Archived entries for California Wines

A Conversation with Cyril Chappellet: Life, Legacy and the Art of Making Good Wine

Sometimes time stops and you wish for just another hour to capture the many stories that you know are passing you by because you just don’t have enough time.  That happens a lot, but there are a couple of times that stick out to me in the almost six years that I’ve been writing this blog.  The first was in 2011 when I had the chance to sit down with Sparky Marquis from Mollydooker when he told me stories that he admitted he had never shared with the media about his family and his winery.  The second happened this month when I sat down with Cyril Chappellet, the Chairman of the Board of Chappellet Vineyards.  As with many great storytellers (and I hate to admit it), I think I ended up learning more about myself than I did about Cyril and his story.

We met at John Tesar’s Knife Restaurant, where I learned about the long friendship between Cyril and John that began when he decided to feature Chappellet Wines at the Sun Valley Wine Auction.  Cyril told me the pairings were unexpected and amazing. 

This brought us into a long discussion of wine and how it fosters great relationships because the wine passion is shared by so many people.  Wine brings about conversation, wine brings about sharing experiences and wine brings about stories that never would have happened without that one glass.

Cyril talked about how his parents set the tone of the winery and its mission.  His father, Donn Chappellet, who was instrumental in pioneering high-elevation vineyard planting, he describes as an introvert.  Prior to the winery, Donn co-founded Interstate United Corporation, a food service business that distributed the first vending machines to make coffee from grounds, and became a publicly-traded company.  Donn first traveled to Napa with his wife, Molly, from Los Angeles and decided to start a new life there with the winery as the center of the family business. 

He described his mother, Molly, as the extrovert – an artist, a published author, a mom of six and the aesthetic “czarina” of all things Pritchard Hill, the site of the winery.   From his description, she moves 1,000 miles a minute, knows every inch of vineyard topography and is currently masterminding a number of projects from writing the book for the winery’s 50-year anniversary, which debuts in 2017.

They chose Pritchard Hill where they fell in love with the view and had the notion that the God Bacchus would be generous to the hills.  This was further validated by Andre Tchelistcheff, one of the valley’s early wine pioneers.  The love affair with Cabernet Sauvignon was born, which had led to the second generation of family members dedicated to growing the best grapes, sustaining the land and continuing the legacy started by their parents.  I was also struck by the extended family of long-time employees, Winemaker Phillip Carallo-Titus and Vineyard Manager Dave Pirio, who have solid relationships with growers in the business and have secured legendary grapes from some of the best names in the industry based on those relationships.  In fact, Phillip was instrumental in Cyril’s decision to acquire Sonoma-Loeb.  In 1973, Ambassador John Loeb Jr began growing grapes and hired Titus to also make the wines.  After two centuries, the Ambassador approached the Chappellet family and they jumped at the opportunity to buy the property thanks to Titus’ amazing work with some of Sonoma county’s top growers including the Dutton and Sangiacomo families.

We then tasted through the wines which many are attributed to many family members by name.  Before I go into the details, I want to comment on the unique view of collaboration within Chappellet and how forward thinking it is.  Cyril told me about how a close knit group of winemakers work together to double blind taste wines that can cost three times the price of the Chappellet wines.  Cyril believes that understanding the nuances of the regions, wines, terroir and flavor profile makes their wines better. 

2013 Signature Chenin Blanc – Cyril referred to this as “mom’s wine.”  It includes her signature, label and bottle choice.  It was very crisp and delicious – with notes of peach, orange blossom, lemongrass, floral notes and minerality.

2013 Chappellet Napa Valley Chardonnay —  sourced by grapes outside of the family vineyard, this Old World style wine had notes of lemon, tropical fruits with spice, caramel and orange blossom.  This was a great Chardonnay.

2013 Sonoma-Loeb Envoy Chardonnay – this was more of a traditional California chardonnay with butterscotch, nectarine, almond and cinnamon. 

2013 Sonoma-Loeb Russian River Pinot Noir – this was an awesome iteration of a Russian River Valley Pinot at a fraction of the price – especially for the quality of the block that it originates.  It had notes of black cherry, earth, chocolate and spice.

2013 Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon – this is the flagship wine and the wine that put the family on the map showing the beautiful fruit and bounty for the Hillside vineyards.  This was a fantastic, elegant and a wine made for aging, yet drinkable today.  Big notes of chocolate, cassis, spice, mocha, spice, blackberry and sandalwood.  The quality and price ratio of as this wine as compared to those sold for three times the cost on the same hill is amazing. 

Recently a marketing consultant gave the winery the sage advice that they are charging too little.  Cyril didn’t jump to raise prices.  He talked about over delivering on quality and the legacy that he wants to leave to the next generation – turn over a better business; and the coolest thing, turn over the land in better shape than he found it meaning sustainability, farming and improving the quality of the vineyard operation.  And of course, the wines – they need to continue to be worthy of the Chappellet legacy.

We ended on the subject of passion – loving what you do and doing what you love. I’m at a turning point in my life and Cyril’s advice to me about taking that next jump and not settling was exactly what I needed to hear to solidify my choice.  More to come on that…

November Wine Round Up

This was probably the biggest wine review period with the fewest favorites.  We tried more than 25 wines and only four made the cut.


2014 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc – full of lime and grapefruit with lemongrass and a balanced minerality.  Even though this wine went on record as the second earliest harvest in 30 years, it was a great expression of terroir and sauvignon blanc.

2014 Cornerstone Corallina Syrah Rose – the website describes this wine as “not an afterthought” and a wine with purpose. Its purpose is to convert a room full of self-described non Rose drinkers into fans.  Juicy berries, vanilla, raspberry, cherry and floral notes make this a delicious apéritif or a wine that stands on its own.


2012 Kudos Reserve Pinot Noir – red berries, earthiness and notes of black cherry make this a Tuesday night kind of wine. 

2013 Gnarly Head 1924 Double Black – this wine style dates back to Prohibition, which is when the family first planted vineyards in California, which may have been used during this time to make wine for “medicinal” purposes.  It’s a big wine – deep blackberry jam, mocha, fig and caramel and needs some food as an accompaniment. 

Cabernet Day – A Little Late

Smith and Hook Vineyards, which are Central Coast-based vineyards, sent me a vertical of Cabernet Sauvignon in honor of #cabernetsauvignonday. 

2011 Smith and Hook Cabernet Sauvignon – I tasted notes of chocolate, blackberry, spice, black currant and this was elegant and smooth.  I liked the aging process and felt that with some decanting this wine showed its true colors.

2012 Smith and Hook Cabernet Sauvignon – This wine was much more concentrated with notes of berry, black cherry, herbs and cherry cola. 

2013 Smith and Hook Cabernet Sauvignon – I tasted mocha, blackberry, plum, boysenberry, licorice and spice. 

And Something Fun

For the wine lover who has everything, here is a fun customer monogram wine tote from CBreeze Design.  Lots of fabrics and monograms to choose from – mine came with a DWC (Dallas Wine Chick monogram).  If you use the coupon code “15off” you get 15 percent off your order thanks to CBreeze Design.

Oak Celebrates Four Years While Kathyrn Hall Throws a Texas-Style Party to Celebrate the Next Vintage

The past seven days in Dallas have showcased that fact that our city has become competitive with other traditionally known “foodie cities.”  After attending last weekend’s Chefs for Farmers Event, I was invited to two milestone events for chefs, and a winemaker who helped put Dallas on the map.

Chef Partner John Tesar and Tiffanee and Richard Ellman hosted about a hundred people at a four-year anniversary celebration for Oak Restaurant.  The wine was flowing and there were some amazing hors d’oeuvres passed to the hip crowd — many of those coming from the surrounding showrooms in the design district.

The other big event was the Kathryn Hall release party debuting the new releases of the Hall Cabernets and the Walt Pinot Noirs.  Kathryn Walt Hall and her husband, Craig, the proprietors of Hall and Walt Wines have deep ties to Dallas.  Kathryn was very active in politics and was a top runner in the Dallas Mayoral Race and then was the United States Ambassador to Austria.  She’s been a successful business owner, attorney and is very active in the Arts community.  Craig Hall is chairman and founder of Dallas-based Hall Financial Group, a former owner of the Dallas Cowboys and is active in Dallas real estate and philanthropy.

So it wasn’t surprising that the attire called for a mix of Texas cocktail attire and was held at the newly established Hall Arts Building.  An attendee told me that they attended a dinner a few months back at the building and there was a wine cellar that was amazing.  However, I wasn’t able to confirm that as the party was in full swing.

The party was packed with several hundred people, the wines were flowing (love that red label Cabernet Sauvignon) and the food stations were prepared with foods that would go well with the wine.

The party was a true combination of the passions of the Hall Family, wine, art and real estate.  I love that their business story started in Dallas.

Chefs For Farmers: A Noah’s Ark Plan for Contigency

It was deemed the Down Home No Fuss Culinary Event of the Year.  However, Dallas weather decided anything but No Fuss was going to be in order.  Chefs for Farmers (CFF) is typically an outdoor event that brings together about 3,500 Dallasites to celebrate our farmers with great food, drink and entertainment.  Overnight, co-founder Iris Midler, who was responsible for helping bring this vision to life and clearly was Matlock in another life, and her team moved 120 vendors from an outdoor event to an indoor event at Gilleys.  You absolutely would have never known.  As someone who knows what it takes to pull off something of this magnitude without Noah’s Ark and a collapsed parking garage in play, I am in awe of this team. 

The wine was flowing, the Texas brews were poured, and the chefs were preparing a buffet beyond comprehension — from a biscuit bar to gumbo to oysters and every gourmet configuration of beef, pork, lamb and seafood that you can fathom.  Glaziers did a great Sommelier wine table, Veuve Cliquot was pouring freely and there were some great wine labels from California and Oregon who hosted their own table.  Live bands, including the one led by Dean Fearing, were playing and it was definitely a party vibe.

Omar Florez, Casa Rubio

The mission of CFF is to bring chefs, artisans, and culinary influencers together to celebrate supporting local and regional farmers at a three-day culinary blowout, a new transition this year.  By the numbers there were 35 farms and food artisans, 60 chefs, 15 beer and spirits, 42 wineries and total attendance of 3,500.  And the most important thing – this event netted $25,000.

It was clear that Dallas took the stage on a national level with this event.  My favorite quote came from Justin Brunson from the Old Major in Denver.  “Support local farmers, not those $*&$#@ factory-to-table restaurants,” he said.  Can I get an amen?

I’m On A Boat – Wine, Stormtroopers and A Drone Bring the Night to Life

Welcome to Miami … Bienvenidos a Miami… nine months of long work hours and lots of planning was finally coming to a head with the arrival of several hundred customers for the paying gig’s annual Summit event. 

What does this have to do with a wine blog?  Well, I always try to bring you guys into my experiences and this was quite the experience. There was amazing food, lots of great wine, a ton of dancing and very early mornings combined with lots of late nights.

And then there was the boatI’m on a boat with a Storm Trooper (if you like the above pic, clink on the link)!  The customer appreciation party featured quite the cast of characters, tons of free flowing wine, an awesome DJ and a fireworks show that was captured by a drone flying above the yacht.  My team rocked it – what a talented group of folks that brought a life moment experience to light.

Just another experience – probably not replicable – But definitely a bucket list moment.


October Wine Round-Up

It’s October and there’s been so much going on that I haven’t done a wine round up since before the Wine Blogger’s Conference this Summer.  As the wine continues to stack up and makes my personal work space much more contained (I know, wine blogger problems…), I thought I’d go through a few wines that I did have the opportunity to try.

The company where I work is in the process of refreshing its brand, which is a big deal for any company but even more so for a company that has had the same look and feel for 31 years.  My team has been working hard so I wanted to open some wine for them.  The Liberated Wines had a tagline of “Free Yourself from Convention” with branded personas for each wine so those were the wines that we opened.

We tried the 2014 Liberated Sauvignon Blanc which was a nice crisp wine with notes of lime, a good balance, floral notes and tropical fruit.  The 2013 Liberated Pinot Noir was also balanced with notes of cherry cola, earthiness and a touch of earthiness.

I had also received the Vinomaster wine opener to try. Usually Thirsty Thursday has a minimum of five bottles and sometimes up to ten.  Most of the time the heavy lifting or uncorking is on my shoulders.  I have a lot of openers in my office and I’ve tried a lot of wine accessories.  The Vinomaster made it simple.  Center the bottle, pull down and then up.  Viola.  The wine is open.  It came well packaged and will now make my life so much easier.  I’ve seen it listed between $60-80 US, but it’s currently on Amazon with a Prime Membership at $36.

Auburn Football, College Friends and Legendary Wine

My family and Jay Jacobs, Auburn’s Athletic Director

The day started out with sunshine and a perfect 65 degrees.  It was time for some Auburn football. If you’ve followed this blog, you know that I am an Auburn fan.  I was brought to the prettiest campus in the SEC for a day of steering committee meetings – one for the Auburn Athletics Department and one for the School of Communications.  My family joined me after the meetings on Friday night and our host, Auburn Athletic Director, Jay Jacobs, completely rolled out the “orange and blue” carpet.

The Daniels and Ofenloch Families

We met up with some dear friends – a college roommate and her husband, who along with my husband, might have well have lived alongside us in our college days – and our families.  It’s always an interesting experience to pretend to be an adult with friends that you’ve known since the early days…

My family, including my ten-year-old daughter who has never known what it means to sit in the student section, was led down to the field and we experienced the joy and energy of watching people file into the stadium.  We watched Tiger, the eagle, fly onto the field while being mere feet away from the players.  Awe inspiring…. Then we had another experience – an Auburn suite, which was beneficial as it began raining during the game and the temperature started to plummet.

It was a good game but much closer than I had hoped.  Friends from the Athletic Council, Nancy and Randy Campbell, who happened to be the senior quarterback from the 1983 Auburn National Championship team, invited us back to their place.  The Campbell’s – other than being one of the most fun couples to hang out with, have impeccable taste in wine and the bottles started to open and the glasses were flowing.

It was a day that wine, football, family and friends intersected perfectly.

Miner Wines: 2011 The Oracle Virtual Release Tasting


On Saturday, I was invited to take part in a very special virtual tasting – the debut of the 2011 The Oracle from Miner Wines.  Those of us who were lucky enough to be included were delivered a black box.  Inside was the bottle of new vintage, two Riedel glasses and even Riedel stem cloths to make the glasses sparkle after the tasting ended.  Miner has always known how to make great wine and throw a memorable event.


The Oracle is Miner’s flagship, single-vineyard offering.  It is a Bordeaux blend labeled as 49 percent Merlot, 38 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 11 percent Cabernet Franc and the rest is Petit Verdot.  The Oracle is grown in the hills of Eastern Napa at Stagecoach Vineyards, which has a high elevation and a mountain-fruit experience.

And, as a software marketer by day, I do like the shout out that Dave Miner gave to his uncle, Bob Miner, one of the co-founders of Oracle Software, who introduced him to the wine business.

I’ll sum it up with my tweet after my first sip.  “This has elegance with dark cherry, chocolate and herbs.  Silk in a glass. #theoraclehasspoken (hashtag for the tasting). 

June Wine Round-Up: A Few of My Favorite Things

It’s June, it’s hot and it’s time for the round-up of wines that made the grade this month.  It’s a mix of red and whites that consisted of wines from around the globe.  We tried many more than what made this column.

The notable wines from California, Australia, France, Spain and Greece were as follows:


2013 Jordan Chardonnay – tropical fruit, a touch of oak, but well balanced with a nice minerality that made it perfect for a seafood dinner accompaniment.

2011 Ktima Tselepos Blanc De Gris Moschofilero – I tried a few Greek wines, but this one topped my favorite list.  Great acidity, citrus and minerality.  It was great.

2013 Palacio de Bornos Rueda Verdejo – Very refreshing with a nice mix of citrus, flowers and fruit.


2011 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon – what can say I say?  Jordan makes delicious wines.  This had notes of chocolate, cassis, blackberry, herbs and vanilla.

2012 Edge Cabernet Sauvignon – big blackberry taste, nicely balanced with notes of chocolate.

2012 Alanera Rosso Veronese – dried black fruit, spice, tobacco and mocha.  This had a great earthiness and nice balance.

2012 Salton Intenso Cabernet France — red fruit, strawberry, tobacco, leather and coffee.  A really interesting representation of Cabernet Franc.

2012 Yangarra Ironheart Shiraz – whoa – deep dark fruit, mocha, blueberry and earth.  This one blew me away.

2012 Yangarra GSM – black cherry, mocha, herbs and earthiness make this another must try red.

2013 Emilio Moro Finca Resalso – a nice tempranillo blend with notes of chocolate, mocha, eucalyptus, licorice and deep black fruit.

2012 Protos Tinto Fino – earthy, black berry, violet and herbs. A good everyday drinking red wine.

Max’s Summer Menu: Chicken Fried Lobster and Champagne? Why the Hell Not?

Max’s Chef Patrick Russell

I was invited last week to the debut of the summer menu from Chef Patrick Russell from Max’s Wine Dive.  Color me impressed.  From the food to the wine to the general cool mantra of “Fried Chicken and Champagne?  Why the hell not?!”, the place is cool, fun, funky and my kind of place.  Throw in the Monday to Friday Happy Hour from opening to 6 pm, which features wines like Far Niente Chardonnay Nickel & Nickel State Ranch Cabernet, along with the “patio pounders,” which features mix and match cases, six packs and three packs to allow you to try a number of wines at a value, and you had me at hello…


This was our line-up.  We started with a pre-course of chicken fried nothing with a goat cheese dipping sauce, duck meatball crostini and blue crab and bacon dip with house-made pepper crackers.  This was served with Moet Imperial bubbly.  Wow!

We moved on to butter lettuce wedgettes with pan-roasted asparagus, bacon lardons and baby fennel on top of butter lettuce with green garlic parmesan dressing.  This was followed by short rib sliders and a chef’s nine cheese mac topped with bread crumbs.  This was served with a fantastic (can’t tell you how great this was) 2009 Chave Hermitage.  The sliders are really really good.

Our main course (was full on the second round) was pork spare ribs, a lobster tail 2.0 (chicken fried lobster tail atop a jalapeno sweet corn waffle topped with parsley butter served with a Moet Nectar.  This was accompanied by roasted mushrooms, barbeque sweet potato chips and creamed corn.

The cheese course was a selection of local cheese out of Patchi Patchi (need to confirm) out of Waco served with a 2011 Nickel and Nickel Ranch Cabernet. 

I look forward to  my next visit.   




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