Taking lunch at Gotham Bar and Grill with Cyril Chappellet, of the historic Chappellet winery, is an experience I will not soon forget. As Napa Valley is always in a state of flux, it’s refreshing to hear the words of a man whose family has been entrenched in the industry for almost 50 years. In fact, Cyril’s experience in Napa started as a small boy, when his parents Donn and Molly decided to plant the Valley’s first high-elevation vineyard on Pritchard Hill. It’s a winery that watched today’s Napa Valley grow up around it.
Imagine, if you will, being raised up in such an environment and witnessing the entire industry morph over the course of decades. Today, the hillside and mountain top vineyards in Napa Valley are all the rage, yet the Chappellet family was producing a prestigious portfolio of wines long before our modern-day critics became keen to the location. Thinking back to only ten years ago, it was seldom said that terroir mattered. Yet the Chappellet family now works with what is considered a Grand Cru of the region, and they do it with class. All of the vineyards are managed through strict organic practices, and of all the families holdings, only 16% of their land is used as vineyards, while the rest remains uncultivated.
It seems to me that they manage themselves as custodians of old-school Napa ideals and values, while always keeping an eye on the future. Chappellet is now neighbors with some of the biggest names in the region, yet in the grand scheme of things, their prices remain remarkably fair. The style is not of the rich, ripe giants of the valley, or the over-restrained. Instead, they aim for balance, elegance and a wine that will only improve with maturity. These wines exude class, and their popularity only confirms what this family has always understood yet humbly refused to boast–Chappellet is one of the top producers of the region.
While most consumers look immediately to the high-scoring Signature or Pritchard Hill Cabernets, it’s wines like the Chenin Blanc that tell a deeper story and show a commitment to the land. This is a wine whose fruit is sourced from Pritchard Hill, a prestigious terroir and location that could easily be used to plant more Cabernet and increase production of their flagship bottling. Instead, Chappellet thumbs their nose at the idea of tearing these vines up. As a result, the Chenin Blanc is one of those special kind of wines from Napa Valley that we seldom see, and it offers a tremendous experience.
Yet there’s also a lot to be said for value, which is another Chappellet ideal. The Signature Cabernet Sauvignon is not to be confused as second wine, as the majority of its fruit is sourced from the Pritchard Hill vineyards, with the balance coming from trusted local growers. In its price point, you can’t beat the quality–and that speaks volumes to their commitment to both the land and their customers.
And so, as I taste with the humble, witty and insightful Cyril, I can’t help but think about how hard it is to decide what’s more interesting–the conversation or the wines in front of me. I guess great wine really does come from great people, and the Chappellets are a perfect example. If you don’t already know them, then allow me to make the introduction.
On to the tasting notes:
2012 Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon Pritchard Hill Estate Vineyard – The nose showed dark, mineral-tinged blackberry fruit, tobacco, exotic spice, and a hint of black licorice. On the palate, I found dense, weighty textures infused with fine tannin, as rich dark fruits fought for supremacy. It finished long on grippy tannin with tart, saturating black fruit, dark chocolate and spice. There is so much going on here, yet the wine is 5-10-years away from its drinking window. Bury it deep. (95 points)
2013 Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon – The nose showed a mix of dark red fruits and minerals offset by hints of vanilla, cocoa and clove. On the palate, it displayed silky textures with impeccable balance, showing red and black berries, spice and fine grain tannin that provided perfect grip. The finish was wonderfully long with a mix of red currant, spice, sweet herbs, and palate-coating tannin. A hint of blackberry bitterness lingered. The 2013 Signature was stunning today, but it should be even better in five years’ time. (93 points)
2012 Chappellet Cabernet Franc – The nose showed ripe blackberry and mineral-infused cherry, sweet herbs and earth tones. On the palate, silky rich textures hosted a mix of dark red and black fruits in a vibrant, balanced, yet dense effort. It finished beautifully long on saturating fruits, dark chocolate, sweet herbs and a hint of tannic grip. (92 points)
2013 Chappellet Chenin Blanc – The nose was highly expressive with ripe tropical fruits up front, sweet herbs, crushed stone, banana and exotic floral tones. On the palate, it was ripe yet unbelievably fresh with notes of mango and citrus saturating the senses along with fleshy textures which seemed more like nectar than wine. The finish was long, palate-coating, yet fresh, with hints of banana and sweet lemon. To think that this is all neutral wood is amazing. This is just pure Napa Chenin Blanc. (92 points) Find it at Morrell
2013 Chappellet Chardonnay Signature – This showed a stunning and unique bouquet of savory herbs and hints of olive up front, followed by ripe peach and pear. There was an exotic richness on the nose that kept me coming back to the glass. On the palate, I found smooth and pliant textures with notes of sweet herbs, ripe apple, kiwi and minerals. The finish was staying with hints of young peach and a lingering kiss of sweetness. (91 points)
2013 Chappellet Mountain Cuvée – The nose was generous, but not overdone, with ripe red fruit, currant and blackberry giving was to savory herbs. On the palate, I found silky textures with red berry and blueberry fruit, sweet herbs, spice, and hints of tobacco. It was wonderfully juicy and vibrant while maintaining fleshy contours and finishing fresh with red berry fruits. This is a tremendous value for Napa Cabernet. (91 points)
Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido
I must also pay tribute to Gotham Bar and Grill for their absolutely amazing meal and presentation. It’s not often that a meal leaves an impression during such an amazing tasting. However, this one had me talking about it for the rest of the day. I’m looking forward to returning soon.