died at the age of 84, after a long illness.
A Los Angeles native, Chappellet cofounded the Interstate United Corporation in 1954, the first business in the U.S. to distribute vending machines that could make fresh coffee from the grounds. The business was extremely successful, but Chappellet grew disinterested and eventually sold his shares in the company. In 1966, he and his wife moved to Napa to indulge in wine, his true passion.
With the goal of producing California wines that could compete against French Bordeaux, Chappellet purchased land in rugged Pritchard Hill, opening the area’s first winery. Those 320 hillside acres became home to the second-ever winery in all of Napa since Prohibition, one year after the opening of Robert Mondavi Winery.
Three years later, the winery introduced its first vintage, the 1969 Chappellet Napa Valley Cabernet. Robert Parker, the renowned American wine critic, described this vintage as “one of the most compelling, riveting, world-class Cabernet Sauvignons ever made in California.” Over the years, Chappellet Vineyards became known for producing some of the world’s best cabernets, and the terroir of Pritchard Hill became highly sought-after by vintners that followed.
Today, Chappellet Vineyards is a thriving family business that involves all six of Chappellet’s children, with his son, Cyril Chappellet, as chairman.
“Dad was the kindest, most thoughtful person,” Cyril Chappellet said in a statement. “He was our rock, our mentor, and an inspiration, not just to our entire family, but to so many others as well. He was also humble beyond belief. Despite everything he accomplished, he never took the credit. He always preferred to give others the stage. Along with my mom, my dad created the foundation that our family has been building on for the past 50 years. He believed that the best was still yet to come for Chappellet. Now it is our turn to honor that dream, and his wonderful legacy.”