One of the Great Pioneers in Napa Valley

Chappellet vineyard view from boulder garden.

Prohibition shut down the California wine industry except for a paucity of wineries that remained open producing sacramental wines, which were allowed.  Not being a wine-drinking nation at the end of Prohibition, 1933, it was not until 1966 that Robert Mondavi opened the first new winery in Napa Valley.

Donn Chappellet, a successful Los Angeles businessman, along with his wife Molly and five children with one on the way, moved to Napa Valley and opened the second new winery in 1967. It was so far off the beaten path at that time people thought he was crazy. About 20 miles east of Rutherford on dirt roads and half way up what used to be a volcano, he purchased and trademarked Pritchard Hill, where today the family owns about 400 acres with 100 acres in vineyards. Pritchard Hill is now one of the most famous vineyard-designated wine locations in the world for the production of Cabernet Sauvignon with world-class neighbors, such as Colgin and Continuum, attesting to that fact.

Chappellet exterior.
Photo by Molly Chappellet.

When I first visited Napa Valley in the early 70s, I remember that among the best Cabernets to buy for cellaring were Mayacamas in the western mountain range and Chappellet in the eastern mountain range. Fast-forward to 1990 when Phillip Corallo-Titus became winemaker, the tide began to turn slowly towards more ripe fruit and tender tannins, so that today, the wines still have fabulous aging ability but are imminently drinkable at release.

Once you’ve seen the pyramid winery with the red roof, you won’t forget it.  Because of too many sloping ceilings and increased need for storage, the family, now run by the eldest son Cyril, recently opened a 20,000 square-foot cellar next to the winery, which has perfect humidity and a constant 53 degree temperature.  Corallo-Titus said, “The difference in what we can do here than in the pyramid is just staggering.”

While the late Donn Chappellet was a Renaissance man and visionary with a strong work ethic, his wife Molly was and is the glue that helped mold this incredible family and successful winery together.  Along with Molly, all six children are shareholders and board members, and all seem to continue with the same vision, giving little notice that there could be a possible sale in the hundreds of millions to a Constellation Brands, Gallo, Diageo or a private equity firm.

In the past, Chappellet added the Sonoma-Loeb wines to its stable (wines are made by Corallo-Titus), and in 2017, after focusing on mountain-grown wines from Napa Valley, the Chappellet family engendered the first vintage of the Chappellet Grower Collection, a collection of highest-quality, small-production wines emphasizing cool-climate Sonoma County Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

“While our Grower Collection wines have their own unique varietal and appellation focus, they share the same vineyard-driven philosophy that has been at the core of Chappellet’s success for more than half a century,” said Chairman Cyril Chappellet.

It is atypical of me to include scores, but since every one of these wines has received a 91 or above, I’m including the highest score I’ve found for each, as well as the retail price at the winery.

Sonoma-Loeb Envoy Chardonnay 2017—91 Points.  $38

Sonoma-Loeb Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2016—92 Points. $35

Chappellet Signature Chenin Blanc—93 Points.  $38

Chappellet Chardonnay Grower Collection Calesa Vineyard 2017—92 Points.  $45

Chappellet Pinot Noir Grower Collection Dutton Ranch Vineyard 2017—92 Points.  $60

Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2016—96+ Points.  $65

Chappellet Cabernet Franc 2016—97 Points.  $85

Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon Pritchard Hill 2015—100 Points.  $235