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Wine to me is passion. It's family and friends. It's warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It's culture. It's the essence of civilization and the art of living. - Robert Mondavi

Romance, Elegance, Nature at Chappellet

Friday, October 12, 2012
Romantic, rugged and whimsical, Chappellet Winery sits nestled at the top of Pritchard Hill where cell phones lose reception and you just. don’t. care. because the experience transports you to a different time.  A time where you can sit in a meadow atop a rugged mountain, sun pooling down in buttery speckles, overlooking what could be an alpine lake and rolling hills.  The only sounds are the hawks diving in the air around you, the rustling of pine tree canopy above you, and the clinking of wine glasses as you toast and enjoy the depth and complexity of the Chappellet Bordeaux blend.  This may seem like the reason why the Chappellet family fell in love with Pritchard Hill four decades ago when Donn and Molly Chappellet first glimpsed its magnificent vista of forests and wildflower-filled meadows, but there is more to the story than just beauty....

In 1954, Donn co-founded Interstate United Corporation, which distributed the first vending machine to make fresh coffee from grounds and became the third largest in the industry.  After 14 years of running the business, Donn’s passion for wine led him to move his family from Beverly Hills to Napa with a mission to create world-class wines in the style of great French Bordeax.  He consulted with BV’s head winemaker, André Tchelistcheff, to determine the best location to build his winery and settled on the rugged slopes of Pritchard Hill as the ideal location to grow grapes with it’s well-aerated, volcanic soil, struggling vines with a deeper tap roots pushing through more layers of sediment, smaller fruit with more complex mineral flavor components present and high elevation that escapes the frost. Chappellet became the first winery to plant vineyards exclusively on high-elevation hillsides, and this unique terroir has contributed to the intensity and depth of the wine. It achieves great concentration of fruit and finely integrated tannin while maintaining good acidity and balance making them extremely ageworthy wines sought after by collectors (they are still opening bottles from 1969!).

The Chappellet family hasn’t just embraced  the romance of Pritchard Hill but also work passionately to preserve the land.  The wines are made organically and the winery uses solar panels for energy.  This marriage of beauty, balance and harmony with nature also describes the architecture of the winery.  Molly Chappellet was docent at LA County Museum and recruited the contemporary artist, Ed Moses, to design the winery - a massive pyramid of douglass fir beams and rafters, built into the hilltop, (the Chappelet logo is derived from the bird's eye view of the roof). The building is almost completely integrated into the landscape and only appreciated fully from inside - which we regretably didn’t spend enough time in because our tasting was enjoyed al fresco in the “picnic grounds” aka a whimsical meadow overlooking Lake Hennessey with various art forms hanging from trees and peeking up out of the grass.

The wines themselves were as pleasing as the setting.  Pritchard Hill presents a spectrum of growing environments, and features a variety of elevations, exposures and soil types. The mountainside is farmed as 34 distinctive blocks—including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Chenin Blanc. Blending is a large component of Chappellet’s winemaking ethos and all of their wines are blends of varietals with the exception of their Chardonnay, the only  Chappellet wine that is produced with fruit grown in Carneros.  The wines are also aged in an assortment of oak barrels from various coopers and then blended together the way a chef uses a spice rack to experiment with flavor profiles.  Phillip Corallo-Titus is the winemaker behind Chappellet’s winemaking program for over 20 years and he individually ferments and ages lots from numerous vineyard blocks to maintain their distinctive character before blending them into perfect harmony. Chappellet wines are crafted to embody the terroir and the intensity of its mountain fruit that also bears great mineral and spice qualities. Recognized for their signature mix of grandeur, power and purity, these coveted bottlings are the result of a winemaking process that begins with the roots deep in the land and a belief in constantly working to enhance the quality and character of the fruit.

Great wines reflect the complexity and character of great vineyards, and the vision of those who farm them. The Chappellet’s have been successful in selecting one of Napa’s most recognized mountain sites for growing Bordeaux varietals, producing great fruit, crafting exciting and ageworthy wines and giving back to the land. I couldn’t imagine a better place to spend an afternoon enjoying nature than at Chappellet with a glass of their signature cuvee overlooking the sweeping views next to my loved ones.  This winery is a must-visit destination for anyone visiting Napa for the first time, wine collectors, or a romantic gesture.

Tasting Notes From Chappellet Media Kit Below:

2010 Chardonnay:
The nose is brimming with floral and tropical notes including ripe pineapple, guava and lemon zest. Hints of brown sugar and nutmeg spice from the barrel aging add complexity to the fruit. On the palate, this wine is toned and vibrant, with flavors of tropical fruit, alongside layers of quince and nectarine. French oak and creaminess from the malolactic fermentation contribute nuances of vanilla bean and crème brulée, with crisp acidity adding structure and length throughout.

2009 Malbec:
Our 2009 Malbec has beautiful aromas of cherry, pomegranate and plum.
These pure, vibrant fruit notes are underscored by abundant sweet oak and spice, as well as layers of cola and dark chocolate. The lush red fruit continues on the palate, where a silky texture makes this wine a joyous mouthful of berries, cherries and spice. Balanced acidity and elegant tannins add harmony and varietal uniqueness

2009 Domm Cabernet:
The depth and complexity that mark the spectacular 2009 growing season are fully on display in this wine, with head-turning aromatics of black currant, cherry, plum and violet leaping out of the glass before revealing subtler notes of cinnamon, clove, espresso, cocoa and anise. On the palate, the tannins are large, yet velvety, supporting voluptuous layers of  blackberry, Bing cherry, cassis and baking spices. Oak-inspired notes of caramelized brown sugar and molasses add additional nuance, while leading to a plush, lingering finish.

2009 Pritchard Hill Cabernet:
With a remarkable level of concentration and complexity, this wine represents the very best from an exceptional vintage on Pritchard Hill. From its dark, incredibly saturated color to its intense aromas of baked blackberry, dark cherry, crème de cassis, plum and anise this wine is layered, rich and sophisticated. On the palate, notes of espresso, dark chocolate and toasted oak, support beauti- ful ripe fruit and spice flavors, with seamless, mouthcoating tannins adding power and longevity. Despite its epic nature, there is also a liveliness and radiance to this wine that gives it poise, precision and balance.

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