Chappellet Winery Review
Address: 1581 Sage Canyon Rd. St. Helena,California 94574.
Phone Number: 707-963-7136
Tasting Hours: By appt.
Region: Napa Valley AVA, California
Reviewer: Tom Riley
Review Date: 7/1/2015
Reviewer: Tom Riley
Chappellet Winery is not just someplace you pop into on your way to somewhere else. Being there is never a fun bit of serendipity, never a surprise. You have to want to go there. In fact, you should want to go there.
Thats appropriate given the Chappellet familys pioneering role in todays Napa Valley wine industry. Since 1967, when Donn and Molly Chappellet left Los Angeles, five children in tow, and traded in a comfortable, some might say more civilized, way of life for a new beginning half way up Napas Pritchard Hill, the Chappellets have been a mainstay in the growth, development, and increasing popularity of Napa wines. With the founding of their eponymous winery in the Vaca Mountains on the eastern side of the valley, they proved that great wines can be made from the bold and concentrated fruit that thrives in such a setting, paving the way for many of Napas finest wineries to follow their lead and do the same.
Last week I made my second visit in less than a year, and I was more excited this time around because I knew what was waiting for me at the end of long and winding road that led me from the valley floor to the warm and wooded hills above Lake Hennessey. When I pulled up into the empty guest parking lot I love wineries like Chappellet with appointment-only policies I was greeted by Joshua, who remembered me from my visit with two friends back in August. As we walked up the rugged stairway built into the side of the hill, we caught up on bits of wine news and he gave me a quick rundown of what he had in store for me.
When I visited last autumn, a college friend and his wife treated me to the 90-minute winery tour, where we moved from the barrel room and bottling line out into the vineyards overlooking the lake and the heart of the Napa Valley, stopping at various spots along the way to taste a few whites and reds that Joshua brought along for us. My recent stop was a simpler affair, as I had other wineries to call on; a straightforward tasting of Chappellets current releases was, regrettably, all I had time for.
But this is one of the finer points of Chappellet hospitality. Depending on how much time you have, the number of people in your group, or the wine interests and knowledge you bring, the winery staff is more than happy to provide the experience you need. (Tasting fees run from $35 to $75.) This is not a winery that operates on a get-em-in and get-em-out mentality. There is a pervasive serenity on the mountain because of the natural quiet its surroundings provide, and a relaxed, peaceful atmosphere can be expected whenever you visit Chappellet.
I was pleasantly reminded of this truth once I stepped into the tasting room, which is really nothing more than the front of the winerys barrel room, where hundreds and hundreds of oak barrels, filled with wine, are racked and quietly aging. The décor of the tasting areas is tasteful but minimal, with artwork from family artists adorning the walls. There is no gift shop, no wide-screen TVs, no lounge areas or bars. When you come to Chappellet, your visit, as it should be, is about the wine.
Since the early 1970s, when word of Donn and Mollys wines began to spread, the Chappellet label has remained one of Americas most popular brands, reliable year in and year out. That remains the case today. The lineup Joshua had set for me was a selection of current releases, from their iconic and esteemed chenin blanc ($32) all the way up to the Signature cabernet sauvignon ($56), one of the best values on the market when it comes to Napa cabernet. The generous tasting also included a Napa Valley chardonnay from cool climate vineyards in Carneros and Oak Knoll ($35); a Dutton Ranch pinot noir, sourced from one of Sonomas best vineyards ($52); a Napa Valley cabernet franc ($70); and, the Napa Valley Las Piedras, a Bordeaux-style blend named for the rugged and rocky soil of Pritchard Hill ($52). Joshuas background information on each wine was pitch-perfect, a comfortable blend, like many of the wines, which made for good learning and even better conversation.
The tasting over, my wine buying complete, I stalled as long as I could with chit-chat and follow-up questions, but eventually I ran out of road. It was time to leave.
Next time I visit, Ive got to figure out a way to stay longer. Much, much longer.