Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Chappellet Winery

Chappellet Winery is a beautiful winery with some wonderful wines and we simply loved our visit there.  It places at or near the top of many lists (including ours) as an all time favorite winery that one must visit, and it is certainly a very picturesque and special place. Although Chappellet Winery has been around for many years (and I've been tasting at Napa Valley wineries since around 1973), this is the first visit I made.  They are famous for their 1969 Cabernet Sauvignon, which was the second year they produced Cab, and have also been well known for their Chardonnay and dry Chenin Blanc.  The winery was founded in 1967 by Donn and Molly Chappellet and is located up on Pritchard Hill, east of Rutherford near Lake Hennessey and the famous cult winery Bryant Family.  An appointment is necessary as are directions ,but both are easily obtained over the Internet or by phone.

The drive up to Chappellet is lovely as you take Sage Canyon Road to Lake Hennessey and then follow a narrow drive a mile and a half up through a forested area.  A short walking path leads from the parking area up the hill to the winery.  The winery itself is beautiful, an older 1960s design that still seems contemporary.  Be sure to bring your camera. 

Our host, Jessica, was wonderful, very courteous, professional and enthusiastic.  Our tasting began with the Chappellet 2010 Signature Chenin Blanc at $30.  Yes, Chenin Blanc, that often sickly sweet and bland wine that use to be popular in the 1970s and was considered a step up from white jug wine. Many years ago, Souverain made a pleasant Chenin Blanc, but hardly anybody took the varietal seriously.  Chappellet makes a serious Chenin Blanc.  With a nice nose, not too much sweetness, and very good balance, this is a wine that almost anybody would like but that has enough complexity to appeal to serious wine drinkers.  I’m still not a convert to the varietal, but this Chenin Blanc is very good and the finest California Chenin Blanc I can recall tasting.  My friend bought a bottle.

Next, we tried the Chappellet 2010 Napa Valley Chardonnay ($32).  I usually prefer Chardonnays without malolactic conversion or MLF because I like to taste the varietal characteristics and complexity which are often lost from MLF or else from over oaking.  This one has 30% MLF and 30% new oak.  The lactic acid and oak were applied with restraint and did not distract from the Chardonnay varietal characteristics.  It had a very pronounced aroma of tropical fruits, with good well-balanced acid.  We both thought it was very nice, and I purchased a bottle to explore it further.

We were shown a bottle of the 1969 Cab which was for sale in very limited quantities for $3,000, but, of course, this was not available for tasting. The red wine tasting began with their flagship Chappellet 2009 Signature Cabernet Sauvignon ($49),  The 2009 was 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Malbec, 9% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot and was very nice.  Mostly blackberry on the palate it  had great structure and complexity.  Although it is extremely drinkable now, it will improve with age. This is one of the best Napa Valley Cabernets, is a bargain at only $49 and was an essential purchase.

I noticed they made a Cabernet Franc and commented on how much I liked the Titus Cab Franc.  Much to my surprise, Mr. Titus is involved with making theirs so I had to try it.  The Chappellet 2009 Cabernet Franc is $65 and is one of the finest Napa Valley Cab Francs I’ve tasted.  If you like Cab Francs, you need to try the Chappellet.  Cab Francs are usually used in Bordeaux style blends but can sometimes make wonderful wines on their own.  This is one of three of my favorite Napa Cab Francs, possibly my favorite of all.

Our final tasting was of the Chappellet 2009 Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon, a limited production blend of their finest grapes ($135).  It is 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Petit Verdot and 10% Malbec. This very ripe Cab still has complexity and is not overwhelmed by the fruit.  More along the lines of what Robert Parker seems to like, I can imagine this wine doing really well in blind tastings.  (Not to imply that Mr. Parker does blind tastings, which I believe he does not do.) But it was definitely more interesting than many very ripe Cabs, and I certainly liked it very much even though it is not a style for which I'm usually overly fond.  (My friend immediately preferred the more traditional 2009 Signature Cab.) 

Every wine we tasted was very good, although if I had to pick my favorites these would be the Cabernet Franc and the Signature Cabernet Sauvignon.  I don’t remember ever tasting a California Chenin Blanc as interesting as theirs, so this will be added to our "favorite" list when I update it.  It is worth tasting just to see what can be achieved with a Chenin Blanc when it is treated as a serious varietal. All four of the wines underlined above will be added to our all time favorite wine list when it is updated.

Addendum 9/24/12: We drank a bottle of the 2009 Signature Cabernet Sauvignon ($49).  It was extremely drinkable now and represents an excellent buy at this price.  This is a classic style Cab that just about anybody who likes Napa Valley Cabs would really enjoy.

I noticed that Chappellet had library and large format wines plus other varietals including: Merlot, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Malbec and a red blend called Las Piedras.  Next time we visit, I’d like to try the Petite Sirah and Malbec.  Oh yes, Chappellet is a winery we would love to revisit soon.  It is a lovely building in a great setting, with fantastic service and exceptional wines.  I wish I had begun visiting Chappellet 40 years ago when I first began tasting at Napa wineries.  Who knows, I might have picked up a case of the 1969 Cab back then and still have a few bottles left.  This is a winery you will certainly want to visit if you like exceptional wines and beautiful settings.  A friend asked me about the tour, but we did not take it so I cannot comment on it. Perhaps they will offer us one next time we visit.  For now we recommend that you visit for the great wine, service and view; you won't regret it.

Addendum 6/23/2012:  I found a few interesting articles about the famous 1969 Chappellet Signature Cab that you might find interesting:
"1969 Chappellet – The Greatest Cabernet Ever Made in America?"
Best American Cab Ever?

"Their 1969 Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon--their first vintage--held the record for the highest price ever paid for a single bottle of American wine, a jeroboam that sold for $6,000."
Forbes article

"He (Tongi) dates his best wines from those years: the 1969 cabernet sauvignon from Chappellet"
New York Times article

1581 Sage Canyon Rd
Rutherford, CA 94573
(800) 494-6379
Date of Visit: June 13, 2012 


  1. TJ,

    Chappellet looks like a beautiful stop. I've read some very favorable reviews of their 2009 Cab Sauv.


    1. Hi Nick,
      It is more beautiful than the photos convey. Their 2009 reserve cab is outstanding, espcecially for only $49. I'd love to do a vertical tasting of their cabs. But the Cab Franc was perhaps the standout, one of my three favorites in Napa Valley. Cheers, TJ

  2. Very nice. What are your other 2 favorite Cab Francs?

    1. Girard Winery 2009 $40
      Titus Vineyards 2009 $36
      I listed these on our favorite list here:
      I have not done blind tastings with these yet though. The 2006 Berringer Cab Franc was also nice. We tasted it the same day as the Titus. I found the Titus to be more interesting and complex, with a touch of pleasant herbaceousness. A friend who was with us, though, said she liked the Berringer even better, so it is often a matter of personal preference. BTW when I said that the Cab Franc was perhaps the standout, I did not mean it was superior to the lovely Signature Cab which is an outstanding Cab. It is just that I do not encounter very many Cab Francs that I really like whereas Napa Valley has many really great Cabernet Sauvignons. Titus also makes two of my favorite Cab Francs, the one at Chappellet also having his magic touch. Best wishes, TJ


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