Last month I travelled to Napa Valley and visited Darioush, Chappellet, Duckhorn, and Heitz. The trip to Napa was my first in several years and provided an interesting comparison to wine tasting and traveling in Washington. The highlight of the trip both in terms of experience and wine was Chappellet.

Chappellet (pronounced, SHA-pell-lay) was started by Don and Molly Chappellet in the late sixties. Chappellet is located on Pritchard Hill twelve hundred feet above the valley floor. The Chappellet family was the first in Napa Valley to establish a mountain winery. The winery has no sign or other indication of its presence from the road. While you might think this is to fend off unscheduled visitors, it is, in fact, an indication of the winery’s desire to fit into rather than mar the landscape. Turning onto the road to Chappellet takes you up a spectacular, steep, long and winding, one lane dirt road. It is almost impossible to not feel lost as there is nothing in sight save the gorgeous views. Finally, as you near the end of the road, there is a small, inconspicuous sign that says “Winery” with an arrow pointing into the forest. A short jaunt up a trail leads you to an inconspicuous, pyramidal structure that is partly underground and almost completely blends in to its environment. This building serves as Chappellet’s winemaking facility and barrel room.

Since its inception, the winery has put a strong emphasis on the environment and on sustainability. Solar panels supply all of the winery’s electricity. Cover crops protect the soil between the vineyard rows that wind up the hillside. The vast majority of the grapes on the vineyard are certified organic, and the rest are in the final process of certification. The vineyard is resplendent with birds and wild-life. The views are expansive and unparalleled. The family’s house is even hidden behind trees and gives no indication of its presence from the winery. “I want to live here” one of my companions said, almost to herself as birds fluttered around us and turkey vultures soared overhead. It is the awe inspiring scenery that leads to this thought that the family has worked so hard to maintain. The intention of the winery’s design is to show the area almost as it had first appeared to the Chappellet’s in the late sixties

The trip to Chappellet was by reservation and cost $15 per person. This included an hour long tour of the winemaking facility and a walk through the vineyards to see and hear about the winery’s history. Throughout the vineyard walk we tasted through a series of wines. There is something to be said for tasting wines while looking at the vines that they came from. The vineyard walk was followed by a tasting inside the winery of Chappellet’s 2006 Signature Series Cabernet, 2006 Pritchard Hill Cabernet Franc, and to-be-released 2006 Pritchard Hill Cabernet (Note: This wine was released at the end of March).

In addition to the Signature Cabernet and Napa Valley Chardonnay which receive reasonably wide distribution, the winery makes a variety of wines only available to club members or by visiting the winery. These include the Zinfandel, Las Piedras Red Wine, and Pritchard Hill Cabernet Franc listed below.







Chappellet Chardonnay Napa Valley 2007

Very light in color. Abundant spice and light oak notes. A dry, crisp wine with intense mineral flavors. 14.8% alcohol. 5,000 cases produced.



Chappellet Zinfandel Mount Veeder 2006

Cracked black pepper, light vanilla bean, raspberry jam, and peat. A big, spicy, jammy tart wine with pretty oak notes.



Chappellet Merlot Pritchard Hill 2006

Light dried cranberries, tobacco, dust, spice, and earth. A dry wine with gripping but not overwhelming tannins. 89% Merlot; 6% Cabernet; 5% Malbec.



Chappellet Red Wine Las Piedras Napa Valley 2006

A peppery nose along with black tea and tobacco. A big, full mouthfeel. Excellent across the mid-palate with flavors of chocolate and spice. 350 cases produced.



Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

Mint, earth, caraway seeds, and black currant along with touches of bell pepper. A lush, big wine that hangs on at the finish. 14.9% alcohol. 7,000 cases produced.



Chappellet Cabernet Franc Pritchard Hill Estate 2006

Toasted oak and grilled bell pepper predominate on the nose. A big, gripping, full-bodied, intense wine.



Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon Pritchard Hill Estate 2006

An intricate nose marked by toasted oak and rich black licorice. Silky smooth with perfectly integrated tannins and an extended finish. 76% Cabernet; 12% Petit Verdot; 9% Merlot; 3% Malbec.