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Monday, May 23, 2016

The Donn Abides – The Passing of Donn Chappellet

I didn’t know Donn, at least not personally. We had never met. He lived in Napa, and I in Santa Barbara. He started a winery and I started wine writing. My most recent mention of Chappellet wines was May 13th, in a Tweet about the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, which hit over 1,000 impressions. Donn Chappellet passed away on May 22nd at age 84 – too young by my estimation.

I have included Chappellet wines in a variety of articles; for The Hollywood Reporter,, and most recently for Planet Experts about wineries that support earth-friendly practices writing, “In Napa, Chappellet Vineyard began in the early 1980s (long before the term ‘sustainable’ was even used), to plant cover crops for soil conservation and erosion prevention. In 2012, their 102-acre vineyard earned its organic certification from the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). Chappellet has a 20,000-square-foot solar photovoltaic system that generates 100% of the winery’s energy needs. They also installed a state-of-the-art water processing system that allows the winery to return nearly 100% of their processed water (about one million gallons each year) to the vineyard for irrigation.”

I included Donn in my’s Second Annual “Top 100 MostInfluential People in the U.S. Wine Industry,” listing him as #94, writing, “Chappellet was the first winery to pioneer high-elevation vineyard planting, establishing mountain-grown Cabernets as some of California’s most coveted wines. The winery has also served as an incubator for some of California’s legendary winemaking talents, including Phil Togni, Joe Cafaro, Tony Soter, Helen Turley, Mia Klein, Cathy Corison and current winemaker Phillip Corallo-Titus. Chappellet has been lauded by every major wine magazine.”

“Dad was the kindest, most thoughtful person,” son Cyril Chappellet said in a press release. “He was our rock, our mentor, and an inspiration, not just to our entire family, but to so many others as well. He was also humble beyond belief. Despite everything he accomplished, he never took the credit. He always preferred to give others the stage. Along with my mom, my dad created the foundation that our family has been building on for the past 50 years. He believed that the best was still yet to come for Chappellet. Now it is our turn to honor that dream, and his wonderful legacy.”

And what better words can be said of someone’s passing – the idea that the best is still out there, perhaps just beyond reach, but likely within reach of another generations. If you haven’t had any of Chappellet wines, do try one, from their Chennin Blanc, or Malbec, Petite Sirah or Chardonnay to the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon ($60), and raise a glass to a man you never met, one who made the world better in a number of ways you never knew about – something we can all strive for. Godspeed Donn.

In lieu of flowers or gifts, please consider donating in the name of Donn Chappellet to the Wildlife Rescue Center of Napa County or to the St. Helena Hospital Foundation.

Wildlife Rescue Center of Napa County
PO Box 2571 Napa, CA 94558

St. Helena Hospital Foundation
10 Woodland Road
St. Helena, CA 94574


  1. I wish you had met my father... But your words are true and well written.. You have touched me, thank you, Alexa Chappellet Flagler

    1. Many thanks for your kind words, Alexa. So sorry for your loss.

  2. You may not have had the distinct honor of meeting this gentle man, however, your words describe him perfectly. My family has been blessed by Donn in countless ways. To know him, is to love him!!!
    Thank you!
    Christine Bennett

    1. Thank you, Christine. I didn't know Donn, but I knew him through his wines.

  3. Touring Beaujolais, France May 15, my thoughts drifted to memories of beautiful Chappellet vineyard and even at one point I saw a sign for Chappelet and I wondered if there was a connection. Our guide spoke with his French accent about the soul and how depending on the location, climate and what was in the soul brought out the uniqueness of the different wines. It took me a moment to realize that our guide’s pronunciation of “soil” was “soul”. And thus I made the connection between soil and soul, where we plant our roots with our heart, nurture mother earth for our families, community and interact with God and creation.

    Donn Chappellet and his family have beautifully planted their hearts on Pritchard Hill. It is beyond words to describe the feeling one receives when breathing, seeing, listening and being on the hill. And within a glass of Chappellet, it truly captures the essence of the land and those who have nurtured it. Truly an honor to experience.

  4. Thank you for your beautiful sentiments, Val.