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Posted August 2006

Chappellet Winery

By Thom Elkjer

Donn and Molly Chappellet came to their manzanita-covered hillside on Pritchard Hill almost 40 years ago, with five small children and a dream of being vintners. Their timing was perfect: Robert Mondavi Winery was a year old and Mondavi himself was about to put Napa on the world wine map. Over the years, Chappellet has become one of the elegant aristocrats of Napa wine: not the biggest, not the priciest, not the splashiest. Just one of the most satisfying and distinctive of Napa’s long-time producers, with an identity all its own.

For example, Chappellet still produces a varietal Chenin Blanc – decades after that once-ubiquitous grape was eclipsed by Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. There are always new wrinkles however, and one of the latest developments is particularly welcome for wine fans: the tasting room is finally open on Saturdays along with weekdays (by appointment:, 1-800-4-WINERY). When you visit, look for these examples:

Chappellet wine

Chappellet Chardonnay Napa Valley “Signature” 2004 ($35): Succulent Napa Chardonnay with abundant apple, pear, quince and honey flavors. Barrel fermentation makes it rich and viscous even as stays clean and refreshing, and the wine lifts off into an endless aftertaste marked by darker applesauce tones. Well poised between old-school Chard and the new wave Big Chards coming out of Napa today.

Chappellet wine

Chappellet Merlot Napa Valley 2003 ($30): Earlier this year I opened the 2001 Chappellet Merlot and had a table full of wine snobs cooing with delight. The current release should produce the same result in a couple of years: it’s polished and elegant yet the blackberry and black plum flavors are also rich in dark earth tones, coffee and chocolate, and even some edgy minerality. If you drink it now, decant for a couple of hours beforehand.

Chappellet wine

Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley “Signature” 2003 ($44): Great example of the Chappellet style in this sweet, dark-flavored beauty with lovely shape and generous flow through your mouth. A self-contained, sinuous experience to sip or swallow. Has some vigor and youthfulness to it, which can be traced to younger vines. Even at $44, this is a good value in Napa Cab.

Chappellet wine

Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Pritchard Hill Estate Vineyard 2003 $(NA): This is Bordeaux Blend not as marketing concept but as exceptional vineyard expression – the wine is from the home vineyard and includes Petite Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. You can almost feel the four grapes meshing their red and black flavors, their savory and spice notes, and their rich dark bass tones. The wine is still packed pretty tight with flavor and tooth-coating tannins, so it would be best to hold it until 2013 or beyond, or decant well before current drinking.


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