A review of several of the excellent wines produced at Napa’s Chappellet Winery.
By Louis Marmon
Gazette Newspapers October 27, 2010
Within two years of Donn and Molly Chappellet’s establishment of their eponymous winery, they produced a Cabernet Sauvignon still considered one of the finest ever made in Napa, Calif. The Chappellet Winery, now run by their children, remains in the forefront of innovation, sustainability and exceptional quality.
Rising 1,200 feet above the Napa Valley floor, among the Vaca Mountains overlooking Lake Hennessey, the winery’s site, Pritchard Hill, has well-drained, south to southwest facing hillsides that provide ideal growing conditions for Cabernet. The winery is 100 percent solar powered, and its owners were among the first to employ cover crops, bird boxes and other environmentally friendly techniques such as using only runoff water for irrigation and producing their own compost. Owner and managing partner Jon-Mark Chappellet says, “We are still learning. Wine is made in the vineyards, not in the winery. There is an ongoing evolution of our understanding of these hills.”
The lovely Chappellet Chardonnay 2008 ($32) displays subtle oak, white fruit and perfume aromas that lead into peach, banana and fig flavors. It is a quintessential California chardonnay, delightfully well-balanced and not over-oaked with crisp citrus acidity and a long rich finish.
The deep black fruit flavors of the Chappellet Mountain Cuvee 2008 ($29) are characteristic of the red wines produced on Pritchard Hill and not many other Napa Cabs at this price offer as much complexity and pleasure. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and small amounts of Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc, its soft red fruit aromas open into spicy dark plum and black cherry notes along with smoke and lithe tannins that make it very approachable when young.
Eucalyptus, mint and chocolate scents predominate in the Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($48). Also containing some Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot, it is lightly spicy and exhibits some red cherry and berry flavors along with the deep blackberry and dark cherry flavors. The tannins are more distinct but not astringent and it shows attractive cassis and tobacco notes that progress into the lingering finish.
The Chappellet Cabernet Franc 2007 ($54) is one of the finest of this varietal produced in California. Lacking the harshness often characteristic of lesser examples it offers voluptuous plum fruit with hints of tea, cinnamon and smoky red fruit notes in the mid-body that extend into a soft, lush ending.
The outstanding Chappellet Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($135) is a true testament to the value of hillside grape growing. Anise and coffee aromas accented with violets precede complex and well-balanced layers of blackberries, currants, chocolate and a touch of cedar. The tight but not austere tannins mean the wine will not achieve its full potential for at least another five years.