For five decades, the Chappellet family has been producing world-class wines. It all began in the 1960s, when my friends, Donn and Molly Chappellet, moved to the rocky hillsides of the Napa Valley. There, they established their home, raised their family, and cultivated their vineyards. Chappellet was among the first to pioneer high-elevation hillside planting, making it one of the state’s most celebrated makers of Cabernet Sauvignon. At the same time, Chappellet developed Pritchard Hill as one of the region’s most acclaimed wine-growing sites. In fact, the Chappellet family has long been passionate about preserving the land, and continues to focus on sustainable, organic and green practices, both in the vineyard and at the winery.
I recently visited Chappellet, while on a business trip to the west coast. It is a magical place - enjoy these photos.
When we arrived in the Napa Valley, we went straight to a beautiful suite at the Auberge du Soleil hotel. The beautiful hotel restaurant was specifically set up for people who tour the Napa and Sonoma vineyards. This is one of several round pools at the hotel.
Outside the hotel restaurant is this long pool with a double allee of olive trees.
The olive trees are laden with green olives – not ready for harvest just yet.
This is a view from the terrace of my room. The pool is down on the left.
We promised Molly Chappellet we would come for an early breakfast and walk at Chappellet’s Estate Vineyards. This is the main approach up Pritchard Hill where it is situated.
The vineyard is more than 600-acres, but in an effort to teach conservation and to protect wild land, the Chappellets have only planted 100-acres with vines – the rest is oaks, olives and other indigenous trees.
This is a field from which old vines have been removed and new vines will be planted. This replanting every so often is typical of a California vineyard. The bare earth is covered with chopped straw to prevent erosion.
These vines are one-year old. This picture makes it very clear how the Chappellets support their vines with stakes made from metal and wire.
More than 100 greenware clay Peregrine falcons adorn the tops of these grape stakes. This is an art installation created by Julia Crane. The birds are unglazed clay and when the rainy season finally comes, the birds will disintegrate as if they have flown away.
A field of mature grape producing vines is a fine sight to see. Most of the vineyard is mature and productive.
Molly uses found objects in sculptural ways at the vineyard. This purple walk, covered with grape seeds, is a product of the winemaking. It is punctuated by giant stepping stones excavated from the vineyard. This is called the “Elephant Walk”.
One of the giant stones found in the vineyard was dragged into Molly’s new living room and is the hearthstone of a mammoth fireplace.
Outside the family living room and dining room is a large terrace. The green area in the center is where a gigantic live oak tree once stood. It was more than 100-years old and shaded the entire area. When the tree died and had to be removed, Molly used the open space as a sculptural green for more boulders.
This is Molly, who with her husband in the 1960s, became one of the pioneers in the Napa Valley.
This was taken during a trip to Napa nearly 20-years ago. It includes my nephew, Morgan, Molly and Donn’s oldest son and now CEO of Chappellet vineyard, Cyril, son Jon-Mark, Lygia’s son, London Chappellet-Volpini, Donn, Molly, Lukie Chappellet-Volpini, me holding baby Reese Chappellet, his mother, Sara, and Lygia.
Without the oak tree, a magnificent view of the reservoir has opened up and is just spectacular.
Here is another sculpture – parts of the magnificent oak tree have been piled up, lichens have grown on the wood, and the ground is covered with peach pits.
A meadow garden grows right outside Molly’s home – more boulders, more giant boughs of the oak tree and massive plantings.
Pink and mauve and purple sage plants abound.
Molly was told that “if something thrives, plant lots of it”. This picture is Santolina and in front, a red cabbage plant that is only three years old, and keeps growing and blooming.
This is Molly’s daughter, one of three, named Carissa. Like her mother, she is a fine artist and painter.
Here’s another view of the new wing Molly just completed on her house.
This is the dining room with a long family table, and a round table for smaller groups. It is where we had a delicious breakfast.
Molly grows delicious sour oranges, which I love. They make great orangeade.
This is the “Scent and Citrus Walk”, which is filled with herbs and fruits.
In another area of the garden, Molly created giant arches where she hopes her grandchildren will get married.
Here is a beautiful seating area under a magnificent oak tree.
Here is Molly talking about the faux bois furniture made by her late husband, Donn, and about their dog. Since her husband died a few months ago, the dog is always at Molly’s side.
Here I am joined by Molly, Carissa, and her friend visiting from the east, along with Molly’s dog and Carissa’s handsome Viszla.
Walking through the vineyard, I was struck with the vines laden with the Cabernet grapes.
Look closely and you can see clusters of grapes on the ground. I thought they had fallen, but in order to make grapes more fabulous, clusters are cut and dropped to the ground to give remaining grapes more sugar. I suggested they cut them into a wheelbarrow and sell them on the roadside to make jelly.
The plump, sweet Cabernet ripening grapes will make the best award-winning Cabernet this year.
Just another picture of the phenomenal views of Pritchard Hill.
These robust grapes are Merlot grapes.
Again, Molly repurposes everything on the vineyard. These are grape stakes that are no longer usable and made into magnificent sculptures.
Another installation of grape stakes made into a metal zigzag wall.
This is another part of the vineyard where the grapes are equally robust.
These are double rows of Cabernet grapes growing on another hillside.
This is called the “Amphitheater” where the grapes thrive on a south facing hillside in the rocky Napa soil, which Donn realized was perfect for the culture of grapes.
This is the red bark of the madrone tree, Arbutus menziesii, also known as Pacific madrona. It is native to the western coastal areas of North America, from British Columbia to California.
Molly has recently completed this exquisite safari tent where special visitors will be tasting the wines of the vineyard.
A natural hardwood balustrade was created from found pieces of wood at the vineyard.
One of the vineyard vehicles was being used to collect digger pine cones, which are big, heavy, unique and filled with pignoli nuts.
Here is another view of the straight and neat lines of grapes.
Here’s breakfast at Molly’s.
A colorful and delicious affair with croissants, bacon, strawberries, yogurt, and cappuccino.
This is an amazing collection of every Chappellet wine. Donn finished this project before death – such a magnificent collection.