Chappellet has been described by many as one of the Grand Cru sites of the Napa Valley - an iconic Napa property, a "blue blood" Given the estate's nearly 150-year history, and the tenured track record of the Chappellets, the superlatives are understandable.
In the 1960s, owners Donn and Molly Chappellet took the advice of Napa legend, André Tchelistcheff, and purchased this excellent estate high in the eastern hills above Napa in an area known as Prichard Hill. Since then, they have continued to follow sound guidance, provided by a cast of winemakers that can only be described as all-time. Philip Togni, who made the 1969 Cabernet that Robert Parker called, "One of the greatest Cabernet Sauvignons I have ever tasted from the Valley" was at the helm from 1967-1974. Phil Cafaro, Tony Soter, and Cathy Corison all did turns as well, and Mia Klein, David Long, Robert Pepi, Chris Phelps, and Helen Turley have occupied various roles.
Current winemaker, Phillip Corallo-Titus, began here in 1981, took a short break, and then resumed his role in 1990. Dave Pirio, the vineyard manager, has been on board since 1983. To the Chappellets they are both "extended family." For Phillip, the close knit relationships and connections to the past are very important. Commenting on the early years, he noted, "I know how they made all those wines, and I know how we have made them since. That knowledge is irreplaceable and must be maintained so it can be passed on." Currently, a new generation of Chappellets are working in the wings, learning from the past to ensure continuity in the future.
And while history and tradition are both very important here, Chappellet has also led on many fronts, especially in the field of sustainability. Many environmentally sound practices were adopted here long before they became fashionable. These include composting, water conservation, and solar energy programs, as well as keeping bird boxes with barn owls, kestrels, hawks, and bluebirds to keep gophers, moles, and other pests in check. Biodiesel supplies 50% of their farm machinery, and all of the vines were CCOF-certified organic in 2012.
The entire property encompasses 640 acres on rolling hills at elevations between 800-1,800 feet. Of the 102 acres under vine, 65 are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon. The rest contain small blocks of Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. There is even some Chenin Blanc, which Molly Chappellet insists they keep as part of their heritage. Yields from the Sobrantes and Hambright soils are stubbornly low, totalling only two tons per acre in many years. While Phillip would love to see yields rise to 2.5-3 tons, he notes how much progress has been made in efficiency. "Farming used to be a bit more seat of the pants back in the day. Now we use many more metrics to observe, measure, and quantify what's happening in the vineyard. Dave and I are pretty much joined at the hip these days."
The winemaking facility was also recently renovated and expanded, a long overdue project given the five decades of wear and tear on a facility that was geared more towards the 5,000 cases that Donn and Molly originally envisioned producing rather than their current production. While there is still equipment from the 1960s, there are also new barrel rooms, tanks, tank rooms, fermenters, and a crush pad.
At Chappellet, tradition, ingenuity, and tireless collaboration culminate in beautiful, sturdy, classically styled Cabernets that reflect their origins in the Pritchard Hill environs. These wines are solid and structured, typically requiring a little time to come of age, especially for the top bottles, but well worth the wait. From the modest Mountain Cuvée to the Signature and Pritchard Hill Cabernets, there is something for everyone.