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-6-◆Was it a risky decision by Donn and Molly to build their winery on Pritchard Hill?Donn always had a vision, I don’t think he thought of it as taking a lot of risk, but he would always take that path less travelled. He had good intuition, if he saw something like the idea of making a First Growth in California, a piece of land, the grapes that were going to be farmed, they were just his hunches and he had a lot of confidence in his gut feelings. He always seemed comfortable with what he had done, very connected to the vineyard.◆How much knowledge of hillside vineyards and making quality reds was there at the time?It had been done, but not very much. There was a vineyard of 30 acres at Chappellet in the 1800s, where the winery is now, which is proof people were farming the benchlands and hills long ago. If you go back far enough the valley floor was a difficult place to grow grapes because of frost. In colder years you could lose your crop ‒ they didn’t have wind machines or sprinklers like we do now. The old-timers used to get out and start big fires in the vineyards, sometimes with tyres, to protect themselves and it wasn’t very dependable. So vineyards were planted in the hills in part because of the quality, and part the cold air would drain down and not settle on the hillsides on most occasions, so you could generally grow grapes without getting frostbite. We still get frosts, but not like what I remember as a kid.The Chappellet’s bought a very young vineyard which had been planted in 1964. Donn was attracted to it because is already established and producing a tiny crop. All the ground had been prepared though there was still a lot of work to do because it was fairly raw, so they were able to grow with the maturing vineyard. It was fortuitous because people did not specialize at the time, but luckily nearly 40 acres of the 90-100 acres of vines were Cabernet. There was also a lot of Chenin Blanc which was the popular white grape of the day. That is what got the Chappellet’s going down the Chenin Blanc road and we are still making it. Today there is no reason to plant it on Pritchard Hill other than heritage. ◆How much replanting and re-orientation of the vineyard have you done over the years?The vineyard’s Chenin Blanc lasted the longest, making it to 40 years. It’s not that we don’t value old vines, we just haven’t had very good luck with them. There is so much virus pressure on the vines, at 25-30 years old the leafroll virus really starts knocking down the quality of the grapes, you’re not getting the colour, tannins, or sugar, so a lot got replanted. It was followed by red blotch which was an undetectable at the time, so there was more replanting. Other than Zinfandel, we don’t have a lot of success with older vines in California. Now that the virus pressure is more under control we are hoping we’ll see vines living to 40-50 years old and producing good quality. Originally everything in the vineyard was on St. George rootstock, an old bombproof, drought-resistant stock, not the highest quality or quantity unfortunately, but it will live forever. Today, we try to have a lot diversity as we never know where the best quality is going to come from. In the vineyards we changed all our row directions to try to ensure the grapes get enough sun but not too much. It often used to be planted east-west, and you would get all of your sun on one side and get almost nothing on the other. So now everything is a little off of north-east to south-west, and we get a very even light dispersal from morning to evening. ◆Do you have a consistent planting program?We became very aware that to be a top producer of Cabernet you have to. We don’t use the grapes from a new vineyard until the vines are about 5 years old when we feel they have the quality, and by 6, 7, 8 years old they are very good. We realized if you don’t replant you are going to end up with all old vineyards, and if you have a crisis and need to start over again, you will end up with all young vineyards. So, as part of our program for success, we decided we try to replant about 5 per cent of the vineyard every year, so that about every 20 years the vineyard is turning over. As far as I can tell the prime of a vineyard’s life, the best and most consistent quality is between 8 and 25 years old, it’s at the top for colour, flavour, structure, and really consistent. We need to have a lot of our vineyard in that age bracket to have a good supply of the best quality fruit. When the vines are young, you get a lot of colour and fruit, but the phenolics are awkward. It isn’t so much about the specific flavours you are tasting, but more about the intensity and the richness of the mouthfeel, and that comes with age ‒ and also sometimes diminishes with age. It’s about the vines being in the perfect place, regulating themselves and producing a lot of fruit, a balanced canopy. We have more options when the vines are healthy.◆From your time at UC Davis were you already focused on making Bordeaux styles?We grew up in our family drinking everything, but back then the real love affair in California was with Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, and Zinfandel lost that race. It is still around but doesn’t have the same stature. My father always bought a lot of Bordeaux, would age them for about 10 years before drinking them ‒ he had a lot of patience. Coming back to Napa from university in the 80s, it was already all about Cabernet and Chardonnay, just as it was at Chappellet. I think we have 33 different blocks of grapes, some of them are up to about 5 acres. There are so many different Cabernet clones, rootstocks, soils, and exposures, and it is amazing how a small difference in exposure like a hill that is rolling a little to the east or the west makes a pretty big difference. We broke the vineyard up into two and a half acre blocks based on soil types, and they become separate irrigation blocks. We ferment in lots of smalls lots. To get the highest quality our favourite fermenters are 4, 6, 8 and 10 tons, mostly 6 tons which will make about 14 barrels. Barrel selection depends on the wine. The top wines like the Pritchard Hill Cabernet are all French oak. We like a lot of different oaks, and French oak is consistent but not always the best for our needs. When we get down to the Signature Cabernets we use a little bit of American oak as a spice rack kind of thing, and then Hungarian oak which is the same as French, but in a slightly cooler climate and tighter grained and we really love it. Donn and Molly Chappellet founded the Chappellet winery in 1967, drawn by the beauty of the area, their love of wine, and desire to raise their family in Napa Valley. Looking to the hills to realize their dream of making quality Bordeaux style reds, they poured the proceeds of the sale of their business in Los Angeles into buying a newly-established vineyard on Pritchard Hill, on 640 acres overlooking Lake Hennessy. Only the second new winery in Napa Valley since the ending of Prohibition in 1933, Chappellet is located in the eastern hills of the Vaca Mountains behind St. Helena. While not an official AVA it is home to several of Napa’s leading wineries, and today is known for its iconic Cabernets, with wine critics waxing lyrical about consistent high quality of Napa Valley’s ‘true Grand Cru’. We talked with winemaker Phillip Corallo-Titus, who first worked at Chappellet in 1981, and has been the winemaker since 1990.Chappellet Vineyard Manager Dave Pirio, Winemaker Phillip Corallo-Titus & Assistant Winemaker Daniel Docher. (left to right)Our feature story : Part 14Chappellet (Napa Valley, California)Growing and maturing an iconic reputation as a pioneer of mountain Cabernet on Pritchard Hill―― Phillip Corallo-Titus, Winemaker

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